There are a number of uncertainties about the events that led to the formation of the Long Marston and Puttenham Horticultural Society so let’s start with the evidence that is indisputable. It was first formed in 1936, in the same year as the first Village Show was organised.
The first evidence is a copy of a book of minutes revealed to us by the Winfield family, descendants of Joe Chandler, one of the original founders. The initial entry describes a meeting held on February 21st 1936 in Long Marston Parish Hall, to consider ‘the possibility of holding an Annual Flower and Vegetable Show’. Twenty nine people attended and three appointments were made, William Southernwood as Chairman, John Chapman as Treasurer and Gordon Savage as Secretary. There will be much more about Gordon Savage, appointed Headmaster of Long Marston School two years earlier, and his role in organising this initiative, as this story progresses.
There are a few interesting questions about the minutes. One would have expected Savage, as Secretary, to produce these but this seems to have been done by Joe Chandler, as confirmed by the Winfields. Another interesting point is that the heading at the top is ‘Long Marston with Puttenham Flower and Vegetable Show’ with no mention of a Society. Yet by the time the event took place in the following August, ‘Long Marston and Puttenham Horticultural Society’ was at the top of the published programme, see picture below. And inside the programme the very same names – Southernwood, Chapman and Savage – were listed as officers of the Horticultural Society.
So somewhere along the way, an idea for an annual show was broadened into the formation of a society. Some insight into this change is provided by a cutting from a local newspaper (uncertain which one, possibly Tring Gazette) saved in the school archives, no doubt by Mr Savage. As part of an article on the first Village Show, it reports that ‘’just after Easter of this year, the villagers decided to get together’ to form the Horticultural Society. It also reports that the Chairman, Treasurer and Secretary were exactly the same people as named above. Therefore there seems no doubt that, in the early part of 1936, the two initiatives merged into each other to create a lasting legacy.
The most likely scenario is that Gordon Savage arranged a further meeting around Easter time to follow up the February meeting and create the new society. An archive created by Gordon’s son Peter reveals that his father had by this time already started a smallholding in Watery Lane and was a passionate horticulturalist and poultry farmer, regularly contributing articles to the magazines of the time. The above mentioned newspaper article is also further evidence of Savage involvement; the fact that it was retained in school archives seems to indicate that the material was supplied by him.
Leader of the Village?
Further evidence of Gordon Savage’s leading role in the creation of the Horti is the way in which he became a dominant character in the village quite soon after he took up his appointment as Headmaster in 1934. Though their views were almost certainly biased to some extent, the subsequent writings of son Peter and wife Margaret both describe him as ‘Leader of the Village’ and how he had ‘enlisted the support of the Village Elders’. This impression is strengthened by the photograph below, taken during the celebrations of the jubilee celebrations for King George V in 1935, just a year after he moved to Long Marston. He appears to be at the centre of things while the Chairman William Southernwood is on the extreme left and committee member Joe Chandler on the right.
This photo, combined with the evidence above, seems to confirm that Savage was the main driver of the creation of the Horti and, maybe to a lesser extent, the first village show.
The names of the initial committee appointed by the 29 people attending the first meeting include people that are an important part of village history. In addition to Southernwood, Chapman and Chandler, the committee also included members of prominent village families, Messrs Gregory, Mead, Reed and Rodwell. They also decided to appoint Vice Presidents and were perhaps rather ambitious when asking Lords Rosebery and Rothschild, both of whom turned them down. They did however secure the agreement of local MP Sir John Davison and local vicar Reverend Anthony, known to be highly influential in village life. The actual functions of the Vice Presidents is uncertain and will be explored in later chapters.
The Committee also elected a President, Henry Turner, long term resident, property owner and benefactor of Puttenham. Perhaps this was out of a desire to compensate for the fact that most of the committee were from Long Marston.
The First Village Show
All the evidence from the early meetings is that the intention was to hold a show that only featured vegetable and flowers. However in between that first February meeting and the inaugural event on 1stAugust 1936, the specification seems to have been broadened to some extent. As can be seen from the earlier picture, it was titled as the ‘1936 Exhibition’ and also included children’s and adult sports events. However the dominant theme for this first event seems to have been the vegetables and flowers with 46 different categories plus 2 more for children. As we will see in the next chapter, the coverage broadened even further during the following few years, until war broke out.
The chosen venue was significant in the context of the earlier discussion about Savage’s influence; it was held at ‘Long Marston C of E School’. The school influence perhaps had an impact on the content of the programme, with the first two pages devoted to detailed rules which showed signs of autocracy, discipline and some lack of trust in the villagers, for example:
‘Anyone attempting to gain a prize by unfair means will be excluded from the benefits of the Society for 3 years’.
‘The Committee will have the right to inspect Exhibitors’ Gardens’
‘Any exhibitor who desires to enter a protest shall do so in writing and deliver to the Secretary by 5pm on the day of the show. A fee of one shilling shall be paid, only refundable if the protest is upheld’. (To help understanding of relative values, one pound sterling in 1936 is, according to the Bank of England, around £90 today so one shilling is equivalent to £4.50 today)
Right from the start the Committee were very focussed on financial issues, taking advantage of every opportunity to raise the necessary money to make the event viable. The minutes record that the initial funding was provided mainly through organising whist drives in the village. This initial cost included the payment to rent the school for the day of seven shillings and sixpence (equivalent today £34). There was a four pence (£1.50) admission fee for the day and there were entrance fees of various numbers of pence for every one of the 48 categories. All entrants had to complete a form and pay the fee before the event, both being submitted to – guess who? – Gordon Savage.
The better news for entrants was that there were prizes for winners, with three shillings for winners of each category, two and one shillings for second and third. But there was in addition a number of special prizes, donated by local traders and some senior residents as shown below. Notable among the latter category was a certain Gordon Savage and a Mrs Dean who both gave financial prizes but the piece de resistance was John Chapman who gave a load of manure to the person with the highest number of points in the vegetable categories! (Number 2 on the list below).
Based on the minute book kept by Joe Chandler – the only firm evidence we have – the Horticultural Society had no other activities during those early years, apart from organising the Village Show. There seems no doubt that this first show was a success and established the reputation or the Horti as a positive influence on the community. The show was repeated in the first week of August during the next few years, broadening out to include more sporting and leisure activities. By the time the war broke out three years later, it was established as an important part of village life and, as we will see in the next chapter, the event continued through the challenges of the war years, even in 1941 when a bomb dropped on the school.
This is the first episode of a comprehensive history of the Village Horti Society, to be available later in the year. It is the result of a joint venture between the Horti and the TRH team which runs the website tringruralhistory.co.uk
Later content will cover:
- How the Horti coped with wartime
- Celebrity openings
- Downturns and recoveries
- Baby and Dog Shows
- Fireworks and Pantomimes
- Potato and Doughnut wars