The History of the Horti: Chapter 2

The ‘History of the Horti’ continues with Chapter 2, covering the period directly after its foundation in 1936, including World War II.

The wartime period was a significant challenge for the Horti, occurring just a few years after its formation and the first Village Show in 1936. There is limited information about the period between that first show and the outbreak of war in the Autumn of 1939 but all the evidence is that the show was held each year with a gradual broadening of its activities beyond horticultural competitions. It also seems that the annual show was the only visible activity organised by the ‘Long Marston and Puttenham Horticultural Society’ in those early years.

The broadening of the show can be seen by comparing the programmes 1936 and 1939. In 1936 the only activities outside horticulture were some children’s sports races but by the outbreak of war, the programme shows ‘Sports and Carnival; Side Shows and Amusements’ with its own sub-committee. The other feature of this broadening was that, by 1939, the show was held both at the school and also in the Parish Hall.

The minutes of the Committee also reveal that a ‘Carnival Parade’ developed during this early period with prizes for the ‘most humorous walker’ and the ‘most original walker’. There is also evidence that the prizes became more valuable and imaginative; the load of manure offered by John Chapman at the 1936 show seems to have disappeared and some commercial sponsorship gained; a London Company called ‘Carters Tested Seeds’ agreed to duplicate any prizes won using their variety of seeds, with some complicated rules to prevent fraud.

The presence of Ray Pheasant on this sub-committee is interesting because we have heard from residents who were children at the time that Ray was famous for his personal entertaining in the village. It seems that he was Long Marston’s version of the Pied Piper as the children followed him around as he played the drums, leading the youngsters and other musicians parading round the village. The minutes of the Horti meetings reveal that Ray turned down the offer to be Secretary because he wanted to ‘concentrate on his entertainments’. There was in fact a compromise as the Pied Piper became Assistant Secretary in 1943.

Changes during wartime

After the second world war broke out in the Autumn of 1939, the Horti Committee had to make a decision on whether the Village Show should continue during the war. The early part of 1940 was what is often called the ‘Phoney War’ with little impact on the population at the time. This may have been a factor in the decision to continue to run the show in 1940. However this did not apply in the following year when the realities of the war were brought home by the tragic bombing of Long Marston School and the numerous evacuees coming to the village to escape the Blitz in London.

The minutes of the Committee show that this was not an easy decision but was based on the feeling that cancelling the show would be giving in to the enemy. It was however agreed that there had to be changes, partly because the number of ‘call-ups’ was reducing the adult population of the village. There was also a need to show respect to those fighting the enemy.

The committee therefore decided to scale down the sports and carnival activities, going back to the basics of horticultural competitions. It was agreed to give any profits from the show to the local Nursing Association. There was also a scaling down of the size of the programme leaflets, with ten pages of A4 in 1939 being replaced by 4 pages of A5. The full page of rules was reduced to selected extracts. This was no doubt due to the shortage of printing paper during this wartime period, something that had a similar impact on SCOOP, the school magazine of the time.

The other enforced change during wartime was the moving of the show in 1941 to take place entirely in the Parish Hall following the school bombing. The continuation of the show in that year, despite the trauma of the event and the impact on village life, is a tribute to the resolve and determination of the Committee in general and the Headmaster in particular.

Fire Brigade Diversion

This is just a short diversion to make two points. First to show that village residents had much else on their minds apart from the Village Show during that period; second to show another photograph that confirms Gordon Savage’s central role during the early wartime period. The photo also allows us to see the faces of three more of the committee members who were responsible for founding the Horti.

Gordon Savage was, early on during the war, appointed both Fire Chief and Air Raid Warden. According to the memoirs of his wife Margaret ‘he drilled a team of fire-fighters who stood by at Berkhamsted one night a fortnight to be ready for duty in the dreadful night bombing of London’.

What is interesting in the context of the Horti however, is the overlap between this firefighting team and the Horti Committee. In the photo below, Savage is the tallest and three other members on his left (our right) are committee members in height descending order, Duncan Mead, Ray Pheasant and Freddy Chandler. This provides more evidence of Savage’s central role in village life.

Personnel Changes

Gordon Savage resigned in 1944 to take up a new position as Headmaster of a bigger secondary school in Welwyn. It seems that he wanted to resign as Secretary even before that because we have a copy of the 1943 show programme with Savage’s name crossed out from the original draft and the name of Duncan Mead inserted as ‘Hon Secretary’ with Ray Pheasant as his assistant.

This was the first change of those holding the top three roles of Chairman, Secretary and Treasurer since that first meeting in 1936, remarkable continuity considering the traumatic events affecting the nation at that time. Chairman Southernwood and Treasurer Chapman continued to serve and Mead’s taking of the Secretary role meant that three of the leading farming families were now in the key positions.

Savage’s departure is likely to have been a potential turning point for the Horti. Whether or not one accepts his wife’s view that he was leader of the village, there seems little doubt that he was one of the main instigators of the Society and a driving force during the early years since its formation. With all the distractions of wartime and many of the younger male population called up to fight, there must have been some doubt as to whether the Horti and the show would continue.

Post war continuity

The show definitely did continue in the period after the war but all the evidence indicates that there was little change from the reduced wartime programme and activities. The leaflet for 1947 (see below) is almost identical in size and content to those produced during the war, just four pages of A5 with minimum content and only extracts from the rules.

There were a few other changes in personnel during and after the war. After Henry Turner passed away in 1940, Mrs M.L. Chapman had taken over as president and the new committee included members of the long standing Dean, Gregory and Proctor families. There is no sign of the new headmaster joining the committee and continuity is represented by the Chairman and Treasurer still being in place in 1949, thirteen years after formation.

It looks as if there was just a holding operation for the rest of the decade. The major innovations were to happen in the next decade, the 1950s, as we will see in the next chapter.

Next chapters:

The History of the Horti: Chapter 1

The History of the Horti: Chapter 2

The History of the Horti: Chapter 3

The History of the Horti: Chapter 4

The History of the Horti: Chapter 5

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