Chapter 8 - Watton show was held.
Watton Show was held sometime in the later part of September, giving farming folk time to finish harvest, if they hadn’t finished by the appointed date owing to a wet season, the attendance at the show was very poor. For that was what it was all about; farming. Most of the people in the district were connected with farming; if they weren’t farmers or farm labourers, they were blacksmiths, wheelwrights, saddlers, millers or foundry workers employed in the making of farm implements. I could go on and on. Now these trades are almost nonexistent. The tradesmen relied on a good harvest to get paid promptly for their goods and services, while the shopkeeper also benefitted from good crops gathered in.
How we counted the weeks and then days to the show. Father and brothers were busy getting the stock ready. Pigs were scrubbed to a spotless pink; horses were groomed till their coats shone like silk and roots were staked out in the fields long before the day. There were mangolds; Golden Globe and Red Intermediate sugar beet, long and straight with no offending fangs, also swedes and turnips, solid as the truth. Waggons and tumbrils were washed free of mud or freshly painted red and blue. Such a lot of work went on in the evening, but how enjoyable it all was.
Mother was making me a new coat for the occasion. She was making it from a remnant she had bought during Durrant’s sale, but as it had been a delicate cream colour she dyed it to a pretty rose pink. I remember it had to be dipped several times to get the required shade. I was in a great state of anxiety for fear it would not be finished in time, it would have been terrible to have had to wear my shabby school coat. But yes, all was well, the buttons were sewn on at the last minute that morning.
Oh, what a hectic morning, The night before I thought I would not get to sleep at all I was so excited, but of course I did and when I awoke I lie awhile so I could relish that wonderful feeling; the Great Day had arrived at last. I ached with the ecstasy of it all.
The rest of the family had been up very early and the roots were already lying in rows on the waggon floor. We so hoped that when they were cut in two by the judge on the show ground, they would not have a hole in their centre. We could only trust our luck.
The pigs were loaded into a tumbril with lots of squeaking and squalling and a pig net was pulled tightly over the top of them. Those protesting pigs had no desire to go to the show.
No one worried about breakfast that morning, but my brothers took a packed lunch with them before they drove their horses and loads down the fields towards the Watton road. Mother, Father and I followed later in the pony and trap. There was more traffic on the road than I would have thought possible, everyone was going in the same direction. We arrived in town, stabled the pony at the sale yard and walked towards the show ground.
The pavements were packed with people. All the farm hands had been given a day off and were out with their wives and families. Cheap Jacks and stalls selling all manner of things were stationed all along the street and for the folk who could not afford the shilling to go on the show ground, it was entertainment in itself to watch the traders display their wares, then pause at the show ground entrance to admire the animals as they were taken into the show.
The great cart horses looked very proud with their manes and tails braided, their brasses shining and their heads held high, just as if they were all first prize winners. The muscles under their polished coats rippled like the waves.
The huge bulls, led by rings in their noses got their share of admiration, also the cows as they minced along, their great silky udders swinging from right to left at every step.
Mother had the money ready, half a crown, for it was half price for me. I felt very pleased with life as I walked with my parents under the great banner stretched across the gateway, it read, “GOD SPEED THE PLOUGH.”
We hurried to where the roots were laid out on the ground, marked out by tightly drawn ropes. Yes, some of the roots were neatly cut in two, but praise be, ours were solid as rocks. Prize cards of red and blue were on sugar beet and mangolds, there were also several ‘highly commended’ cards. Cannels gave a ‘special’ prize as they had been grown from their seed.
We then moved on to the pigs’ pens and there was a red rosette tacked to the wooden hurdles that made a temporary sty for our sow and litter of pigs. If they didn’t look too happy, Harold standing in charge close by looked as pleased as Punch.
We could now look round the rest of the show with happy hearts. This was the day the public met the friends and relations they hadn’t seen for a year. There was a great wagging of tongues. I was sure to get given a sixpence or two to spend at the fair from my many aunts and uncles, the festival atmosphere made them more benevolent than usual. My Great Uncle Bob, who I saw at the show every year was a puzzle to me, for even from my lowly position I was aware he was very short. This was a contradiction of terms.
The vegetable tent was always worth seeing to think of those hours of anxious toil that went into producing those wonderful onions, carrots, beans, cauliflowers etc. And the mixed baskets; all that produce brought to perfection at the same time.
There is something special about an agricultural show; the smell of the animals; the crowds and the noise of the band. Some exceptional quality that can not be defined.
The animals started to leave the later part of the afternoon, for some had come from a distance. They made a colourful display with their gay rosettes and prize cards hung proudly round their necks. A smaller crowd remained to watch near the show’s entrance, as if unwilling to miss a thing.
In the evening we went to the fair that was held every show day on a meadow in the town. Roundabouts, swings, the Cake Walk, they were all there and what a lot of people all wanting to try one or other of those delights. And the noise, it was almost deafening.
At several of the stalls, games of chance were in progress. Numbered tickets could be bought and if the hands of the giant clock stopped at your number, you won quite a good prize. The man who was in charge of the stand selling the tickets, always seemed to have just one more left to sell. After one or two attempts the giant hand stopped at Mother’s number and she chose a tea set with pink roses gracing its surface. Hardly a comfortable thing to carry amongst such jostling crowds; but it surely made her day.
We were all very tired when we climbed into the little trap behind a willing Pansy, the pony was so glad to be going home at last. The carriage lamps were lit by two candles and shew little light, but we two children were too exhausted to enjoy the novelity of a ride home in the dark. I nodded off to the tune of the pony’s hoofs on the hard road. A happy day was over, to be discussed again and again in the weeks to follow.
The next weekend my younger brother held a mini vegetable show in the back yard with all the vegetables and fruit he could muster. My contribution was a bunch of purple michaelmas daisies in a jam jar. There was no time for the cultivation of flowers, but a few hardy specimens obligingly blossomed without assistance.
The prize cards and the rosette were greatly admired and stood for sometime on the mantleshelf. Eventually they were nailed to the barn wall, to be added to the following years.
Chapter 7 / Chapter 9