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Moving with the times

THIS year's show was the 40th held by the Kent County Agricultural Society at the Detling Showground.

The County Show is now the largest annual event of its kind in Kent attracting more than 100,000 visitors over its three days. It's a far cry from 1923, when the Kent County Agricultural Society (KCAS) was formed and held its first show in Gravesend, following the amalgamation of the Mid Kent and East Kent Show Societies.

A three-day show was then held in various locations around the county up to the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939. After the war, two-day shows were held at Mote Park, Maidstone, from 1947 to 1963.

The show's permanent base on the site of the former Detling Airfield was acquired by the KCAS in time for the 1964 show, which was graced by a visit from Princess Alexandra. In 1976, the show was extended to three days again and the showground itself was extended in 1986 so that the event could accommodate a larger agricultural section.

The showground was extended again in 1989. The Diamond Jubilee Show in 1989 was honoured by a visit from the Queen and Prince Philip, which helped to break all previous attendance records.

The site now covers about 200 acres, of which the showground itself occupies 53 acres.

Over the past four decades, facilities on the showground now officially known as the Kent Event and Exhibition Centre have been markedly enhanced with the construction of the John Hendry Members' Pavilion, the Stanley Cornwallis Building, the Astor Pavilion, the Alan Day Centre and the laying of permanent roads.

The site now boasts its own clay-pigeon shooting ground, 86 acres of car parking capable of accommodating 15,000 cars, and throughout the 53-acre showground itself an infrastructure of roads, water, electricity, BT phones, toilets and showers.

Frances Day, the KCAS chief executive, said: "In 1981 we had an extremely wet show. People were wandering round wearing plastic bags wrapped over their shoes because there was so much mud. Since then, we have put far more roads in to overcome potential problems from wet weather for people on foot and for vehicles."

As well as the County Show, the showground is now used throughout the year for major high-profile annual events such as the Kent Messenger Garden Show, antiques fairs and a caravan jamboree.

Mrs Day added: "To exist, we need to generate income throughout the year otherwise the whole thing could disappear.

"Our costs increase every year. The show does not make a vast profit. It costs a lot of money to stage and we are lucky if we break even.

"So the big events held at the showground throughout the rest of the year are very important in producing an income for the society and helping us to improve the facilities.

"We like to think that people across the county now realise that it is an excellent facility and can be used for a whole variety of different events."

The site also has a permanent St John Ambulance facility and 70 acres of woodland. To celebrate the 40th anniversary, the society is holding an anniversary lunch for members of its council involved in helping to stage the first show, held at Detling in 1964.

Until last year, the show had always been held on a Thursday, Friday and Saturday. But the society decided that the changing work patterns of visitors necessitated a change, and the three days were altered to Friday, Saturday and Sunday, a switch that is being maintained for this year's event.

"It was a difficult decision," said Mrs Day. "We felt that we needed to increase the gate numbers and give more people the opportunity to come to the show.

"Last year, we had a very good attendance and the research we did showed that there were a lot of people who had not been before. We have moved with the times and it worked well."

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