Queen Victoria had been on the throne just 17 years of her long reign when the Rev. John Cripps, a rector in the village of Great Yeldham had the idea of forming a cottage garden society for his parishioners. He wanted to encourage people to become self-sufficient in vegetables and at the same time he wanted to engender a community spirit among his flock. He began by holding a competition on the lawn of the rectory where fruit and vegetables grown by the villagers could be exhibited and prizes for excellence awarded.
So was founded in 1854 the first Cottage Garden Society in the Country. Apart from the years of the second World war, shows have been held every year since the foundation, though the size of the show was reduced in the years 1914-18.
The Halstead Gazette was founded two years after the Society but unfortunately the old copies of the paper before 1900 were destroyed in a fire, so we have access to a small number of cuttings only and these have been preserved in a splendid scrapbook lent to us by Miss E. M. Goodchild, whose family has been closely associated with the Society for nearly a century.
The scrapbook has been invaluable in providing background information as well as highlights from past shows. As might be expected the schedules have changed little since the early days. The first report we have is from the Halstead Gazette of 1884; the show was held at Spaynes Hall on August 14th. and the produce was described as being well below average on account of the dry season. It is interesting to observe that many of the names of exhibitors are still present in the village today and most of them are members of the Society: Metson, Brown, Martin, Angel, lnce, Layer, Allen and Wilkin to name but a few. There were classes then, not only for potatoes but for cooked potatoes as well. "Proof of the potato is in the cooking as well as in the eating and proof was afforded by boiled specimens, testimonials as to the quality of the potato and of the culinary ability of the housewife". There were classes for "devices in flowers" and although the show was in August there were numerous entries for apples and for celery! The 1884 show also included a bazaar to raise money for the repairs to the church. These repairs involved extensive rebuilding of the north wall and tower as well as a new roof. The cost was £1,300, an enormous sum for those days and the whole of it was raised in the village. The bazaar alone brought in £150 and a letter in the paper said what a remarkable thing it was that these repairs should have been possible "in this age of depression in trade and agriculture and in a period of poverty and suffering unparallelled in the history of modern England". The excellent state of St. Andrews Church today owes much to the Cottage Garden Society of yesteryear!
In 1885 the show was held on the cricket ground on September 3rd. It was a first class show with fine sunny weather. Prizes included legs and
shoulders of mutton and a leg of pork!
In 1908 the show was held at Spencer Grange by permission of L. J. Way J.P., the weather was perfect and there were many visitors. The Society was described as a time honoured institution being established more than half a century but "never in its history has a better show of flowers, fruit and vegetables been held". Halstead town band played en route through the village to the showground, there was a race of 3 miles from Crouch Green, a slow bicycle race, sports, roundabout and a hat trimming competition.
In his address. Mr. T. Goodchild, J.P., C.A. said that "the mother show, Great Yeldham was pleased to see younger ones springing up all round and wished them luck". He himself had known the Yeldham show for more years than he cared to remember and hoped that so long as there was a village of Yeldham there would always be a show!
1909 was the 55th. show and was described by the Gazette as the finest exhibitition in the whole of the Colne Valley. The show was marred by stormy weather and very strong winds which blew down and wrecked one of the marquees. In the evening the weather turned calm and mild and a special feature was "musical rides on horseback when the horses danced as gracefully. almost, as human beings". Old English one step dancing was performed by employees of Mr. Goodchild who had bells tied to their legs. There was a fine parade of farm horses, there was boating on the take and later on dancing beside the lake which was illuminated. The show was again at the Hall in 1910 and was described as surpassing all previous records. There were three marquees, a parade of foxhounds, a peg driving competition on horseback as well as the attractions of the previous year. Special trains were run on the Colne Valley line from Hedingham, Halstead and Haverhill. 'The Halstead Gazette commented "there is no gainsaying the fact that these village shows do good in many ways besides encouraging the village folk to pay more attention to the cultivation of their gardens and thus raise better produce. they are means of bringing all sections of the community into friendly competition and breaking down those distinctions of class which are so notable a feature in some country districts".
