The History of the Horti: Chapter 3

The Early Fifties - Times of Change. It is not always possible to know the exact times of changes in personnel, particularly during these early times when meeting minutes have not all been preserved.

We know however that Chairman William Southernwood, in that role since the Horti’s formation in 1936, resigned between the 1949 and 1950 Village Shows (though note that the event was still being titled as an ‘Exhibition’ at that time and throughout the 1950s).

The New Chairman was John Chapman who still retained his post as Treasurer, while Mrs Chapman remained as President. There is no evidence that any other members of the Committee were questioning the dominance of this well known Long Marston family but by 1951 Chapman had given up the top position, replaced by Roy Parker who had not previously been part of the Committee. Maybe John Chapman was only standing in during an interim period, maybe the appointment of Parker was a compromise after other members expressed their concern, we can only speculate. Chapman did however retain his post as Treasurer and Mrs Chapman remained as President.

Roy Parker remained as Chairman during the whole of this decade, during a time when much change took place. There were other changes on the Committee; Ray Pheasant, the Pied Piper of the village and leading organiser of entertainments, resigned as did T. Gregory. It is however interesting that the latter’s replacement was D.Gregory, a probable handing over to the next generation that happened quite frequently before and after this time.

First sign of change

The 1951 Village Show is the first for which we have been able to rely on first-hand accounts. When we interviewed the Winfields – Daphne (now Bateman) and Alan – they had firm memories of that day, August 5th 1951, a time when the post war Labour government was coming towards the end of its time in Office.

The Recreation Ground had been used as the centre of the Show for the first time in the previous year and this was continued. Two innovations were introduced for the first time; a cricket match between Long Marston and Weston Turville and a children’s fancy dress competition. The photographs below show that rain stopped play though the children managed to find a gap between showers to pose for a photo.

The cricketers managed to get their picture in the Bucks Herald, even though they were only sheltering from the rain! Our research tells us that – left to right – the players are Don Bignall, Len Dean, Bill Reason, Tom Chapman and Cecil Farmer. Some of these players were perhaps lucky to get into the team as further research tells that, at one time, there were six members of the Bignall family in the team!

There were other changes to the Show that reflected the desire to change. The schedule increased from 4 to 8 pages, Carters Seeds returned with their award of special prizes and there were, for the first time, adverts for a couple of gardening magazines. The other new development during this period was the growth of special cups awarded by local families for horticultural achievement at the Show. The Dean and Gregory Cups were the first (for most points in the Show and for the best allotment) and by the end of the fifties, there were seven cups in total. Inevitably there had to be a separate ‘Ladies Cup’.

There were also ambitious attempts to increase the profile of the Show by inviting a celebrity to open the event. The Committee had perhaps heard of Wilstone’s success in this area and discussions led to unsuccessful approaches to cast members of the Archers and well known actor Bernard Miles. The committee continued to face failure in this ambition until the late sixties, as we will see in the next chapter.

Boomtime for the Horti

We already knew from interviews with a number of residents of the time that the early 1950s was a busy and exciting time for Long Marston; a new school and a new village hall were being built and there was much excitement around their openings in 1953 and 1956 respectively. There were three pubs, a number of shops and the village’s own brass band. And after the new hall was opened, the Saturday night dance attracted young people from all the surrounding villages. People were more optimistic as food rationing was abolished and the economy began to recover from the aftermath of the war.

During this time the Horti was thriving too. The minute book in 1954 shows 94 members. There were several new committee members, including Jack Winfield the first member of that family to serve, to be followed in later years by many more. It perhaps reflects the thinking of the time that committee members had to be referred to separately in the minutes as ‘Messieurs’ and ‘Mesdames’ and in 1952, a separate ‘Ladies Committee’ was formed. There was however an example of an attempt to reduce sex discrimination when the Committee passed a rule change to say that there should no longer be a difference between the age limit at which males and females were allowed to enter competitions!

