The Royal Welsh Agricultural Society (RWAS) has celebrated its 120th anniversary at the Houses of Parliament.

The RWAS has played a leading role in the development of agriculture and the rural economy for more than a century. Members and guests of the Society took to London to celebrate this special milestone of 120 years.

On February 26 1904, a gathering of influential landowners came together to form the Welsh National Agricultural Society – an organisation that would later become the Royal Welsh Agricultural Society.

The meeting to form the Society took place in Committee Room 12 in the Houses of Parliament in Westminster, London. 120 years to the day later, in that very room, the RWAS celebrated the history of the organisation and how it has grown to host one of the largest agricultural shows in Europe, the Royal Welsh Show.

Curators from the National Library of Wales presented a selection of archive material including a minute book relating to the first meeting, the first journal, entry forms and catalogue from the first show held in Aberystwyth in 1904. Several archived photographs of the Royal Welsh Show and other historic artefacts such as balance sheets, council reports, the original membership form, leaflets, and pamphlets were also on display.

120th anniversary RWAS - Royal Welsh
Curators from The National Library of Wales presented their collection of artefacts, including the minute book from the very first meeting held in Committee Room 12 at the Houses of Parliament on February 26 1904 (RWAS)

The event was kindly sponsored by Fay Jones, MP for Brecon and Radnorshire, who welcomed guests to the Houses of Parliament on such an ‘auspicious day’. A proud supporter of the Royal Welsh, Ms Jones has attended the summer show for as long as she can remember.

“I am proud the Royal Welsh Agricultural Society has been a staple in Brecon and Radnorshire for generations,” she said.

“They have played an indispensable role in advocating for sustained agriculture in the region and promoting Welsh farming to the world through the Royal Welsh Show.

“For 120 years, the Royal Welsh Show has boosted the spread of the Welsh economy, language, and culture. The Government must do everything in its power to support the Society’s ambitions and I am proud to back them.

“The Royal Welsh Agricultural Society is a Welsh national treasure and I hope it will continue for another 120 years and beyond.”

Guests heard from National Library of Wales Director of Communications Rhian Gibson and curators from the Department of Archives and Manuscripts and Photographic Collection.

Ms Gibson said the National Library of Wales is “very proud” of its partnership with the Royal Welsh Agricultural Society. 

The library, founded in 1907, is the centre of research into the culture and heritage of Wales and the Celtic nations. It holds a tremendous amount of collections, including 7 million books and newspapers, 7 million feet of film, 1.5 million maps, 950,000 photographs, and 60,000 works of art. It’s the place to view Wales’s treasures.

Ms Gibson urged guests to visit the collections and support the Welsh National Library: “Like all Welsh cultural institutions, the library is currently facing serious challenges, at the same time farming communities are fighting to save their future.

“The Welsh National Library and the Royal Welsh Agricultural Society, in the decades since their founding, have worked relentlessly to preserve and enrich the land and heritage of Wales, to ensure that it is there for generations to come. We must continue with this invaluable, crucial, and important work.”

During that first general meeting in February 1904, founders and supporters passed a number of rules on the Society’s constitution and decreed that its aims should be to improve the breeding of stock and encourage agriculture throughout Wales.

Several rules were recorded in the first leather-bound minute book on display during the event. The first being, ‘to hold an annual show, the object of which to get the best of stock from all parts exhibited in Wales.’ The first show was held a few months later in Aberystwyth on the 3rd and 4th August 1904. It is fitting that as we celebrate the 120th anniversary, Ceredigion is the feature county this year.

Today, the Society is a national institution loved throughout Wales and beyond, not only by farmers and the rural community but by people from all walks of life, many of whom have come to regard the Royal Welsh Show as the highlight of their year.

120th anniversary RWAS - Royal Welsh
Members and guests of the Royal Welsh Agricultural Society gathered to celebrate the 120th anniversary of the Society at the House of Commons (RWAS)

RWAS officials; Chief Executive Aled Rhys Jones, Chair of Council Nicola Davies, and Chair of Board of Directors Professor Wynne Jones spoke about the past, present, and future of the Society, and plans to develop the permanent 150-acre site in Llanelwedd.

“We’ve heard today about the founding objectives of the Society, and it is striking how relevant they still are today,” said Chief Executive Aled Rhys Jones.

 “The agricultural landscape of Wales has changed enormously and is facing a period of accelerated change. The role of the Royal Welsh is to be a constant. A constant champion of Welsh farming whilst celebrating our unique culture and heritage.

“We see our role as a Society bridging the divide between rural and urban communities, engaging with the public, raising awareness of food production, fostering a better understanding and appreciation of the wider value of agriculture, and growing public confidence in our industry.”

Secretary of State for Wales, David TC Davies was welcomed at the event and congratulated the Society on its 120th anniversary, and thanked the National Library of Wales for the work they are doing to protect the culture and history of Wales. He emphasised the importance of farming, with 80 per cent of the land in Wales currently under the care of farmers.

Mr Davies said: “I was delighted to attend this wonderful event to celebrate 120 years of the Royal Welsh Agricultural Society, who do such sterling work on behalf of farming and the rural communities in Wales.

“Farming is such a vital sector, employing over 50,000 people in Wales, contributing to our economy and essential, of course, to ensuring that we all have food and drink to sustain us.”

RWAS Chief Executive, Aled Rhys Jones commented on the success of the day: “It was such a special occasion, everyone felt enormously privileged to be in the very room where it all started, soaking up 120 years of history.

“We also felt a huge sense of responsibility to protect and enhance this wonderful institution for years to come.

“We are extremely grateful for the support from the National Library of Wales and that we could hold an event coinciding with Wales in London Week. 

“On to the next 120 years and more!”