Ewell Horticultural Association


Cover for the 1899 Annual Show Programme
Cover for the 1899 Annual Show Programme
Image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum

It is understood that EHA was originally started by the Glyn family so that their workers could exhibit their garden and allotment produce. Surrey History Centre in Woking hold EHA archival records dating back to 1888, including many minutes' books.

Minutes from the late 19th and early 20th centuries provide fascinating reflections of social attitudes during that era, as well as changes in fashion. In 1900 there was a class for the 'best pair of knitted stockings'. Early committees appeared to be all male and clearly of a certain class - at least up until June 1894 when the minutes for that month recorded that "after a long discussion it was decided to elect two working men on the committee"! Lady judges were confined to the Needlework and Wild Flower sections.

Apple Blossom
Apple Blossom
Image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum

Shows around the turn of the century were clearly grand affairs as marquees were required and a band was provided (the latter costing £ 5 to hire in 1894). They were then held in Sir David Evans' grounds at least until 1903. Two policeman were needed to keep control, not least it seems because vegetables were sometimes stolen! The shows lasted for several hours, often from 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. Admission in 1897 was 3d (for our younger readers there were 240d in £ 1).

By the early 20th century individual gardens were being entered into cottagers' classes. Sir David Evans had died by 1908 and the shows were held in Mr David Willis' paddock for a short while; by 1911 they had relocated to Sir Gervase Glyn's grounds. In 1908 Fire Brigade competitions were followed by a 'wet display' and a Mr Bridges was asked to loan a boat, though rather frustratingly the minutes do not record why!

Cover for the 1900 Annual Show ProgrammeCover for the 1913 Annual Show Programme
Covers for the 1900 and 1913 Annual Show Programmes
Images courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum

Of course by 1915 the First World War had broken out and early that year the committee deliberated over whether or not the shows should go ahead. They resolved to send postcards to their subscribers asking for their opinion; it seems the response was roughly equally split, but the most prominent were in favour of cancellation. Although the shows were cancelled prizes were still given in 1915 and 1916 at least for the best allotments and cottage gardens and the best window boxes. No meetings or shows took place for the remaining duration of the War.

By mid 1919 shows were reinstated and hire of the band had rocketed to £ 15. The ladies' classes of Wild Flowers and Needlework remained and 'upstairs, downstairs' attitudes were still strong immediately after the War - there were two Cut Flowers classes, one for Ladies and the other for Subscribers' Maidservants. Prizes for the Maidservants were 7/6, 5/- and 2/6 (approx 38p, 25p and approx 12p), whereas for the Ladies themselves were 15/-, 7/6 and 5/- (75p, approx 38p and 25p)! One Needlework class was for the over 50s. The winner of the best male allotment must have been very happy as the first prize was £ 1 which would have been almost a week's wages for many poorer working class families. Also in 1919 local schoolboys asked if they could exhibit a vegetable collection. The winning boys were given prizes of 5/-, 3/- and 2/- (25p, 15p and 10p respectively). The schoolboys' vegetables must have given the committee inspiration for in 1920 a class for Vegetables was added (rather intriguingly there seems to have been a separate class for Cauliflowers).

Image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum

There was an hourly rota for collecting Show entrance fees, known as "beating the gate". The Association seemed to be having financial problems around that time with Treasurers resigning each year and in 1921 Sir Arthur Glyn requested that 100 people be written to, requesting donations to the Prize Fund. An Entertainments sub-committee was also formed to address the deficit and they planned a whist drive and dance. The dance was later cancelled, for reasons unknown. In 1921 this sub-committee organized a Fete which included a parade of decorated cycles and baby carriages! It seems this did not perhaps raise as much money as was hoped as a public meeting was subsequently held to discuss the deficit. The whist drives do seem to have been popular, continuing on and off until 1954.

