From 'The Lenton Listener' Issue 37
December 1985 - January 1986
The Lenton Flower Show
With so many charitable institutions competing for your attention there hardly seems a day when someone isn't asking you to give to some cause or other. And where there is a need, this is surely right and proper. Some people are most generous and reach for their money at the slightest bidding. Others prefer to restrict themselves to a few chosen favourites. One such favourite in Lenton used to be the Children's Hospital in Nottingham and for a period of fifty years the organising committee of the Lenton Flower Show was usually able to send the Hospital a sizeable sum raised at the Show.
The stippled area next to Poplar Farm on this section of the 1915 OS Map shows the
first site of the Lenton Flower Show.
It is now thirty-five years since it was last held but older readers may well recall Lenton's Flower Show. Admittedly when we appealed for information on the Show in a recent issue, the response was not very encouraging. Nevertheless we have been able to lay our hands on various sources of material. Thorold Stancer, the Show's general secretary in the late 1930s, wrote out his reminiscences for the Lenton Local History Group in 1981 and we have used these. Sadly Thorold died this summer before we could see him in person. Someone else who could have told us more was 'Tommy' Brittain, who worked alongside Thorold as organising secretary of the Show, but alas he died this year as well. The Local Studies Library at Angel Row stores Nottingham's newspapers on microfilm and we were able to find newspaper accounts that appeared in the paper following each successive annual opening of the Show. So using the pieces culled from the papers plus Thorold Stancer's and Les Berry's reminiscences, we were able to construct this article on the Lenton Flower Show.
In 1900 the Lenton and District Horticultural Society organised its first Flower Show in a field off Abbey Street. There is not a lot we can tell you about the occasion, as the local press do not appear to have been present. Newspaper accounts of the Show in subsequent years do, however, shed a little light on the origins of both the Show and the Horticultural Society itself. Until the creation of the National Health Service, the Children's Hospital in Nottingham was just one of many hospitals in Britain which relied on voluntary donations from the public to provide their finances.
Among the many schemes dreamt up by the local Hospital Board to attract money was one where local people and organisations were asked to pledge to provide an annual sum sufficient to pay the running costs of one bed at the hospital; a sum in the region of £30. In 1898 the members of a Lenton soccer team, the Priory Football Club, took it upon themselves to sign up at the Children's Hospital and in that year and the next they held fund raising events including a 'comic' football match. Perhaps the footballers found it difficult to get people to part with sufficient money to meet their pledge for, whatever the reason, it was locally decided that a better way to generate the £30 would be to hold an annual flower show. The Lenton and District Horticultural Society was founded and this immediately took over the task of raising the annual sum. Their first Flower Show in 1900 only generated £27 towards the cot at the Children's Hospital, but thereafter the necessary amount was usually raised without trouble.
After opening the 1930 Show the Lord Mayor,
accompanied Sir Albert Ball, tried his hand at the
skittles alley. Photo from the Nottingham Journal,
courtesy of the Local Studies Library.
Flower Shows were evidently a popular attraction and by the turn of the century it seemed as though virtually every village or area in and around Nottingham was getting in on the act. Thus it was nothing very special that Lenton should decide to have its own show. What was rather unusual, however, was the decision to offer no prizes. The whole show was run on non-competitive lines and when the exhibition of flowers and produce was over, everything was sold off and the money raised put towards the cot fund. You might imagine that with no prizes on offer this might have adversely affected the interest of potential exhibitors but the Nottingham Guardian report of the Show in 1907 assured its readers that 'despite the absence of competition the residents of the district vie with each other in the endeavour to stock the large marquee with fine specimens of fruit, vegetables and flowers'.
Each year within the marquee there was not only the displays of produce to examine but also arrangements of plants loaned by local bigwigs. Among them was usually a display from the conservatory of Thomas, later Sir Thomas, Shipstone, who lived at Lenton Firs. His head gardener was regularly given the task of setting out the crotons, ferns, palms, begonias and other flowering plants in a display which almost always merited praise in the subsequent account of the Show's proceedings which appeared in the local papers. These accounts would be included in the Monday issue which followed the Show's opening on the Saturday. Each year the reporter assigned to the story recounted the unusual character of the Lenton Show and the worthy cause the proceeds went towards and usually announced how much the previous year's Show had made. He then gave the salient details of those officiating at the opening ceremony and made some comment on the quality of this year's exhibits. All of which is most useful when trying to build up a picture of the Show. But there was more to the Show than the marquee and its contents. Outside were entertainments on offer and a small fun fair. Of these we usually get only a passing mention. In 1907 for instance we are told that the Railway Associated City Brass Band played selections and that there were all the usual swings and roundabouts. In 1910 we learn that the same band was in attendance, that some children of Clifton miners performed a maypole dance and that there were a host of side shows. Only in 1913 was the reporter a little more forthcoming when he stated 'Visitors not familiar with its character might imagine they have stumbled upon the village wakes. Aerial flights, coconut shies, shooting ranges, and gyrating cockerels and motor cars are among the chief adjuncts of the show'.
