December 20, 2008

Bellingham Show - Part 1

Northumberland, farming, history, entertainment, Agricultural show, Bellingham

By Clive Dalton

Highlight of the farming year

The highlight of our year up the North Tyne, without doubt, was Bellingham Show held in the last week of August for well over 100 years. We Bellingham folks dated everything in our lives by the Show. Arguments over dates could always be settled by “huw lang it waas afore or eftor the Show”.

In farming, we especially dated critical events like finishing the hay or the harvest to Show day, when the nights started to cut in and the dews got heavy so you were really struggling to get anything to dry after that. If hay was still uncut after Bellingham Show – then you could bet your Rogerson’s shepherds’ boots that fettles would not be good.

The Show season
The North Tyne “show season” started with the Border Shepherd’s show at Falstone held about 20 August. Here shepherds put their best sheep before the judge, and if the sheep did well, owners would take them to Bellingham to hopefully “clean up” depending on the judge there. As in all showing, it was critical to know who the judge was.

So Falstone show was a taster for Bellingham Show, which was then followed by the later shows up the Rede at Rochester around the 1st September, and then up the Coquet at Alwinton at the end of September to complete the season.

Excitement builds
The air of excitement at Bellingham Show started to build for us village laddies about a week before the event, when we saw the first tents appear. Then the sheep and cattle pens and the horse jumps came out from under the grandstand. Then a few days before the Show – what excitement, “the hoppings” arrived; it was overwhelming for us yunguns in the 1950s and 1960s.
Show day arrived, and a main feature was the noise of steam trains shunting and whistling in the station as the “special” trains from Blyth, Ashington and Tyneside arrived to deliver their passengers on trips to the show.

Joining the throng of folk walking through the village, and heading along around the Catholic turn across the bridge to the show, we could hardly contain ourselves. We never made conversation with these foreigners from Newcastle and beyond, as they seemed full of gob and pushy. But the Bellingham pubs (the Railway, Black Bull, Rose & Crown and the Fox & Hounds) welcomed them at 11am opening time; many never got to the show but they had a great time!

Pay at the gate

At the showfield gate, our neighbour Tommy Davidson was there every year with his rose buttonhole to take the money, and once in, you just went daft wondering where to go first.

I was always duty bound to check the “industrial tent” to see what prizes Dad had won with his vegetables, and to see if Mother had won owt with her baking or crochet work. Then I went to have my mind blown by the dressed walking sticks from both sides of the Border. This put you off ever trying to even copy the work of these famous men like George Snaith or Ned Henderson.

Photo shows the Show Corporate Office waiting for the
patrons. Internet contact
is (

The livestock

But soon, the livestock had to be checked to watch the judging at the top end of the field near the cemetery wall, where they were sorting out the sheep and cattle. This was a favourite spot – mainly to study the humans and their behaviour as much as the stock! My life-long interest in this subject started here I’m sure, as well as in the dog tent among the exhibitors of the “border terriers, fox honds, Bedlington terriers and whippets from all over the county and outside”.

It was from these early days that I realised that given time, owners start to look like their animals! The other place to gain more evidence of this was the goat tent!

Horses, Pipes & wrestling
By late morning the preliminary rounds of the horse jumping had started and also the wrestling. The Northumbrian pipes were ganin canny by then too, so you had this terrible dilemma of deciding which finals to watch.

It was aalll ower much. But it was easiest to give the piping a miss as after you’d heard “Sweet Hesleyside” and “The Rothbury Hills” played a hundred times, it was more than enough. However, if you stood in the right place you could watch Dessie Ward cowp all his opponents in the wrestling, and when the roar came from the crowd in the grandstand, you could rush over and catch Doreen Ray riding a clear round for Miss Mitford of Woodburn.
The grandstand waiting for the roar of the crowd
It has weathered the years well and could tell some great tales
Isaac Walton's
There was always a few commercial exhibitors selling their wares and Isaac Walton was very prominent. In their tent, could get measured for a tweed suit or jacked with a nice “single vent country cut” as the salesman (clad in tweed suit), would strongly recommend. I had one of these tweed suits for years.

The beer tent was always overflowing but we village laddies gave it a wide berth incase some friendly neighbour saw us! Anyway, it was so full of “full” raucous Geordies, on a constant trek to the primitive nettie made of corrugated iron, that it didn’t have much appeal.

The Show Dance
But weariness eventually set in as the sun started to fall, and it was time to get across the Tyne bridge back to the village and heme because there was “The Show Dance” to prepare for in the toon hall! You had to be firing on all cylinders for this event!

What a prospect–with the lasses in thor posh dresses trying not to sweat ower much as the North Tyne Melody makers and Billy Richardson the MC gave us little time between dances. We needed that time to get the lasses te sit on wor knees under the premise of a shortage of seats!

Time gentlemen please!
After 10pm “the lads” from the pubs arrived at the dance, with their caps on acute angles and bottles of beer in their raincoat inside pockets. They were oblivious to the sweltering heat of the hall. The lasses were quite safe as few of them could get across the floor to where they intended to arrive to request a dance! They were far more engaged in a cluster around the bottom door, picking arguments and the occasional fight with their mates.

Memories from Bill Charlton
Bellingham Show was always on the Saturday nearest the 20th of September, but because it clashed with  Alston Show it was changed, as they brought Alston forward  because of the weather pattern changes. Hence both would have been on the same day.

The grandstand used to be open with no roof and 'Speedings' put a canvas one on for the show each year.  Then after a while, it was eventually covered with a permanent roof. Speedings were the tent people from Sunderland who used to do the job then.

A brass band from Ashington used to come by the train on the Wannie line to the Show and play all the way up to the show field, and settle on to the Bandstand which built each year for the band.

Hesleyside Estate used to supply all the timber for the show ring, the bandstand, the tent tables, etc.  The hedge was always  cut prior  to the show by my father (Bob Charlton) and Johnny Lauderdale who also did the fencing required for the show.

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