History of the Society
A Historical Perspective
The earliest Show Guide in our archives is dated 1952 and this 1st Flower show was held on Saturday 27th September in the Parish Hall, Dogmersfield. There were only two years when there was no Show; namely 1953 and 1987.
From the archives - an article on the history of the Society, written by Mary Kirwan-Taylor in 1990 - provides a useful insight into the early years:
“The wartime ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign brought the competitive spirit to the ‘Queen’s Head’ where customers vied with each other to produce the longest runner bean, the fattest carrot, the largest marrow or the sweet pea with the most blooms. It was these meagre begin-nings that inspired Sergeant Major Jones, in 1948, to approach the most senior of the many retired army personnel in Pilcot, General Napier-Clavering of Tundry House, with the request that his garden should be used for a Flower Show & Fete.
During the next few years these garden parties were held at Tundry and other venues. By 1957 the interest and enthusiasm for a more formal arrangement culminated in the formation of the Dogmersfield Winchfield and Crookham Village Horticultural Society under the chairmanship of the General.
The population of the three villages was very varied; larger houses with full-time gardeners, those who employed a part-time jobbing gardener and the indigenous cottagers, each group having their own specialised competitions together with an open class for those as far away as Hartley Wintney, Fleet and Aldershot. Spring & Autumn shows were held in the Village Hall and a large Summer Show on the cricket field with side-shows and children’s events. This ambitious programme gave great fun to the participants but was costly to run, and by 1962 there was only £4 left to stage the 1963 show.
Dr. Kirwan-Taylor took over with a new committee pledged to meet any financial deficit themselves – a sure guarantee of increased effort. A membership scheme was started with individual, family and patron subscriptions. The shows reduced to one in July with only two separate categories for members and open, more and varied side-shows and dances in the marquee during the evening. Plant sales in the Village Hall also increased the revenue.
Thus began the halcyon days for the Society with entries running at about the 700 mark, new cups and awards, and people giving freely of their time. The popularity of the Show increased over the years under Dr. Kirwan-Taylor, Mr. A. Nicholson and Mr. R. Lister until the beginning of the eighties when changing population brought changing attitudes. Working women had less time to be involved, fewer properties could afford gardeners, the long-standing harmony with the Cricket Club was beginning to falter, and costs were rising. A combination of events led to the cancellation of the 1987 show. This was followed by a new wave of enthusiasm under the chairmanship of Mike Killoran and the co-operation of Alf White, in allowing the use of Pilcot Farm, has revived interest.”
At that time Pilcot farm was owned by Mr. & Mrs. Middlemass who initially allowed the Society to start holding the Show on their land. After taking over the farm, Alf White kindly allowed the Society to continue to hold the Show and that has continued to this day.
Historical Show Dates & Venues
As mentioned earlier, the first Show was held in September 1952. There are no records from 1953/4 but from 1955 to 1985, i.e. a total of 30 years, the Show was held in July/Aug. Many of the early Shows were held at the Dogmersfield Cricket Ground, moving to Pilcot Farm in 1986. From that year, and up to 1990, the Show dates reverted to September. The Chairman’s Letter in the 1991 Show Schedule stated “…due to recent hot summers, exhibitors’ flowers and vegetables have been past their best by September and the Show date has therefore been brought forward to July……”. In the following year (1992) the chairman stated “…bringing the Show date forward to July the previous year resulted in a very successful show with an 80% increase in entries and attendance up by 25%.”
The Show was then held in July for the next 20 years until 2011. We had also intended to hold the 2012 Show in July but the site was too water-logged and a last-minute decision was taken to postpone until September when, thankfully, we had a dry interlude for the Show. For 2013 we reverted back to July.
Show Schedule History
The earliest show schedule was a little smaller than today’s A5 format, being about two-thirds of the size. The number of pages was a mere six and entry to the show was One Shilling for adults and Sixpence for children.
