If you grew up in a village, the annual summer flower show will be a fond memory. Much more than a simple display of blooms, it incorporated vegetables, fruit, baking and cookery classes.
This was an occasion to display your knitting and embroidery skills, show off your handwriting and painting ability or penchant for poetry. Some organisations even had a fancy-dress parade and sporting events, followed by a dance in the evening. In the days before mass communication and multi-choice activities, it was a big social event. In this respect, the village and town shows of today represent living history, and for me, reflection is part and parcel of their enjoyment.
Too few people seem to realise that the continuing existence of such events is often down to the hard work and enthusiasm of a handful of volunteers.
Their year-round fund-raising efforts encompass coffee mornings, car-boot sales, market stalls, anything to cover the cost of prize monies, marquees, hall hire and other expenses. It’s an even bigger headache organising the event. Refreshments, entertainment, first aid, health and safety, judges, parking, exhibitors and other requirements have to be anticipated well in advance.
Shows in our county have been a way of life for generations, as some of the notices and schedules I’ve collected over the years relate. Two of these are mentioned in The Alnwick Journal of September 15, 1859, which records the birth of Warkworth Show, of which I’m currently a judge and president, and the fifth anniversary of the Rothbury event.
“The Warkworth people held their first flower show a short time ago. They had the weather for it, and the annual feast being on the same day brought vast numbers of people to the village.
“The scene of the exhibition was the courtyard of the castle, and there the multitude was gathered together; some reclining on the grassy ruins listening to the ‘melodies’ of the militia band, and to the sough of a gale which was wandering through the labyrinthine chambers of the desolate keep; and others feasting their eyes on the beautiful array of flowers and fruits in the tent on the green. There was a really excellent turnout; and the committee managed as admirably as if they had been all their lives at the delightful task. There is now no doubt of the success of the Warkworth Show, and we trust to see many more such gatherings.”
All of this sounds familiar, and 155 years later we have staged our 143rd exhibition a couple of weeks ago, on the original site. Two world wars and outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease account for those missed.
But as another 1859 report confirms, Rothbury Flower Show always had the edge in age.
“The fifth annual show of the Rothbury Floral, Horticultural and Poultry Society was held on Thursday 1st September in the Society’s handsome pavilion, in the Market Place. The shows of this society, have always been noted for their excellence, but the display of this year surpassed all previous exhibitions. The attendance of visitors was numerous, comprising the principal families of the town and neighbourhood, as also many from Newcastle, and North and South Shields, who are at present sojourning in that delightful locality.”
Such reports encapsulate the essence of a good show, and can be equally applied to Whittingham which was held on the same day as Warkworth, or Glendale (Wooler) on Bank Holiday Monday. Perhaps even Mitford Village Show which the lady of the house and I will judge today (Saturday, August 30).