The first Wolverhampton Horticultural Societies 1832 onwards
The earliest record is in the Wolverhampton Chronicle on 14 November 1832 which claimed that a Horticultural Society for the town was in contemplation at that time. The article comments that such societies had become too exclusive and whilst allowing fashionable circles to study the “ornamental departments” of gardening such as the rose, dahlia, chrysanthemum and techniques for the culture, acclimatising and improving varieties; scarcely any attempt had been to include the “industrious classes”.
A year later there was a report on a display by the Birmingham Botanical and Horticultural Society with the repeated claim that a similar society would shortly be formed in Wolverhampton. This appears to have been achieved by July 1883 as a Wolverhampton Horticultural Society ran a Show on 29th July 1833 at the Star and Garter Inn. The Star and Garter Inn, Victoria Street was one of the town’s oldest buildings and was demolished in 1964 to make way for the Mander Centre. The Inn was used for meeting and Exhibitions for many of the early Societies.
Somewhat confusingly, and possibly an early sign of the many upheavals to the Society, an advert appeared May 1835 promoting the first meeting of the Wolverhampton and Staffordshire Floral and Horticultural Society. Whether the original society had already folded, after just 3 years, or whether this is a second society in the town is not clear.
This Society was very active as it promoted its 4th Exhibition of the season on 6th October 1835. Quite an effort in just its first year. The Exhibition (ie Show) was followed by the Annual Dinner at 6.00pm.
This Society was active for many years and appears to have been promoting four Exhibitions each year. The earliest Shows in the year were for Tulips only, with classes that would mean very little to most exhibitors today such as: Premier, Feathered Bizarre, Flamed Bizarre, Feathered Rose, Flamed Rose, Feathered Byblaemens (byblooms), Selfs and Doubles. Other Exhibitions taking place early in the year had classes for auriculas, pansies and heaths. Just as proof that nothing much changes in gardening, there are frequent reports on how the poor growing weather had affected displays – but that the exhibitors had shown great skill in overcoming the inclement conditions.
The skills of those Victorian gardeners in overcoming climate conditions is demonstrated in the prize results for the June 1841 Show. Being able to grow plants to a standard suitable for prize winners for exhibition in the categories for Tulips and Roses may not be that unusual for early June but harvesting plants for the award of prizes for Cucumbers and Potatoes that early in the year would be an achievement for many gardeners even now. There was a Les Caudrey who had an immaculate allotment plot on the Mount Road, Penn site in the 1980’s so he may have been a descendant of the Mr Caudrey shown here.
By 1850 it appears that at some point between 1841 and 1850 the Wolverhampton and Staffordshire Floral and Horticultural Society had ceased to exist as the Wolverhampton Chronicle reported in February 1850 that there were plans to form an Horticultural and Floral Society in the town similar to those in other local towns. This Society was even closer to formation in March 1850 when the “great and good” of the town agreed to become patrons.
It is not clear whether the annual subscription was five guineas for all members, the average annual wage in 1850 was approx £30. But the Duke of Cleveland had recently acquired £18,000 from the sale of land to the philanthropists who wanted if for the building of the Royal Hospital so could presumably afford it.
Just to add further confusion, possibly as a result of inaccurate reporting in the Wolverhampton Chronicle, the newly formed Wolverhampton Horticultural Society promoted its first exhibition under the name of Wolverhampton Horticultural and Floral Society.
This version of the Society clearly had grander objectives as the very first exhibition was held in the Grand Stand at the Race Course. This was the largest venue available in Wolverhampton at the time and would require much organisation and financing. The scale of the event is perhaps evident from the presence of the Band of the Royal Irish Dragoon Guards which suggests that the exhibition is intended as more varied entertainment beyond just looking at flowers and vegetables.
There was an extensive report in the Wolverhampton Chronicle which mentions that no exhibition, floral or horticultural had taken place in Wolverhampton for “some years”, so this did tend to confirm that the original society had folded. The newspaper report was very comprehensive so it was clearly an event of great significance to the town at the time. The extensive lists of prizes reproduced in the Chronicle also give some insights into the changing nature of society and the growth of the upper middle classes. Not only are there prize categories specifically for Nurserymen and Amateurs but also for Gentlemen’s Gardeners. This latter category may indicate why shows in earlier years were able to award prizes for early cucumbers, presumably grown in heated greenhouses on estates or large properties. Click on images for larger image.
The Chronicle also produced a whole page report on the post exhibition dinner where all the local gentry were enjoying themselves toasting one another with great praise. It is indicative of how little other local news there was at that time as every congratulatory speech was reported in full. Although very little mention is made of the fact that the Exhibition made a loss – bad weather was blamed as usual!
The 1851 Show Committee still includes many of the local gentry and politicians as patrons and patronesses. Vice Presidents Henry Hill, G Briscoe and E B Dimmack appear in many articles relating to the different versions of the Society back to the earliest days and for some years to come. They were clearly major enthusiasts whose endeavours must have helped keep the societies going through the Victorian era.
By 1854 the Society was being less ambitious as the three Show (Exhibitions had now become Shows) days for the year were to be held at: Captain Thorneycroft’s house at Tettenhall (Tettenhall Towers now Tettenhall College), Mr Kettle’s house on Compton Road, and the third on Mr Molineux’s lawns (now the Molineux stadium) Her Grace the Duchess of Sutherland had added her patronage to the Society, although it is unclear whether she attended any meetings. The Society was introducing four classes of exhibitor; Nurserymen, Amateurs. Gentlemen’s Gardeners and Cottagers. The Cottagers class was for the working classes. Local clergy were urged to encourage their humble parishioners to enter the Cottagers class as “a powerful means of encouraging industry; and instigating the idler and drunkard to better and happier ways”.