Photograph courtesy of Lenton Local History Society
In the following year the latest news from France of the British Expeditionary Force pushed out any mention of such small beer as the Lenton Flower Show from the pages of the local papers. It seems clear that there was a Show in 1914 and that this was the last until the Flower Show resumed in 1920. When it did restart it was still in the field off Abbey Street provided by Mr Oliver Ball the butcher, and as usual it was held on the first Saturday, Sunday and Monday in September. What was a new departure, however, was the appearance of competition. The organising committee may have been treading a little warily for they only offered three categories: a tray of vegetables, one of fruit and tomatoes and a third involving a display of flowers. It prompted entries from 41 local gardeners and it would seem that the general reaction to this departure from tradition was favourable, for in the following year the committee enlarged the number of individual classes to 22. By 1923 this had further grown to 40, with some four hundred entries submitted.
Right from the resumption these post-war Shows seem to have been a roaring success, for as the report or the Flower Show in the 1922 newspapers makes clear, the committee handed over £105 to the Children's Hospital from the receipts taken in the two previous years and also gave a further £30 to Lenton orphanages (Nazareth House and the Midland Orphanage for Girls). Despite these sizeable donations the committee still had £175 in hand and so decided to try and raise the sum of one thousand pounds, which could then be handed over to the Children's Hospital to provide for the permanent endowment of a cot there. That this sum was eventually reached can be seen from the photograph on the left. Taken at the Children's Hospital in 1938, it shows some of the members of the Horticultural Society gathered for the purpose of handing over the £1,000 to Mr J D Player who was 'Father' of the Hospital. Standing in the front row to the right of the matron were the Chairman of the Society Mr Stevenson, its president Mr Bull, J D Player, Mr Nutt the butcher, Lady Ball, Sir Albert Ball and Mr Tommy Brittain. (Lenton Local History Group would welcome identification of any of the others in this photograph).
Sir Albert Ball also found his way on to the photograph on this and the photograph below. Besides being the father of the First World War flying ace of the same name, he was well known in his own right as a successful businessman and City councillor, serving as Lord Mayor on several occasions. A keen supporter of the Horticultural Society, he was present at the opening of every Flower Show prior to the Second World War, having been the person chosen to open the very first Show back in 1900. His own story, were we ever able to write it, would no doubt make interesting reading. While on the subject of photographs, we realise our choice of photographs is not sparkling, but it was either these or nothing. You'd think that the various delights on display at these Shows would have brought out the best in the local amateur photographers. If it did, then we have yet to discover what happened to all their shots; only the newspaper collection at the Local Studies Library saved our embarrassment.
Taken from the Nottingham Journal 1936, courtesy of the
Local Studies Library.
After 1934 it was no longer possible to hold the Show on Mr Ball's field as a large chunk of the land was commandeered for the construction of Clifton Boulevard. The next year the Show was found a new home on the University Park. The marquee was no longer required as the Tea Pavilion was used to house the flowers and vegetables. Another absentee was the fun fair; though quite why is not clear. Instead a large arena was established in which a variety of entertainments were provided. The 1935 newspaper report listed such attractions as carnival bands, a boxing exhibition given by lads from the Gordon Boys' Home, motorcycle displays, a boy scout tumbling display, a mouth organ band, a baby show and a children's fancy dress competition. The move to the University site with its new style of entertainments seems to have gone down well with the patrons. The 1936 newspaper report indicated that some 17,000 tickets had been sold that year before the Show had even opened; as to the final figure this was not stated. By 1937 the £1,000 was in sight and Sir Albert Ball was reported as suggesting that once the target had been reached the committee should set about trying to raise the money to endow a second bed. It had taken sixteen years to raise the money for the first bed, but such were the Show's profits at the new venue that the second bed might have been achieved in less than half that time. Sadly the War came and Hitler put a stop to the Show all such considerations
The Lenton Flower Show resurfaced in 1948 after a lapse of nine years. Held once more at the University Park it was initially confined to a one-day affair. Among the entertainments on offer was a beauty competition at which Miss Doreen King of Warwick Street was selected as the Flower Show Queen by a Miss Birch of Griffin & Spalding, a Madame Jepson and Mrs Tommy Lawton. Other attractions included a baby show and a band-marshalling contest eventually won by Attenborough and Long Eaton Sea Scouts. 1949 was another one-day event, but in 1950 the committee was emboldened to extend the Show to three days. The newspaper account for that year recorded the various prize-winners in the flower and vegetable competitions and gave a few brief details of the entertainments on offer. What it didn't offer was any indication as to how successful the Show had proved to be. Given that this was to be the last Lenton Flower Show ever to be held, it seems likely that it may well have flopped. With nothing more to go on, we must draw our history of the Show to a close, but only until we hear from someone who can finish the story off properly.
From 'The Lenton Listener' Issue 37
December 1985 - January 1986
The Show In The 1920s
Les Berry Remembers ...
