In the closing days of 1912 Mr. Abraham J. Simon of Les Sages convened a steering group to consider the feasibility of establishing a cottage garden society in the western parishes. Only twelve days later - on Tuesday the 7th January, 1913, the foundation meeting of The West United Agricultural and Horticultural Society was held.
The first President of the Society was the Reverend H. Walter Brock, who like his father and grandfather before him, was highly regarded as Rector of St Pierre du Bois. Mr. T. Mansell Simon was elected first vice-president. The rector was, in practice, a "figure-head" president and it was Mr. Mansell Simon who really led the Society during its early years. Mr. A. J. Robin was elected treasurer and the first secretary was Mr. Henry W. Le Ray.
Five committee members were elected from each parish as follows: St Saviour's - T. M. Vidamour, M. A. Paint, N. Falla, W. de Gruchy, J. L. Le Page. St Pierre du Bois - A. J. Simon, A. E. Brouard, H. B. Ogier, T Corbin Jnr, E. J. Le Messurier. Torteval - J. H. Mahy, W. J. Sarre, J. Brehaut, Jas A. Langlois, N. R. Robilliard.
On the 24th and 25th September 1913, the first show was held at Les Islets Arsenal. The minutes record that "the show was a huge success from every point of view; on both days we were favoured with real summer weather, which contributed in no small measure in drawing the large attendance and giving financial results beyond our most sanguine expectations. The entries were so numerous, totalling over 800, that the Arsenal was found inadequate. There were 129 entries in the cattle classes." The success of the first year however, was not to be repeated in 1914. Owing to the outbreak of the Great War, no show was held that year. From 1915 shows were again held at Les Islets Arsenal although in 1917 and 1918 the venue was changed to Les Caches, St Saviour's.
In July 1921 King George V, accompanied by Queen Mary and the Princess Mary, visited the showground where they inspected some of the Society's prize winning cattle. During that year the Island suffered a serious drought and entries were affected. The committee was proud to have staged an event called 'Musical chairs with bicycles'. Apparently it was very popular - the first time such an event had been held in Guernsey.
The minutes of 1923 state that the weather on the show days had been the most inclement since the founding of the Society. It would seem that worse was to come for the following year the minutes record that "there was continuous torrential rain, with hail; everywhere being thick with mud". In 1925, perhaps as an omen against the weather suffered in the two previous years, the committee invited the Lord Bishop of Winchester to attend the show. The previous year there were in excess of 2,600 exhibits, a record which has only recently been surpassed.
Fur and feather exhibits were introduced in 1927. Times have not changed in some ways for that year many complaints were received about the sanitary arrangements. However the committee resolved not to pursue the matter because "the States wanted an extra five pounds to improve the conveniences"! The Society's financial position in 1932 was considered so serious that a fete was held to raise funds. A re-enactment of La Grande Charrue took place.
By 1934 the balance in hand had fallen to £25.10.6d. Bananas must have been popular in the early '30s because a decision was taken to restrict the number of banana stalls to two and to charge I/- per foot. (The minutes do not state if the charge related to the size of the site or to the size of the fruit!)
Towards the end of the 1930s a photograph of the Committee appeared in the catalogues. Various competitions were held to guess the total height, weight etc. of those photographed. A further innovation in 1938 was the "Steam Galloping Horses" which appears to have been very exciting. No show was held in 1939 because of the unsettled world situation, war being declared some two weeks before the show was due to be held. During the German Occupation no committee meetings, or other activities, were held and when the war ended in 1945 it was decided that no show could be held until 1946. The first post war show, which was held in fields, near to the old St Peter's School, suffered bad weather on both days. The show was brought forward one month from the third week in September to the third week in August. Crown and Anchor tables were allowed for the first time. The committee decided that Guernsey-French or English could be used at future meetings.