Duncan Mead resigned in 1954 after ten years as Secretary because of pressure of work and, reflecting the apparent tendency for control of top positions by a few families, a Mrs Parker, presumably the Chairman’s wife, was appointed as replacement, jointly with William Milson of Red House Farm. We will see later how their duties were divided. Another change at that time was the creation of the new post of Vice Chairman and who else could it be but long term Treasurer and previous Chairman, John Chapman.

His role as Vice Chairman was not to last for long because in 1956/7 the President Mrs J Chapman resigned from that role to be replaced by – guess who? – Mr J Chapman!

More innovations in the mid fifties

The Committee continued to look for innovative ways to improve the Show as the decade went on. There was the introduction of ‘Comic Football’ where the ‘Mesdames’ played the ‘Messieurs’ with the latter having to wear fancy dress. There were also pony rides for children and the introduction of a fortune teller in the person of Mrs Kempster who continued in that role for many years. There was a Baby Show and one felt sympathy for Doctor Riley who was asked to judge the winner. Another significant development was the first evening dance after the Show, organised by the Youth Club.

The introduction of the dance coincided with the opening of Victory Hall in 1956 which made such an event more feasible. The minutes of the Committee show much interaction and mutual cooperation between the Horti and the Victory Hall Committee as the project developed, with much pleasure being expressed when the first committee meeting was held in the new hall. In contrast there is no mention at all of the new school building which was opened in 1953, very different from the early days when the Headmaster was secretary and the Show was held in the school.

The Potato(e) Secretary

One thing that became obvious from study of the minutes is that Potatoes were an important part of the Horti’s activities and the Village Show in particular. This became evident when the roles of the two secretaries were split so that William Milson became ‘Potatoe Secretary’ (this misspelling of Potato was repeated in the minutes throughout the 1950s and beyond!). As far as can be ascertained from the discussions, the practice was to buy seed potatoes in bulk for those members who ordered them and the orders would then be collected on the day of the Show. It seems to have been a time consuming and sometimes divisive activity as will be seen in later chapters.

More than a Show!

In more recent times we are used to the Horti being much more than organisers of the Village Show, as we will see later. Looking at the minutes of the meetings in the 1950s, it is clear that the Show – including the potatoes – was the main focus of the meetings, with little else being discussed.

There is however evidence that there was at least one other event that was held in the 1950s and had indeed been held every year since the Horti’s formation; and that was an invitation to the ‘Twenty-First Annual Supper’, held in Victory Hall on 15th December 1956. It shows that, in contrast to the impression from reading minutes, the Horti members enjoyed having fun. The menu and schedule below makes this clear, particularly the sketch in which committee members adopt the names of famous actors.

The Search for Vice Presidents

It is interesting to see that Gordon Savage proposed one of the toasts at the Annual Supper and the minutes of meetings show the he was a Vice President right through the decade, no doubt a tribute to his critical role in the early days (He in fact resigned as VP around that time). The perceived importance of VPs goes right back to formation in 1936 when there was that vain attempt to recruit Lords Rosebery and Rothschild. They did however recruit a number of local people at that time and the minutes in 1953/4 reveal the Committee’s desire to increase VP numbers. At that time there were thirteen and by the end of the decade there were twenty four, including the local vicar Reverend Anthony, as well as a doctor, a major, a knight and a viscountess.

What is unclear from the minutes is what was the role of these people, whose names were listed every year in the show programme, alongside the hard working Committee. One suggestion by someone who was around at the time was that their role was to donate money and prizes but there is no obvious evidence of this. Perhaps the lack of clarity about the role was the reason why the numbers reduced as time went on.

A tough act to follow

It is clear from the above that the 1950s was a period of development and innovation after the holding operation of the wartime years. The challenge now for the Horti was to keep up the momentum into the next decade, the ‘Swinging Sixties’. The next chapter tells us how they got on.

Postscript to Chapter 3

Much thanks are due to the Winfields – Alan, Daphne and at an earlier stage David – for their help in providing material for this chapter. The photo below shows David, centre and Alan, left at the 1951 show in their fancy dress. Daphne will be featured in a later 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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