The Royal Smithfield Club, originally instituted as the Smithfield Cattle and Sheep Society, was formed in 1798 following a meeting at Smithfield Market, London, held under the presidency of Francis, the fifth Duke of Bedford.
This meeting laid the foundation of the club to organise and stage fatstock classes for a national Show, a foundation which would, over the next 200 years see the Royal Smithfield Club’s competitions form one of the premier primestock shows in the world.
The founders of the Club set as their objectives, aims and aspirations which hold as true today as they did then. They wanted to emphasise the principle of early maturity of animals for the meat trade and the overall improvement in quality of animals for this trade.
In its early years education on breeding, livestock husbandry and the impact of a variety of feeding regimes were a large part of the Club’s work.
The Club’s first show was staged in December 1799 at Wootton's Livery Stables (Dolphin Yard), Smithfield, with annual shows then held at other London sites until 1862 when it moved to the Royal Agricultural Hall, Islington, a home it occupied until 1938, the last show before the Second World War.
In 1949 the first show of the post-war era saw a move to the Earls Court Exhibition Centre, London, where it would remain until 2004.
From 2006-2014 the Club’s primestock competitions were held at a number of events including two stagings of the Royal Smithfield Christmas Fair held at The Royal Bath and West of England Society's Showground, Shepton Mallet, one staging of AgriLIVE SMITHFIELD at Stoneleigh Park, Warwickshire followed by the East of England Smithfield Festival hosted by the East of England Agricultural Society, Peterborough, from 2011 to 2014.
Throughout its long and distinguished history the maintenance and improvement of livestock quality has been the main objective of the Royal Smithfield Club and it has been instrumental in encouraging breeders and farmers to produce animals of the highest possible standard.
It provides a high-profile shop window for breeders and feeders of cattle, sheep and pigs suitable for the modern meat trade. Auctions sales have always played a major part in the show and the champion beast record price was established in 2004 when the champion, Dancing Queen, a Charolais-cross heifer from Hugh & Lynn Dunlop, Ochiltree, Ayrshire, sold for £16,000. A record price for sheep was achieved in 2013 at £10,200 for a pair of Exhibitor-bred Beltex x Dutch Texel lambs from Robin Slade of Hereford, which were purchased on behalf of Harrods of Knightsbridge.
The Club was graciously granted Royal Status by its patron, Her Majesty The Queen, in 1960 and in 1999 the Club was honoured that Andrew Lord Howland (Now the 17th Duke of Bedford) accepted the Presidency of the Club to lead the Bicentenary Celebrations, including a Historical Exhibition at the 1998 Show.
During The Duke's presidency he instigated a new Bicentenary Trophy Award, to be made annually to publicly recognise an individual’s or company’s significant contribution for the benefit of the British red meat industry.
Today the Club’s work is much as it always has been, with it involved in a number of initiatives in the meat industry to help farmers and butchers produce the high-quality meat demanded by consumers. Today’s meat market is increasingly conscious of the needs for highest standards of animal welfare, the protection of the environment and the need for accurate traceability to guarantee complete food safety.
To undertake this work the Club encourages demonstrations, discussions and education which include Royal Smithfield Beef Ribs & Saddle of Lamb Competitions, support of the Nuffield Farming Scholarship, National Young Stars and Next Generation delegates at the biennial Royal Agricultural Society of the Commonwealth Conferences.