1914 was Diamond Jubilee year for the Cottage Garden Society and was celebrated at Spencer Grange by a pageant on July 25th. which escorted the
high Sheriff to present the prizes at "the only Diamond Jubilee Show in the Kingdom".
There was a horse jumping competition, a circus and shooting galleries and Halstead Town Band provided music for Morris Dancing and dancing on the lawn. A special train brought visitors from Halstead 6d return, Hedingham 4d. and Haverhill 7d! It is interesting to look at some of the bills from local suppliers for the catering. M. Newman, family butcher: 248lb. Meat @, 9d./lb., G. Rice, Baker: 30 large loaves @ 5½d., Bowtell Bros., grocers: 61½lb ham, @ 9½d., 181b. butter @ ½d., Charles Pryor, grocer: 6lb. loaf sugar @ 2½d., 2 lb. tea @ 1/6d, 30lb. cake @ 6d., milk @ 1/- per gallon. No wonder the tea tickets cost only 2d!!
The 1921 show was held at Spencer Grange now called Spencer Hall. This year saw the first baby show which attracted a large number of entries. There was a competition for the best scarecrow and entertainment included conjuring and ventriloquism.
In 1938 over 2000 visitors attended the show at Spencer Hall, there were displays by military dogs, a clay pigeon shoot, tennis, football and darts competitions as well as an exhibition of beekeeping.
1939 saw the last show before the outbreak of war. It was held at Beards on July 29th. The show was restarted in 1947 and was held on October 4th. on Bowtells Meadow by invitation of the Vice Chairman Mr. G. A. Goodchild.
1948 saw the show back at Spencer Hall by invitation of Mr. A. Courtauld where it was held until 1952. The show gradually returned to its former glory and various attractions were included for the entertainment of the increasingly large crowds of visitors. There were horse shows, gymkhana, dog shows, boxing, pig pelting, tug of war and many other items.
The 1953 show was held at the headquarters of the Land Settlement Association, The Hyde, and particular emphasis was put on the equestrian events for which a separate programme was printed. 1953 was Coronation Year and Little Yeldham and Tilbury were formally incorporated in the title of the Society. There were many special items on the programme.
1954 was Centenary Year and the show which was held at Spencer Hall had a large and varied programme, there was a very big attendance.
The show stayed at Spencer Hall in succeeding years and ever more items and competitions were introduced. Trailer backing, balloon race. Punch and Judy show and so on. Attendances rose to nearly 2000 visitors.
1956 was notable in that heavy rain fell on Show Day Aug. 4th. for the first time in 50 years! To make up for the lack in other years 0.61 inches fell during the show! In spite of this, most of the programme including football and gymkhana was completed by drenched competitors and officials!
The era of the big show came to an end in 1960. The show date was moved to the Autumn and for several years the exhibition was held in the village reading room. Only in 1964 was there a July Show at Spencer Hall in addition to the September event.
In 1970 permission was granted for the Show to be held in St. Andrews School and this afforded more scope for the increasing number of entries, particularly in the children's classes. The show was field in the school in succeeding years until 1977. The finances of the Society which had suffered from the ravages of inflation gradually began to improve and the 1977 show held in a marquee on the recreation ground proved a great success. Last year's show was held in the same place in a larger marquee and attracted a record number of entries.
1979 marks the 125th. Jubilee of the Society and in addition to the autumn show on Sept. 22nd., there is to be a party at Spencer Hall by kind invitation of Lord and Lady Butler. There will he marquees on the lawn and two well known guest speakers, Mrs. Beth Chatto and Mr. Frank Knight, have been invited. There will be a buffet supper and entertainment. There could be no more delightful or appropriate selling for this celebration than the grounds of Spencer Hall the scene of so many Cottage Garden Society functions in the past. It can only be hoped that the longest day, June 21st., will bless the oldest Society with a fine warm evening for the occasion.
2 Apr 2013