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The Longshaw Sheep Dog Trials claim to be the oldest continuous trials in the country. They have been run from 1898 to the present day, interrupted only by the two world wars. Accounts of the trials' origin vary, but the most interesting one is as follows:
The head shepherd and head keeper to the Duke of Rutland had a competition to see who could shoot the most pigeons and the shepherd won. The keeper was furious, and challenged the shepherd to a return match. The shepherd had no gun licence and guessed that the keeper knew this, and intended to inform the Police of the competition. He told the keeper he had neither gun nor licence, and as he did not wish to borrow a gun again suggested that instead they should see whose dog could round up sheep the best, and donated a sheep as the first prize. This first unofficial trial was held around 1894 or 1895.
The first official trial was held on 24th March 1898. It attracted 16 competitors in the Open Class and five in the Local Class. A total of £19 was offered in prize money. The first day's events were abandoned due to a snow storm but resumed the following day. A second trial was held in September 1898 when 'the growing popularity of Sheep-dog Trials in North Derbyshire was evidenced by a large crowd on the Longshaw Pastures grounds'. A special train was run from Manchester for the event and 700 spectators paid to see the trials.
By 1901 the number of spectators had risen to 3,000, mostly from Sheffield, with prize money amounting to £33. In 1902 prize money totalled £40 and for the first time there was a competition for a brace of dogs. One report of the trials stated 'The best dog on the field was not the winner - it was Mr Barcroft's two year old Sep, but it was not the animal's fault that the sheep were so stupid'.
The trials became an established fixture in the country calendar and grew in popularity with both competitors and spectators. The Duke of Rutland supported the trials from the outset. There were no trials held during the First World War and when they resumed in 1919 it was reported that 'a really good dog that knows his worth will cost £30 or £40'. In 1925 8,000 people attended and it was announced that since the start of the trials over £1,000 had been donated to local hospitals and other charities.
Ladies were first allowed to enter the trials as competitors in 1927, but this was not repeated the following year, when a sheep shearing competition was held instead.
A microphone was introduced in 1936 to give a commentary of the events. Prior to this the spectators did not know which were the winning dogs. The following year saw the introduction of a 10 minute bus service from Sheffield, such was the popularity of the trials.
War once again intervened, and when they recommenced in 1945 the BBC were present to record the events. Two day trials were introduced in 1947, on a Thursday and a Saturday, to give more members of the public chance to come and see them, and in 1951 they were extended to the three days that they are today.
The Longshaw Sheep Dog Trials continue to be held every year in early September, providing enjoyment for many and still raising money for charities.
The Wisest Dogs in the World by J Wentworth-Day