In the early 1930s there was a special prize of £ 1 for a sultana cake made by girls aged from 14-18. By 1934 there was a judge for cakes. The year 1935 was particularly notable for a public meeting with Mr H C Middleton as speaker. His subject was "How to lay out a new garden and prepare its contents for show." Mr Middleton was the very first TV gardener and the equivalent today would be Alan Titchmarsh coming along to lecture.

One vegetable competitor in 1936 was most upset to discover that his prize peas had disappeared from the judging table, only to reappear under the name of another competitor who won first prize with them. The committee and judge dealt with this little difficulty by awarding a prize to both men!

Image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum

World War Two again made it difficult for the Association to continue and in September 1939 it was resolved that to close it down owing to hostilities. In mid 1942 Ewell and Ewell Court War Allotments and Gardens Association took over EHA's assets of £ 33. 3s 9d, plus nine cups and medals. The EHA Committee formally resigned and two Trustees took over EHA affairs until May 1946 when the Association was restarted with a new Committee and a Show was held in September that year at Ewell Village School. In 1947 EHA became affiliated to the Royal Horticultural Society.

Coach trips were taking place by the 1950s, with Wisley, Godalming and Hascombe Court being popular early destinations. The Association seems to have recovered well after the wartime shutdown as it had 535 members by 1950. The one thousandth member was recorded in 1954 and given a stainless steel knife and fork. In 1958 the subscription was increased to 2/6d (approximately 12.5p in today's money). The Newsletter was introduced in 1961, initially a monthly publication which became bimonthly in 1966.

On 19th June 1960 the Association hosted a BBC Gardeners' Question Time at the Drill Hall. This seems to have been a huge success with 100 questions being submitted. Photographs of the event exist amongst our archives.

Being a committee member could be somewhat stressful at times. In 1960 the Secretary was perturbed to receive a parcel he thought was from Geiger; he wondered if this was an atomic bomb and was relieved to discover the Chairman had arranged for him to receive some powder to test his rhododendrons!

The Centenary year of 1965 was marked by a commemorative programme and some special Victorian categories were included in the shows. The occasion was marked by the planting of a tulip tree in Bourne Hall grounds near the entrance to the paddock. Unfortunately the tree became sick with scab very quickly as it had not been potted correctly and was replaced at half cost. The Chairman and Secretary that year were Mr Marrable and Horace Bourne respectively.

Our much loved Potting Shed has been known by various titles during its history and has been relocated a few times. In the late 1970s it fell foul of Sunday trading laws and had to convince officials that it was providing goods to members only and never had deliveries on a Sunday. This seems to have been an ongoing saga and there was even a visit from a man from the Ministry. Because of these problems the name was changed from the Distribution Centre to The Hut in May 1980. By August that year the title was changed again to The Potting Shed. In 1979 it was given notice to leave the Upper Mill by the end of February 1980 as that site was due to be restored. Ewell Court was suggested as a potential new venue.

Image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum

The 1970s brought other difficulties. In 1972 there was trouble for the Spring Show scheduled to be held at the Drill Hall because of IRA fears which led to a parking ban in the surrounding area. In 1979/80 very bad weather reduced sales and the date of one show had to be altered because of Army exercises. Around the same time the lectures ceased for a while because of a depleted committee and lack of support generally. Luckily things must have improved as there were big celebrations for the 125th anniversary in 1990 with a large show at Glyn House that August.

So what of the present and the future? The Association has a strong membership (currently approaching 2,000 members) and in 2015 we celebrate our 150th anniversary. We are one of the oldest horticultural associations in the country. It would be very sad if we were forced to close after all that time, yet we face a real possibility of this in the next few years (or at least the probability of having to cut back drastically on our activities) because of an insufficient number of people offering to help us with all the things we do and are so valued for. Any help offered is always gratefully received, however small - for example just an hour's washing up or help with setting up/dismantling at one of the shows, or making a cake for us, can make a significant difference and enable us to continue - not to mention anyone who might be willing to be a future committee member! Please help us to continue and thrive!

Lynne Mason 2014.

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