The first hundred years of the Flower Show in its various guises was celebrated with the centenary show in 1992, the first having been held in 1893. All the stops were pulled out, with many stallholders and attendees in Victorian attire.
Celebrations continued into the Sunday, with a Children’s Party in the marquee.
A souvenir booklet was produced, with an introduction by Susan Cowdy, then President of the Flower Show.
The Flower Show has always been ‘The Meeting Day of the Year’. In 1927 it was written in The Lee Magazine “We may well be pleased with OUR show, it really is our own, all the officials are to be congratulated on the kindly and efficient way in which they carry out their work”. These same words could well be used again now, 65 years later.
The present Lee Flower and Art Show has been run under several different titles through the years. The Sunday School Treat, The United Treat and Flower Show, The Lee Fête, and School Treat and Flower Show.
At the outset and for many years after a member of the local Liberty family, resident at the Manor, acted as Chairman. Financial support was also given by the Liberty family until 1922, when the Show became self-supporting. The Show was held every year except during 1914 and 1939 war years. At this time large celebrations were not in keeping as can be appreciated by the list of names on the war memorial which stands on The Lee green.
In 1920, when the Show recommenced after the war, several new competitions were added. The race for men for The President’s Cup, bowling for a live pig, hat trimming competition for men. Each man was given rolls of crepe paper, pins and a large straw hat to be decorated for completion in no more than fifteen minutes, then worn and judged. Competitive classes for dahlias and a special needlework class for women including making a child’s overall (the prize for which was 5/- (25p) a comparatively large sum for those times and one that must have been greatly appreciated).
Every year and to this day, the weather is a main topic. Competitors, Stallholders, and Organizers gaze anxiously at the morning clouds… Quote from the Parish Magazine of 1923 from the Vicar “Once again we deplore the unkindness of the weather, it really was too bad! Such a lovely day before and after to accentuate our disappointment and impotence”. Prior to that in 1920 “it is hoped that July 21st will be fine, for on that day the School Treat and Flower Show will be revived (for the first time since 1915).” This was the twenty eighth anniversary and attended by 240 children. Of all days in the year it rained steadily from the time the children formed the procession until 9pm (when the dance in the marquee ended. Alcohol and walking home in the dark was not encouraged).
In the ’20s there was a banner and Union Jack flag procession to the church for a short service before returning to the Park. In 1927 it was however a fine day when it had been “A joy to meet practically all friends from the district and old friends from a distance. The meeting day of the year.”
Our show has a special charisma. Each year the same early morning bustle, competitors arriving loaded with flowers and vegetables, jams and “gardens on plates” all being set up in the huge marquee. People scarcely speak to each other such is their concentration, arranging vast onions or strings of luscious blackcurrants, (trying not to glance at the even larger ones beside your own entry). The special smell in the tent at this time has always been the same, trodden grass and the combined scent of flowers. Then the command for all to leave, make way for judges. (Nowadays provided with a delicious lunch for their trouble).
The Art Show is still receiving works of art while Tea Ladies slave in the cricket pavilion making plates and ever more plates of sandwiches ready for the hungry hoards. A teatime where tables are set and positioned next to the splendid oompah Ellesborough Silver Band in idyllic surroundings ‘neath the spreading chestnut tree.
2pm. Gates open, crowds pour in . Children dash to see whether their vegetable monsters or jars of wild flowers have won a prize, grown ups put on a nonchalant air as they pass their Best Sweet Peas hoping for a coloured ticket. The area around the cricket pitch holds stalls from the ever popular coconut shy to the largest raffle prize draw on record. Children’s races are run, but no longer the blindfold for girls or thread the needle for boys. Instead of a shout through a megaphone there is now a tannoy which can even drown the band. Secretary’s ‘tent’ is a caravan in which sit the officials dealing with serious money like putting 50p pieces into small brown prize-winning envelopes.
By 5 o’clock the crowds have dwindled leaving the winners to receive their silver cups and prize giving.
In 1924 there was a handwriting competition, children had to write an essay on a given subject. Reg Dwight, aged 12 years, chose “Birds, flowers and trees and how they help us”. He wrote of the blue cornflower and sleek poppy towering above the tall corn and how, without wood no wooden ships would be built, or without it the woodcutter could not earn his living. Thus was life over 60 years ago. Reg was the brother of Nigel and Mary Dwight, who with Maurice Holland have been the backbones of the show for several decades as were their fathers before them .
So may this, our hundredth year be blessed with sun where friends have met together over the generations.Susan Cowdy (née Stewart-Liberty), Resident since 1914
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