FEARS for the safety of visitors and exhibitors to the Great Yorkshire Show have led to the event being cancelled.

It is only the third occasion in the event's history that such a decision has had to be taken, with armed conflict during the Second World War and the foot and mouth outbreak the cause of previous cancellations.

Organisers took the agonising decision to tell those planning to visit England’s largest agricultural show not to attend for the next two days, after torrential downpours waterlogged the showground's car parks.

The Yorkshire Agricultural Society (YAS) said it was the first show since it was launched in 1837 where visitors would be turned away due to the weather.

After an emergency meeting at the close of the show's first day, an emotional Lady Emma Ingilby, the show's spokeswoman, said organisers had been left with no alternative after weeks of rain.

Organisers had hoped to attract about 130,000 visitors from across the country to the three-day event, which costs more than £2m to stage.

After spending hours towing exhibitors on to the showground and hundreds of vehicles off it, YAS initially announced all the horse classes for tomorrow's event had been cancelled. An hour later they decided to abandon the entire show.

In the days before the event, organisers had laid extra hardstanding, created a new access road, stoned up gateways to some of the car parks, laid hundreds of yards of tracking and increased the number of shuttle buses from Harrogate in a bid to maintain the event.

Lady Ingilby said: "It is absolutely heartbreaking, devastating - we have been working all year to persuade people to come and planning for two months to avoid this situation. Clearly, the 154th show will suffer a large financial loss.

"There has been an element of the Dunkirk spirit today, keeping everything going that we could."

Show director Bill Cowling said it was the most difficult decision he had ever had to make.

He said: "It is a massive operation to cancel it, almost as big as to set it up. We have to inform everyone, all the livestock people and the exhibitors who were planning to come.

"Most of the car parks are unusable, we didn't want to fill Harrogate with vehicles parked all over drives, so we took the decision to stop now."

He added that anybody who has bought an advanced ticket will have their money refunded.

The show had been due to feature more than 12,000 competitive entries, including 8,000 animals, and hundreds of trade exhibitors had paid to showcase an array of merechandise, ranging from diamond rings and persian rugs to combine harvesters.

Scores of food retailers said they faced a huge amount of wastage after preparing for a strong turn-out on Thursday, as fine weather had been predicted.

While many visitors attempted to escape the quagmire mid-afternoon yesterday, a small proportion attempted to brave the unseasonal weather.

Champion cattle breeder Paul Harrison, of Tollerton, near York, said: "It has been a wash-out. We had to move the supreme champion judging onto concrete because the grass was so waterlogged."

The Nolan family, of nearby Boston Spa, expressed surprise and disappointment at the decision to abandon the event.

Philip Nolan, 62, said: "We had a really good day, despite the rain and managed to stay dry. I understand the decision over safety as it has been difficult for some people to get out."

As the rain began to fall yesterday, show-goers applauded the Yorkshire Regiment's 1st Battalion marching around the main ring, before Masham-based brewer and YAS chairman Simon Theakston presented a trophy to the regiment's best soldier.

While the Army's Red Devils parachute team performance was cancelled, the Yorkshire Volunteers Band and a team of Ukrainian Cossack dancers delighted those who stayed on, performing in a heavy downpour.

Love was literally in the air, as one show-goer proposed to his girlfriend with an aeroplane banner while a pair of sheep handlers who found love at a previous show became the first to be married at the event.

Zwartbles sheep handlers Anne Duckworth, 47, and fiancé Kevin Robinson, 50, held their wedding ceremony at the showground's Pavilions before making a quick change to show two rams, with their best man, judge Philip Caunter, awarding the couple third and fifth places.

Mrs Robinson said: “The Great Yorkshire Show means a lot to both of us. It was my idea to get married here because I wanted to combine all my favourite things – sheep, showing and Yorkshire.”

Among the winning competitors in a cheese contest, featuring more than 800 entrants, was the Wensleydale Creamery, which won several awards for its range, while fashion shows included Yorkshire-based racing car manufacturer Ginetta launching its first lifestyle range.

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