When country came to coast

IT was a silly mistake to make, I admit, but it was done in all innocence, although everything turned out all right in the end. Our day visit to Peterborough to spend a few hours with our daughter and her two children was shorter than expected but still worthwhile.

A few years ago Mrs Peggotty and I decided to pay them a visit, using the XL bus from Gorleston to Peterborough and taking advantage of our old people’s free travel pass. There would be no hassle, no driving for me, and a saving in petrol, so we boarded the bus at the Magdalen Arms, went upstairs for a grandstand view to make a change from the usual road-level one, and sat back for a carefree ride.

But as we proceeded along the Norwich bypass, to our consternation the traffic became heavier, eventually stop-starting and inching along. After a mile or two, a policeman directed our bus into the right-hand lane and it was able to pass the crawling traffic that was trying to leave the bypass.

We wondered what the problem was on a sunny Wednesday morning in June…and then the proverbial penny dropped. Of all the days we could have picked for our excursion to Peterborough, we had opted for the opening day of the Royal Norfolk Show!

The two-day show continues to be a highlight of many people’s year; I doubt if the 2012 event, at the Costessey showground next Wednesday and Thursday, will be other than successful, even taking into account the economic recession and the vagaries of the summer weather.

The programme includes plenty for everyone but the emphasis, of course, is on agriculture and rural pursuits; to a townie like myself, it has limited appeal, particularly as in the second half of the last century my fellow reporters and I plying our profession in various Norfolk towns were dragooned into joining the team covering the show.

By chance I usually seemed to be assigned to cover events at opposite ends of the grounds, a long trek made several times in the course of the day.

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One year, I was assigned to the flower show which the Queen Mother graced. Writing the descriptive and factual report of the flower show was no problem, but it had to include the full results of all the umpteen classes – and the organiser told me he had no written list but suggested that I should tour the exhibits noting the cards propped against vases or lodged into greenery.

We were not amused, as a previous long-reigning Queen famously said. Eventually he supplied me with the results list.

The show was deluged another year, with everybody who was wellie-less having to teeter from place to place on duck-boards.

Only once did I visit the Royal Norfolk Show as a paying member of the public, and that was when we took our children who enjoyed the armed services displays and “have-a-go” stands more than the livestock judging.

No, I doubt if the Royal Norfolk Show appeals to many Yarmouthians, apart from a novelty value if they are seeking something different for a day out and feel like mingling with the county set. Next week they will get their chance again.

Those town-orientated folk might be surprised to learn that the show actually took place in the borough years ago. Moreover, we also hosted its Suffolk counterpart. Staging a rural-orientated event on the coastal fringe of either county did not make it easy for most of those attending who had to travel long distances in an era before cars were commonplace and train or charabanc were the only alternatives.

The Royal Norfolk Agricultural Show was hosted by Yarmouth at least twice. The last time was in 1908, when the Yarmouth Mercury report said that “after a lapse of over a dozen years Yarmouth has again this week been favoured by the Royal Norfolk Agricultural Association, the annual show in connection therewith taking place on the Beaconsfield Recreation Ground on Wednesday and Thursday.”

But, not for the first or last time, the June weather bedevilled the auspicious occasion: “It was exceedingly unfortunate that the success of the first day’s show should have been marred by a sudden and most unwelcome change in the weather. At the hour fixed for the opening of the show, the rain was coming down in torrents, following a steady downpour the whole night through, and the ground was pretty well soaked by the time the public began to arrive.

“It was horribly unpleasant, and the judging proceeded during the first few hours under marked disadvantages, which merited great sympathy. As the morning wore on, matters improved a little, but the rain never wholly ceased till after midday and even then, the atonement was only partial, for a grey mist hung over the show-ground.

“It was a day of mackintoshes and umbrellas. Till the afternoon the ground presented a depressing scene of desolation and neglect. Everybody except those who had to be about had run for cover.

“There were times in the forenoon when, apart from the grandstand, there were not a score of onlookers round the horse ring.

“Under the circumstances, it is remarkable that the attendance as officially recorded should have turned out as well as it did. Had the weather been favourable, there is little doubt that a record would have been set up, as the official return of admissions gave the number as 2266 – only abut 200 less than last year’s show at Fakenham.”

I have never been clear about the old Norfolk-Suffolk boundary and in which county Gorleston was situated, but the Suffolk show was held in Gorleston in June 1913 for two days, although it seems that the site was actually over the county boundary in Norfolk, a strange location to choose. Influential in the decision to put the show on in Gorleston was Corton landowner Mr Russell Colman, president of the Suffolk Agricultural Association.

It occupied the farm land bordered by Bridge, East View and Park Roads and the Yarmouth-Lowestoft railway line; East View Road is now Marine Parade. The railway, which laid on special trains to and from Gorleston Station for those attending the show, has long-gone, and the site of that 1913 event is now occupied by houses.