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A look back at the centenary show of Caithness Agricultural Society in 1934


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Thurso’s Heritage by Thirsa Loon

Sir Archibald Sinclair in the kilt, speaking to some spectators at the centenary show. This show brought in record attendance and takings of £600. Photograph courtesy of the Wick Society, Johnston Collection
Sir Archibald Sinclair in the kilt, speaking to some spectators at the centenary show. This show brought in record attendance and takings of £600. Photograph courtesy of the Wick Society, Johnston Collection

With the Caithness Show season approaching, I have transcribed excerpts from a letter written by a lady present at the centenary show of the Caithness Agricultural Society. This was held at Thurso on August 15, 1934.

Recording the day, the author captures scenes, some all too familiar in the present day.

“As I opened my eyes on this particular morning in August, it was with a feeling of disappointment that I heard the patter of rain on the windows. This was the centenary of the County Cattle Show, the event of the year, and its success would depend to a large extent on the weather.

“It was just what Caithness folk would call a 'pourin’ spate'. However, we got ready and set off for the show by car, twenty minutes before the parade of cattle and horses was due to begin.

“The car bounded along the fine tar-macadamed road to Thurso. We passed here and there small groups of people waiting on the already over packed buses plying between Castletown and Thurso. When we arrived at the field a policeman was directing the traffic. Inside the gate on our left were rows and rows of cars.

"We hurried down the now sodden field, umbrellas and waterproofs everywhere, and made our way to the grandstand. It was a vast wooden construction, and as yet there was plenty of room in it. Just as we had seated ourselves the rain stopped and the sun struggled through with a watery smile.

“In front of us was marked off a large ring, and already a crowd of people had gathered; soon they were standing four and five deep. At least two boat-loads of people had come from Orkney, a train from Inverness, and buses from all parts of the northern counties. Everyone had come – men, women and children... Sitting beside me was a young lady who had set off from London the previous night and by means of train and aeroplane had arrived just in time for the show.

“So this was the centenary. As I sat there I wondered what it was like 50 years ago. The scene faded. I saw instead a long dusty road, and the sun was shining. All the way from Castletown to Thurso was a continuous trek of folk. The young lads and lassies, ay and even the older ones, walked the six miles and thought nothing of it. The women-folk generally stayed at home. There were no bicycles then.

“Carts gathered passengers as they jolted along, the boards creaking dangerously. Now and again a farmer dashed pass in his gig flourishing his whip and showing off, sometimes at the expense of his horse. Many a joke or jibe was bandied about from cart to cart, or gig to gig, on the road. Crops were discussed and all the news of the countryside.

“This began early in the morning, and, earlier still the horses and cattle were walked to the showgrounds. At the show itself one heard the various cries of cattle, horses, sheep and pigs, cocks and hens. The men went about from pen to pen criticising the animals, and joking about the time that Sandy’s wife had spent polishing the 'cooagie'. Every time they met a cronie was, of course, an excuse for a dram.”

  • To get in touch, contact thursoheritage1@gmail.com
  • Part two follows next month

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