Friday, December 7, 2012

Items Deserving Notice, December: A Fine Shew of Cattle

If December near you is anything like December near me, the month is thronged with events, from craft shows and markets to parades and parties, all centering around the celebration of Christmas. I was therefore surprised to find something altogether different as the highlight of the month of December in London in the nineteenth century. December marked the annual show of the Smithfield Club.

The Smithfield Club was started in 1798 at the Smithfield Meat Market in London. With no less than the Duke of Bedford as its president, the club welcomed agriculturists and enthusiasts as its members. The idea was to encourage the early maturation of cattle and sheep so that the highest quality meat could be brought to market.

Prizes were offered annually for the best beef cow above a certain weight and fed on grass, hay, turnips, or cabbages (apparently the cow, unlike our friend Cara, did not turn up its nose at turnips); the best beef cow fed on corn or oil cake (a solid block of vegetable material from which the oil has been extracted); and the best sheep in the same kind of categories. A total of 50 guineas were won at the first event in 1799 when hundreds of cattlemen from around Britain brought their animals and families to London.

At first, the club was limited to 50 members, then expanded to 100, and finally allowed open enrollment. Gentlemen as well as ladies attended, and certainly young men and women were encouraged to attend with their parents. Indeed, a Miss Strickland, daughter of baronet Sir George Strickland, won a prize one year. Partially under the influence of the club, cattle and sheep began to be classified according to breeds, with the prizes changing to accommodate accordingly.

However, the enthusiasm of the Bedford family, which had continued putting up the prizes of silver plate and medals, began to wane, and the club looked as if it might fold. It was the interest of Earl Spencer, the forebear of Princess Diana, who brought the club back into prominence in 1825, and it has continued to this day.

And after learning about this club, I so want to write a story about a noble British “cowboy.” :-)

1 comment:

Cara King said...

Fascinating, Regina! Thats's certainly a side of "high life" that we don't hear much about. :-)

Cara (the turnip hater)