THE TRIALS of foot and mouth disease and the BSE crisis have battered the agricultural community - but one of the oldest agricultural shows in the country - and the first of the year to be held in the North - still goes on.

In its history of at least 206 years, Otley Show has weathered countless storms in the farming world, adapted its attractions, and both seen and exhibited the continually changing face of agriculture.

The show was cancelled last year because of foot and mouth disease, and this year, organiser Wharfedale Agricultural Society has been forced to give up on plans to have cattle and sheep present, because of continuing foot and mouth restrictions.

But if the show's past is anything to go by, this will go down as little more than a small setback in an otherwise successful history.

Over the years, farming trends have come and gone, and as a result, the show has changed in character.

The show itself was set up in a time when the Industrial Revolution began to take off, and there was a huge movement of people from their rural homes, and traditional agricultural lifestyle, into the growing industrial cities.

Between 1874 and 1932, the show ran on two days, with the judging of different sections taking place each day.

For many years, there were two shows held each year, one at Easter, and one in the Autumn.

There was also a young stock show - held each September - in association with Otley Show, and a number of ploughing contests linked to the show. The young stock show ended in 1922, when there was a heavy loss.

Although historians have tried to pinpoint the start of Otley Show, the earliest so far pinpointed was the show of 1796. Shows took place almost every year after this date.

Present day show secretary Janet Raw said: "Farming in the 20th Century changed tremendously from start to end. At one time, they even used to close the schools on show day."

Giant crowds of more than 30,000 would turn up to the show, and when the railway came to Otley, livestock would be ferried into the town on show days, and driven down to the show field.

The origins of the show are said to lie in the interaction between farmers who came from far and wide to Otley Market. One farmer would claim his animal was the best, and another would contest it. The two would put bets on their animals, and a third party would be brought in to make the decision.

This tradition grew up in the years after farming was changed by the introduction of the Enclosures Acts, which sought to increase food production for the growing population.

A show of cattle came to exist in Otley before the inauguration of the Otley Show we know today.

In the early shows, farmers were not given a cash prize, and competed simply for the honour of owning a prize-winning animal - although for many years, the old system of betting remained in place.

Several figures helped bring together Wharfedale farmers, including Sir Henry Carr Ibbetson, of Denton, and shorthorn breeder Jonas Whitaker, of Greenholme, Burley-in-Wharf-edale.

In 1804, Mr Whitaker and the Rev James Armitage Rhodes of Horsforth visited the eminent agriculturalist William Coke, in Norfolk, too see his show in Holkham. In the Holkham show, not only the best livestock and produce were awarded prizes, but also the best-managed farm, the best-ploughed field and the best-kept fences.

Upon their return, they set about forming a an agricultural society for Wharfedale.

A meeting took place at the White Horse, Otley - now Barclays Banks - on January 2 1806, to found the Wharfedale Agric-ultural Society. Sir Henry became the first president, and Lord Harewood was one of the first vice-presidents.

The first subscriptions to the new society totalled £105 5d and 6d. Once the show became a large-scale affair, it had to take over the fields on Pool Road - now used as rugby and football pitches - before later moving to the fields behind the Bridge End Auction Mart.

The two-day shows generally saw one of the show days fall on a Friday, with people coming into Otley by the coachload as visitors.

The exhibits on show at the show have also changed greatly. Breeds of cattle and sheep which have dominated the showfield in recent years differ from those shown in the early days.

While the numbers of most exhibits have fallen over the years, the number of horses appearing at Otley Show has risen.

"It really reflects the changing interests of people," said Mrs Raw.

Showjumping has increased in popularity, and attracted increasing numbers since the time 'leapers', as they were then called, were billed well below the major cattle and sheep classes.

Changes in agricultural techniques have meant that some cattle and sheep breeds have fallen out of fashion, while others have appeared more and more often. There was some speculation last year that this could change again, because some breeds were so depleted by the foot and mouth culls.

Some animals, such as pigs, have disappeared from the Otley showground. Dogs were a huge attraction at Otley Show many years ago, and this may be something which is expanded in future, especially if cattle and sheep cannot attend this year's event, because of DEFRA restrictions.

Ploughing matches in connection with the show ceased in 1880.

Otley Show has faced a number of disruptions in its history, most notably during wartime. The show was called off during the Second World War, and when it made its comeback with the 139th event in 1946, it was named the Victory Show to commemorate the end of the War.

The show has also been through many other special occasions, inviting the Princess Royal to its 150th show in 1957, and celebrating its bicentenary in 1996.

The Wharfedale Agricultural Society has frequently seen itself dealing with upheavals in farming throughout its history.

Members were keen to support the future of farming, and debated such matters as an influx of cheap beef from the United States in the early 1900s. They also recognised, even from the early days, that the coming of the 'iron horse', and the growth of industry, would have such a sweeping effect in agriculture.