Forthcoming events, listed in the Schedule, were a Jumble Sale and a Whist Drive, both intended to raise funds for the Society.
The first Schedule to include information on joining the Society was the 1966 edition. At that time, the annual subscription was 2/6 and 3/6 for a family. There was also a list of around 37 Patron Members but no mention of this category of membership or what it meant.
Interestingly, at that time, members were informed that the Society received tickets for the RHS Chelsea Flower Show that would be allotted by a ballot if there were too many applicants. Tickets to Wisley Gardens were apparently ‘always available’.
An interesting comparison is the classes of entry back in 1952 and how they compare with today’s. There were five Classes in those early days, much as we have now, but with some subtle changes. As an example, the first Class (now called Division) was described as: “Class A - Cottagers – those who earn their living by manual labour and who cultivate their own gardens and allotments for their own use without paid assistance”. Contrast this with the current en-try criteria as follows: “Division A – open to all residents of Dogmersfield, Winchfield and Crookham Village and Associate Members of at least six months standing.”
It is interesting to note that the first Schedule in 1952 did not contain any advertise-ments. However, this changed from 1955 with the Schedule booklet being enlarged by an inch or so all round to something very similar to our current A5 format but with 24 pages compared to 36 pages for 2012. The number of adverts hasn’t changed significantly with 32 adverts using 18 of 24 pages whereas in 2012 we had 35 adverts using 18 of 36 pages.
Picking out some of the earlier advertisers, who can remember ‘The Smallholder’ magazine, published every Friday for 4d? It was said to contain articles on vegetables, fruit, flowers, poultry, bees, rabbits, pigs, goats, farming and all country topics. In their advert they
stated “… if you want to be among the winners at your next show, you’ll find it pays to read The Smallholder”. We understand that the magazine was first published in 1910 and is still be-ing published today.
The Queen’s Head in Dogmersfield was one of the advertisers in 1955 notable for including a poem in their advert as follows:
This, my friend, is a Simond’s House.
Here you will find no need to grouse.
Welcome you will always find here
When drinking Simond’s hop leaf beer.
Also in 1955 ‘Woman’s Own’ magazine editorial stated……”You’ll find Woman’s Own read-ers carrying off the prizes in the Handicrafts and Domestic Science Classes at shows all over the country. And there’s really nothing to wonder at in that. Because this famous colour weekly is simply packed with helpful ideas – the very latest crochet and embroidery designs; charming knitting patterns; lovely things to make for your home, your children and your own ward-robe………” How things have changed!
A few more names from the past that locals might remember: Albert Street Stores (groceries & provisions), Spooner & Gale (seeds, fertilisers, garden tools), Jessett’s Stores (agents for Feathery Flake Self-Raising Flour) & Hill Nursery (Hartley Wintney). Finally, who could forget the name ‘Stone & Trill’ (painters & decorators) from Connaught Road in Fleet.
Up until 1985 there were occasional ‘messages from the committee’ printed in the Schedule with these being replaced by notes from the ‘Chairman’s Letter’ from 1986 onwards.
In 1995 the then Chairman (Peter Gillespie Brown) stated that the committee intended to hold up to four ‘horticultural evenings’ a year starting in the Spring of 1996; these to include demonstrations and speakers on various subjects to be held in a village hall. For various reasons the introduction of these talks was delayed until 1998 when Patrick Grace volunteered to take on the role of organiser. We believe that the very first talk was given by Pat Silvester in September 1998, the subject being ‘How to Prepare for The Show’.
A similar programme of ‘winter talks’ has now become an established aspect of the Society’s calendar and they have been very successful in recent years with the notable addition of a number of ‘garden visits’ during the summer months.
No account of the Society’s history would be complete without a mention of our current chairman, Brian Leversha. Brian joined the committee in 1995 (along with our other longest-serving committee member, Sue Smith) and was elected as chairman in 1997. Under Brian’s leadership, the Society has flourished with a series of very successful Shows and a steady growth in the number of members.