In 1948 the show was held at Les Paysans and for the first time tents were hired from Messrs Yeo Bros. Paul Limited, at a cost of £63 plus carriage. The first auction of produce was held, the auctioneer being Mr. 0. J. Langlois. Committee membership was increased from 15 to 24. An interesting variety of entertainment was provided in 1949 and 1950. Acts included 'Johnny Walsh - a trick motorcyclist', 'The Balmoral Kiltie Lassies Band', 'Harry Sloan and Barrie stilt walkers' and 'Chasewater Charlie - a comedian'. Owing to an outbreak of Foot and Mouth disease in Guernsey no show was held in 1952. However the following year, the fortieth anniversary of the Society, matters had returned to normal and a spectacular cavalcade re-enacting "The Review of the Fleet" was staged. A firework display was also held. A further change of venue for the four years from 1954 to 1957 took place when the show moved to L'Eree Aerodrome, then owned by Butlins Limited. The show returned to Les Paysans in 1958. That year Miss Marjorie Ozanne was granted permission to sell windmills in aid of her bird hospital. The Society's financial position was again cause for concern and doubts were expressed as to whether further shows should be held. Happily the committee did decide to continue and the Society gradually returned to a stronger position. On two occasions in the 1960s sheep dog displays were held; the first time it was necessary to import sheep from Sark for the performances. In the late 1960s and 1970s the Society's "It's a knockout" competitions were very popular and in 1974 Embassy sponsored an inter-parochial competition at the show.
In 1969 the Society received a legacy of £1,000 from Mr. 0. J. N. Langlois. The following year harness classes were held for the first time. The outlawing of Crown and Anchor in 1971 was opposed by the Society but two years later the committee decided not to support efforts to persuade the States to allow the game to be played at the annual shows. However a further change of minds took place in 1978 when the Society backed a move to legalise the game. Crown and Anchor subsequently returned to the showground in 1983. Diana Meldrum was elected as the first female committee member in 1974. The Society received a further financial boost in 1974 when it won a £1,000 Premium Savings Bond. From 1973 until 1983 the States Tourist Board made grants to the Society. There was a severe drought in 1976 which resulted in reduced entries in the horticultural classes. Sea water was used for the games. A pageant entitled 'Smugglers of the West' was performed. In 1977 special classes were added to the schedule to mark Her Majesty's Silver Jubilee. No glasshouse competitions were held that year because of the plant disease bacterial canker.
A display of stationary engines and other working machinery was introduced in 1984 and since then has remained a popular attraction each year. The last 'move' occurred in 1985 when the show returned to L'Eree Aerodrome, then owned by Mr. C. R. W. Best. This excellent site provides the show with an area in excess of 80 vergees. In 1986 the Society became affiliated to the Royal Horticultural Society. The Royal Guernsey Agricultural and Horticultural Society revived its parochial display competitions in 1986 and the West has been honoured to win the trophy many times since. After several applications to the Island Development Committee, permission was finally granted in 1987 for caravans to be occupied on the show ground and we were thus able to welcome the largest funfair ever seen on the Island. Our membership reached the highest level in 1987 - a total of 2,565 members. At the close of 1987, the members agreed that the Society should be re-constituted as a Body Corporate and in March 1988, the States of Deliberation approved a Requete directing the preparation of the necessary legislation. The last founder member of the Society, Mr J. E. Le Lacheur, died in 1989. By 1990 radio contact between members manning the gates and the committee tent was established and it is particularly welcome now that the Show comprises such a large area for 'runners' to cover!
The 50th anniversary of Liberation in 1995 was marked by the Society entering a float in the Liberation Day cavalcade. In 1996 the minute books were lodged with the States Archive Service for safe keeping but they can be viewed on application via an officer of the Society. The following year was the 50th anniversary of Yeo Bros. supplying the tentage and they donated a trophy in commemoration.
In the course of many years a number of traditions and customs of times past have been re-enacted in pageants giving an insight into the more leisurely days of yesteryear and it is hoped that they have assisted in preserving a valuable part of our heritage. Throughout the years since the foundation of the Society its members have sought above all things to maintain its principal object - to promote and encourage agricultural and horticultural interests in the parishes of St Saviour's, St Pierre du Bois and Torteval.
The big mile stone was of course the centenary in 2013. The committee had their thinking caps on to dream up ways of making this a bigger and better spectacle and all went according to plan finishing off with a spectacular fireworks display.
2017 recorded the biggest crowds ever at the show when the Monster Truck Display Team came to Guernsey for the first time.
With the hard work and dedication of the current Committee and a loyal band of volunteer helpers, the West Show continues to thrive and entertain the crowds each year and hope we will do so for many years to come!
West is Best!