The Royal Highland Show has a long and eventful history. Stretching back to the very first Highland Show in 1822 - 2022 is the year the Show celebrates its 200th anniversary.
Read on to discover more about the history of Scotland biggest and best agricultural show.
From humble beginnings
The first Show was held in 1822, on the grounds of Queensberry House in Edinburgh’s Canongate where the Scottish Parliament building now stands.
From 1823 onwards,
the Show then moved around every year between Scotland’s towns and cities across the eight electoral areas of the Royal Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland - Perth, Stirling, Strathclyde, Aberdeen, Lothian, Borders, Dumfries & Galloway and Highland.
As the Show grew year on year, the Society realised that a permanent home was needed. The growing size and scale of the Show meant that building new sites every year was increasingly difficult and costly. Stand holders were complaining of soaring costs, and the argument for the benefits of hosting the Show at a permanent site grew louder.
A permanent site would make it easier for visitors, competitors and exhibitors alike, and would provide a national exhibition site that would put Scotland firmly on the map. Edinburgh provided a location that was accessible, with facilities for visitors to stay overnight and really make a holiday out of their visit!
In 1960, a permanent home for the Highland was purchased at Ingliston Estate – this move helped solidify the remit of the Show, promoting food, farming and rural life to larger audiences from across Scotland and beyond.
Located to the west of the city of Edinburgh, Ingliston Estate is home to Edinburgh Airport and provided an extremely accessible and spacious site for the Show to call home.
Little is known about the early history of Ingliston Estate - originally known as Rattounraw until 1631, before the owner, James Inglis, changed the name to Ingliston.
The estate comprised two farms and a mansion surrounded by parkland. By the turn of the 19th century, the old house, which stood on what is now Ingliston Road, had fallen into disrepair and was uninhabitable.
The new Ingliston House was built in 1846 by William Mitchell-Innes, then owner of Ingliston Estate. It was around this time that the surrounding grounds were laid out as a natural-style, informal landscape. The estate then changed hands many times over the years – it was used as a golf club from the 1930s until RHASS purchased the estate.
Royal seal of approval
The Show has a long history and connection with the Royal family with members attending the Show at numerous locations across Scotland. During the 1948 show held at Inverness, the Royal title was bestowed on the event by King George VI. RHASS’ patron, Queen Elizabeth II attended the Royal Highland Show three times. The First time was in 1960 for the official opening of the new Ingliston site, now called the Royal Highland Centre, the second time was in 1984 for its 25th anniversary, with a her most recent visit in 2009. Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother attended in 1954 and again in 1964. Her daughter, Anne, Princess Royal attended in 2008 and 2015.
Impact & Influence
Over the last 200 years, a lot has changed (not least a Royal Charter) but the purpose of the Show remains the same – to put a spotlight on the very best of Scotland’s food, farming and rural life.
The impact and influence of the Show on the sector is vast – not only economically, but culturally. It helps drive innovation in the sector
too, through the Technical Innovation Awards and fostering the sharing of new ideas and best practice.
For 4 days of the year, the Royal Highland Show helps people combat the challenges of rural living by offering community, support and friendship. It provides the opportunity to re-engage with friends and acquaintances, something which we all need more than ever after the last few years. The Show provides a platform for both rural and urban communities to come together and experience the best our country has to offer – and most importantly, experience a fantastic day out!
RHASS has a historic reputation for recognising and rewarding excellence. The Technical Innovation Awards are pivotal to the future of Scotland’s rural industries - whether by advancing the sector, improving the environment, promoting best practice, or ensuring operator safety and comfort.
The Technical Innovation Awards, which are presented every year at the Royal Highland Show in June, are one of the oldest awards - formerly known as the 'New Implement Award'.
Today, plough technology is still constantly being improved upon, and other award winners include apps for forestry and monitoring cattle herds from afar, grain drying systems and drone technology for observing crops from above.
A range of livestock is exhibited each year at the Show including sheep, cattle, goats, horses, ponies, donkeys, and poultry.
One of the sights of the show is Heavy Horse Turnouts and in 2006, for the first time ever, Ingliston saw the attendance of all UK heavy horse breeds: Clydesdales, Shires, Percherons and — first time visitors to Scotland — two teams of Suffolk Punches travelling all the way from Norfolk and Suffolk.
The show's most prestigious livestock honour, the Queen's Cup, rotates every year between the champions of the livestock sections.
A plotted history of the Royal Highland Show
1822 – First Highland Show held on grounds of Queensberry House, with 1000 people attending and total takings of £52
1884 – The Centennial Show celebrates 100 years since the formation of the Highland Society
1899 - The Royal Party at the Edinburgh Highland Show, Prestonfield
1929 – The Show is held in Alloa
1948 – King George VI grants warrant for ‘Royal’ to be added to the title of the Highland Show
1952 - HRH Queen Elizabeth II becomes Patron of the Royal Highland & Agricultural Society of Scotland
1957 – The Canadian Mounties visit the Royal Highland Show in Dundee
1960 – Ingliston Estate purchased by RHASS as permanent home for the Show
1977 - The Queen Mother inspects the Royal Canadian Mounted Guard at Ingliston
1990 – Prince Philip visits the Show
2003 - The Golden Shears World Championships are held in 2003 in the purpose built MacRobert Theatre
2008 - HRH, the Princess Royal attends the 2008 Royal Highland Show accompanied by Jim Gammie, chief cattle steward
2019 - Aerial view of the 2019 Royal Highland Show, the last in-person show before the pandemic and the largest ever held
2020 – Work finishes on the new Members Pavilion overlooking the Main Ring in March 2020
2021 - The Royal Highland Showcase 2021 goes online, streaming live around the world over 7 days in June
Join us this June to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the first Show – you can purchase tickets here.