Prizes, pigs and ploughing: A brief history of the Orsett Show

This Saturday, 2 September 2017, we will be at the Orsett Show with a table in the Heritage Zone. This got us thinking about where this long running agricultural show all began.

The Orsett Show can trace its history back to ploughing matches held in the village from 1841, organised by The Orsett Agricultural Association and Labourers’ Friend Society. The competitions were held with the support of Mr Richard Baker Wingfield-Baker, the owner of Orsett Hall and President of the Society.

These events are described in local newspapers of the time. After the ploughing matches, the company would retire to the George Inn in Orsett for a prize giving and meal. The last of these events was held in October 1879, when there were 21 entries in the ploughing competition, and a ‘very good show of market garden produce, bread and needlework’ (Chelmsford Chronicle, Friday 10th October 1879). In March 1880, Wingfield-Baker was killed in a hunting accident (aged 78), and the competitions ceased.

In 1895, the new owner of Orsett Hall, Captain T.C. Douglas Whitmore and his son Francis Whitmore revived something along the lines of the previous events when they set up the Orsett and District Cottage Garden and Agricultural Society. They hosted the Orsett Show themselves in the grounds of Orsett Hall.

Orsett Hall (from Whitmore family photograph album D/DWt Z3/10)

The Chelmsford Chronicle tells us that at the first of the new shows ‘The garden produce and exhibits were highly creditable’, but ‘In many instances it was noticeable that lessons in selecting fruit were required… The vegetables were worthy of mention. The pot plants did not call for special praise.’ Entertainment was provided by a roundabout and other amusements, and the band of the training ship Shaftesbury. In the evening, guests enjoyed dancing and fireworks.

Competitors in the ring at the Orsett Show, 1935 (from Whitmore family photograph album D/DWt Z3/10)

Horse jumping at the Orsett Show, 1935 (from Whitmore family photograph album D/DWt Z3/10)

A bull being exhibited at the Orsett Show, 1935 (from Whitmore family photograph album D/DWt Z3/10)

An exhibit by the Orsett Basket Works at the Orsett Show. The Orsett Basket Works was set up by Col. Whitmore after the First World War to provide employment for local men who had been wounded during the war and were not able to return to their previous employment (from Whitmore scrapbook D/DWt Z2/7)

The show continued to be held at Orsett Hall, with breaks during the World Wars. Over time new classes were introduced for vegetables, horses, cattle, and more. In 1948, Orsett Hall hosted two agricultural shows in one year, being the venue for the Essex Agricultural Show in June and the Orsett Show in September. The June event must have been a special occasion for many people as King George VI and Queen Elizabeth visited, spending the entire afternoon meeting competitors and stallholders.

Their majesties visit the pig judging at the 1948 Essex Show held at Orsett Hall (from Whitmore family photo album D/DWt Z3/14)

In 1968, the Whitmore family sold Orsett Hall and Sir John Whitmore, the son of Sir Francis, resigned the presidency of the show, which had been with his family since 1895. A site in Rectory Road in Orsett was acquired by Orsett Show Ground Ltd to provide the show with a permanent home and it has been held there every year ever since.

Document of the Month June 2014: Map of Tilbury showing plans for Operation Overlord

Each month a document is put on display in our Searchroom. Our document for June has been chosen by Archivist Allyson Lewis to reflect the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings which began on 6 June 1944.

This month we look at Essex’s involvement in Operation Overlord, known as the D-Day landings.  Eastern Command, which included Essex, was to provide for 104,000 men and their equipment embarking through Tilbury and London Docks.  Tilbury was a Marshalling Area for collecting men and vehicles for the D-Day landings.

C/W 3/4/9

Marshalling Areas (MAs) were intended to hold 40,700 men and 6,500 vehicles prior to embarkation, load them and send them out as part of the initial landings, and then to embark 4,000 men and 600 vehicles per day for as long as necessary after D-Day itself.  Once sent for embarkation, the troops had to be provided with food and drink so any postponement of the operation posed a serious logistical problem.  The MA was arranged in 8 sub-areas located at Orsett Golf Club, Tilbury, Purfleet, Thorndon Hall, Belhus Park, Warley Barracks, Weald Park, and the Halfway House Inn on the Southend Arterial Road.

Planning began in February to identify suitable sites for camps field hospitals, ammunition dumps, petrol dumps, bakeries, rail heads and traffic routes.  This map (C/W 3/4/9) shows the location of the camps in each sub-area and the routes traffic should take to reach the embarkation points.  Most of the vehicles were parked up on the Southend Arterial Road.  They had to be waterproofed before being loaded onto the ships.  During March camps were constructed and roads strengthened, and by 1 May the area was ready.  Postal censorship began on 1 April and by the end of May all camps were patrolled to prevent contact with the local population.

Embarkation of troops and vehicles was a four day process: three days to waterproof the vehicles and get them aboard and to issue supplies and load the men, and one day to clear the area and get ready for the next detachment.  Y-Day was the name given to the day when everything would be ready to go.  Any long delay at this point would mean that men would have to be disembarked and sent back to their camps.  However, the weather improved sufficiently on 5 June for Operation Overlord to commence on 6 June 1944.

Information from