Flower Show history

About fifty years ago the village Flower Show was the great summer event. It was organised by a committee under the chairmanship of the doctor, and preparations took many weeks. A marquee was hired to protect exhibits from sun, wind and weather, and beside it there arrived the day before, a fair, with all the traditional equipment of roundabouts, swings, coconut shies and wonderful side-shows. Admission to the field was free, and excited children swarmed into it. Pennies saved up for months soon vanished in rides on the shiny painted horses of the roundabout, which went round and round to the droning music, working up to what seemed a terrifying speed and then slowing down to the stopping point, and depositing giddy children on the grass, to fill up with another load. Amid shrieks and laughter, boat-shaped swings were worked up to a height far above the horizontal, till it seemed as if the occupants must fall out, but they never did. Coconut shies were a speedy means of dissipating tightly-clutched hoards of pennies. The next throw might always secure a coconut, and only the very cautious refrained after a fixed number. For them, there were stalls of the stickiest of sticky bars of sweetmeats, barley sugar and nuts.

Judging took place in the morning, and the judges, who came from outside, did not see the names of competitors till the decisions were taken. Then the cards with names were turned face upwards, ready for the rush of excited entrants as soon as the tent was open in the afternoon. Gardeners had separate classes to prevent them, through any unfair advantage, carrying away all the prizes, but many a non-gardener’s exhibit would have gained the award even in the gardeners’ class. The standard was high and competition keen, but there was generous acceptance of the judges’ verdicts, and congratulations from the defeated were given to the winners.

There was always a class for cakes, and a dish of boiled potatoes, “to give the women a change,” but on more than one occasion the prize for the best cake was borne away by a boy who had made up his mind to be a chef. He is still in the village. The scene inside the tent was gay and colourful. Vases of mixed flowers, the best table decorations, bowls of roses, sprays of sweet peas, were placed to meet the eye on entering. Classes of vegetables were on long tables round the edge – marvellous marrows, spotless and shapely potatoes, peas and beans with pods full from top to toe; cabbages solid as cannon balls, cauliflowers round and comely, carrots long and straight. Jokes and sparring were recognised as part of the prize-giving. “Fancy old Bill getting the first prize! That was the big marrer did that. I wonder if he growed ‘un hisself, or bought ‘un.” The woman who came second to the boy for her cake had to stand a lot of good-natured chaff. But the applause for all was hearty, and an ovation greeted the winner of the cup, awarded for the year to the competitor who bore off the greatest number of prizes. When the exhibits were removed and the tent left empty, the fair went on gaily till the summer nightfall, the monotonous music of the roundabouts inviting all and sundry to stay and make an evening of it. It was late before even the tired and happy children went to bed.

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