Heritage of the Yapton & District Cottage Gardeners Society's Flower Show

Following the postponement of this year's Flower Show and Summer Fair organised by the Yapton & District Cottage Gardeners Society, I thought I would take a look at the beginnings of this annual event. The Society endeavours to keep up the tradition of holding its flagship event in a marquee on the village playing field but it is susceptible to the weather and with gale force winds predicted, the decision was taken to postpone this year's show until August 31st for safety reasons.

The first Yapton Flower Show was a joint venture with Walberton in 1856, held in the Walberton's Vicarage Garden. The first 'Flower, Fruit and Vegetable' show to actually be was held in Yapton took place in September 1890, in a meadow owned by 'Mr. Fuller'. The instigators of the show were the local vicar, the Rev. Loder-Cother, and Mr. A Bostock, according to a report in a local newspaper. The show was also open to the residents of the nearby village of Ford. The show was held annually and each year the visitors were entertained by local musical groups such as the band from the Bognor Boys' Home, or the Bersted Brass and Reed Band.

The cancellation this year due to high winds wasn't the first time the weather had interfered. The 1903 show, which was by then open to residents of Clymping and Barnham, had to be held in the 'Congregational Schoolroom' owing to the tents being blown down by high winds. Again in 1908 the "boisterous weather" took a hand, causing the show to be postponed, to be held in the village school the following day.

The Chichester Observer and West Sussex Recorder published a full report of the 1897 show. It makes interesting reading when compared with this year's show. Today's Society is affiliated to the Royal Horticultural Society which has a strict code of conduct when it comes to exhibiting in the various categories. Although the RHS came into being in 1804 there was no indication that the 1897 Flower Show was governed by their rules.

According to the report the weather was somewhat showery on the day, a Wednesday, which affected the attendance but the number of exhibits was average "making one of the best village shows in the district". Included in the list of judges for the day were Mr. E. Burbury of Arundel Castle and Mr. H. Harris of Avisford House, while amongst the dignitaries attending were the Mayor and Mayoress of Arundel.

19th century flower show
(From a Country Flower Show - a painting by Arthur Hopkins)

A total of 60 classes made up the 1897 show compared with 164 classes in the 2019 Summer Show. Twenty-four special awards, cups and trophies including the Leslie Crowther Trophy (a former President of the Cottage Gardeners) are also presented in the modern event.

All the classes were 'open' in 1897 but today they are broken down into Members, and Open, Classes. The Members' section still resemble those earlier shows, although Turnips have been replaced by Rhubarb, and Parsnips by Peppers. In the original flower section Dahlias and Asters made up the majority of the ten categories of exhibits and fruit was restricted to Apples and Plums. Opportunities for being a winner in the Handicraft and Needlework section were few and far between unless the exhibitors were adept at producing a Man's White Shirt or a Man's Coloured Shirt, if not they could have entered Knitted Socks or Stockings. It appears that the Cookery and Preserves section was in its infancy, the only classes available were Boiled Potatoes, Honey, and Butter, this was perhaps an indication of what was important to the villagers in the late 19th century. There was only one entrant it seems contesting the Honey crown and that was Yapton's well known Bee Keeper, Mr. F. Page. He was awarded 1st place in both Honey classes, no other prizes were awarded.

Another section which has disappeared over the last century is Livestock. There were classes for Cock and Two Hens, Best Rabbits, Heavy Rabbits, Best Pair of Rabbits, British Bird and Best Canary. Apart from the Cock and Two Hens and Best Canary categories, 3rd places were not awarded. More recently new sections have appeared these included Wine and Beer,and Photographic. I wonder what will appear during the next 100 years?

Allen Misselbrook
August 2019

(Originally published in Sussex Local Magazine, Arundel, October 2019)