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On the crisp autumnal morning of Tuesday 21st September 1869 The Right Hon. Thomas Emerson Headlam MP, squire of Gilmonby Hall  and Chairman of the newly founded Bowes Agricultural Society led his  Committee to a field behind the Ancient Unicorn Inn to hold the first of what soon became the Society’s Annual Show. On that day there were 116 entries in 30 classes of cattle , sheep, horses, pigs, butter and cheese and it should be noted that competitors were strictly limited to within a radius of 10 miles of Bowes! Afterwards, at 4.00pm, some 80 people retired to dinner in the Long Room at the Unicorn after which there was a fascinating series of toasts and responses setting the standards for future events.

!50 years later the Show has experienced just a few cancellations due to wartime, Foot and Mouth Disease and inclement weather. The Show  has also enjoyed many successes together with enduring some hardships and the inevitable financial crises.

During the 1920’s the main focus of the show appears to have been the Swaledale Sheep. The President in those days was Mr Gilbert Dugdale of Gilmonby Hall who at that time was President of both the Show and the Swaledale Sheep Breeders Association.  Mr Dugdale worked tirelessly to promote the breed and used the Show as the most significant showcase. Hence, whilst other sections were growing and developing the Show became known as the ‘Swaledale Royal’ and to this day the image of the Shearling Swaledale Ram Trophy is used as the Show’s flagship emblem/trademark and is seen on letterheads, schedules, catalogues and rosettes.


Today the show plays a hugely important role in promoting the heritage and traditions of local farming life in Teesdale and the wider Durham Dales.  Bowes Show is important to the local community as it provides a fantastic opportunity for everyone to come together to socialise, show and maintain the rural breeds of livestock and the traditions of the area. It is also important that the show helps to inform, encourage and educate future generations so they understand the important of the rural industries and where their food comes from!

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