Kent County Show
The Kent County Show is an event hosted annually by the Kent County Agricultural Society and is the shop window for rural Kent life. The event is primarily an agricultural show, showcasing the produce of Kent farmers such as soft fruit, alongside a livestock show and demonstrations of traditional skills like blacksmithery and displays from the Royal Artillery.
The Kent County Agricultural Society was formed in 1923 with the amalgamation of the Mid Kent and East Kent Show Societies. The Society’s primary objective was to host an annual agricultural show.
This led to the very first Kent County Show being held that year at Wombwell Park in Gravesend. The show was declared by Gravesend’s mayor of the time as “the greatest advertisement the town had been privileged to enjoy.”
The official programme listed details of a band and smoking concerts with a sports gala and carnival as a Saturday night grand finale. There were 833 livestock entries and 15,000 people turned out to watch the prize cattle, sheep, pigs, and horses take the rosettes. The Society relocated the event to Ashford in 1924. This year marked the first royal attendee when Prince Henry visited to peruse the livestock.
In 1927, the county show moved on to Knole Park in Sevenoaks. Up to the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, a three-day Show was held in various parts of the County. In the years immediately preceding WWII it was held at Canterbury before then moving to Mote Park in Maidstone. From 1939 to 1945 it was cancelled as Kent farmers agreed that they needed to focus their energies on producing food for the nation.
After the war the event was restarted. From 1947–1963 two-day shows were held at Mote Park. In 1949 Winston Churchill collected, in person, his rosette and cup for breeding the first prize winner in a ‘cow in calf’ category at his farm in Westerham.
A permanent site, now known as the Kent Showground, was acquired in Detling in time for the 1964 Show. The show has been held annually there ever since.
There is a detailed history of the show on the Kent Show’s website here.
The Kent Archive & Local History collection held at the Kent History & Library Centre, Maidstone includes many items connected with the heritage of the Kent County Show.
We have a large run of the Kent County Show Official Catalogues dating from the 1920s to the 1990s.
These are full of detailed information about show competitors and exhibitors. They are interspersed with period advertisements for local businesses and they often include a fold-out map of the showground with show participants listed and located.
In 1989 The Kent County Agricultural Society also published Sixty glorious shows: the history of the Kent County Agricultural Society:
The July issues of historic local newspapers always have good coverage of the Kent County Show events, sometimes with special supplements. Find these on our archive catalogue here and the library catalogue here.
We have a small selection of photographs taken at Kent County Shows from C1950s- 1980s and several of our Archive collections relate to local businesses which had (and often still have) a presence at the Kent County Show. For example The Royal Insurance Company of High Street, Maidstone.
Screen Archive South East
Our partners Screen Archive South East have made available colour films of the Kent Show dating from 1936. We’re sure you’ll enjoy watching all six of these fascinating and nostalgic films as much as the visitors, exhibitors and competitors, who were at the actual events, whether in blizzards of tweed, Alma Cogan skirts and and flying-saucer hats or tee-shirts and flares, all those years ago. You can read more about these films here and watch them at the following links.