When the 36 nobles and gentlemen sat down in the Cross Keys Hotel, Kelso, on January 22, 1813, to form the Border Agricultural Society, they had a very clear purpose in mind – agriculture in Roxburghshire was backward and needed to be modernised.
To drive up standards they held exhibitions (shows) for sheep, cattle, horses and implements, held ploughing matches, implement demonstrations and trials as well as seed competitions and shows.
Furthermore the society was active in encouraging the development of regular markets in the area and one outcome of this was the introduction of a sale of rams first held in the Knowes, Kelso, in 1838 – almost certainly the first public auction sale of rams in the world. As the society grew, its influence spread over a wider area of the Borders and the process of rapid agricultural improvement was stimulated and encouraged.
When the society directors sit down this year to consider the future of the society, as it moves into its third century, they will note some similarities and echoes of the early years.
However, while the show and Ram Sales remain as core activities, the introduction of a highly successful dog show and the use of the showground and Exhibition Hall for a host of events throughout the year put a different slant on the work of Border Uunion Agricultural Society.
More importantly, wider countryside activities play an ever more important role in the show and it can be argued that the key purpose of the society now, rather than stimulating agricultural improvement, is to act as a showcase for the countryside to an increasingly urban general public.
However ,as Timmy Douglas put it so well in his poem to mark the Bicentenary:
Two centuries’ seasons have vanished
And melted like snowdrifts in spring
But the auld song has never been banished
And the present’s a fine song to sing.
There’s a future that stretches before us
And we hope and we pray and we wish
That our grandchildren sing a new chorus
To keep our society fresh