The Show used to be held on the first weekend in September. In addition to the actual flower and vegetable show, used in a large marquee, the rest of the site was occupied by roundabouts, chairaplanes, a cakewalk and the ever-faithful coconut shies. These amusements would usually start to arrive on the Monday before the Show and would be ready to accept customers by six o'clock on the Friday evening, usually finishing about midnight. The following day they would begin about midday, but now entrance to the Show was 'by ticket only', priced 3d. These tickets admitted the bearer to the Lenton Flower Show, which was usually officially opened by the wife of some rather important celebrity such as Sir Albert Ball, Mr Henry Nevin (the local MP) or Lord Henry Bentinck. The opening ceremony was conducted from a bandstand, constructed by William Barnes, the local joiner and undertaker. At the end of the Show, he would take down this bandstand, piece by piece, and store the parts in his Cloister Street premises until the following year.
Exhibits for the Show were received on the Saturday morning and put on long tables in the marquee along with the donations of produce to be sold off at the end of the Show; the proceeds going to the Children's Hospital. Judging was carried out before the Show began. Once the Show was officially opened, patrons could view the produce, try out the amusements or sit around the bandstand on which a local band such as the Clifton Colliery Prize band would perform. On Saturday evenings the band played dance music, while on Sunday afternoons the selections were generally classical. Come Sunday evening at 8 o'clock the Vicar of Lenton would hold an open-air service lasting an hour, after which there would be more classical music. On Monday the fruit and vegetables were sold off and while this was going on, the odd diversion was provided. I remember two scaffold poles were regularly erected and then greased from top to bottom. At the top of each was a prize for the first to reach the summit. Suspended from one was a leg of mutton, donated by Fred Mutt the local butcher on Abbey Street (his premises now house a betting shop), while on the other was a gent's I pocket watch. Monday evening was officially the last night of the Show and it concluded with dancing to the band. Come Tuesday the marquee came down, but the amusements stayed open all through the day, only closing down for another year at midnight.
From 'The Lenton Listener' Issue 37
December 1985 - January 1986
After The Move
by Thorold Stancer
Tommy Brittain and I joined the committee of the Lenton and District Horticultural Society in the last years of the Show being held in Mr Oliver Ball's field. This was the period when Hibble and Mellors brought their fun fair which included roundabouts, a cake walk and the 'Kelly's Airship'. This last mentioned was an octagonal box like contraption inside which the seating was suspended on a horizontal cross bar. The seating just rocked gently to and fro while the outer casing spun round it, giving the occupants the illusionary feeling that they were looping the loop. In 1935 it became clear that the Show could no longer be held in Mr Ball's field and so Sir Albert Ball, the Society's president, arranged a meeting with the Registrar of the University. The outcome was that we were given permission to use the pavilion for the flower and vegetab1e show and the greensward between it and the open-air baths for our entertainments.
This photograph of the Drum Section of the Dunkirk Cossacks Carnival
Band was taken in 1936. Their first public appearance was the Lenton
Flower Show of 1936. Photograph courtesy of Mr Dennis Noble.
By this time many of the shows in the surrounding districts featured a display by a local carnival band. In 1935 we decided to better this and created the Midland Counties Carnival Band Championships, which the Nottingham Journal newspaper presented a £20 Challenge Cup. In our first year we managed to attract about fourteen bands. Each band might have anything up to eighty youngsters in it. The youngsters brought their parents along to watch so, if nothing else, it certainly helped swell the gate receipts. We had of course other attractions. I remember, in particular, a motorcycle display and an all-in wrestling display that ended in one competitor being thrown bodily into the lake by his opponent.
We had our ups and downs like any other similar organisation. I can well recall our battle with the Lord's Day Observance Society. In 1937 the Show had moved to the August Bank holiday and was proceeding nicely when a man from the aforementioned society appeared in front of me and warned me in the presence of a police inspector that we would be taken to court for charging admission to the grounds on a Sunday. The inspector pointed out that the Show was billed as a Flower Show with a free band concert on the Saturday and Monday, but on the Sunday it became a Band Concert with a free flower show. (One was allowed to charge for a band concert on a Sunday, but not for a flower show). At this the man from the Lord's Day Observance Society became abusive and refused to leave until the inspector threatened to throw him into the lake.
This photograph from Paul Nix that subsequently
came to light shows another view of the Lenton
cot. The plaque above reads as follows: Lenton
& District Cot inaugurated in 1900 by the Lenton
Priory Football Club now supported by the
Lenton Horticultural Society.
We did our own catering and my wife organised a gallant band of helpers in this mammoth task. One memorable occasion occurred when a policeman brought a young boy to our office. The policeman had watched the boy collect up trays of tea, left on the grass while their 'owners' watched an event in the arena. He had then been taking them back to claim the two shillings deposit. When stopped he had amassed one pound and eight shillings.
Tickets for the Show bought in advance were always slightly cheaper than at the gate. When shown at the entrance, the procedure was to tear the ticket in two and hand half of it back. On one occasion a lady came and informed us that the tickets were being retained at the gate and a lad periodically sent off along the road to sell them at the pre-show rate. The money was then being pocketed. An emergency meeting was called at which the 'gate committee' proceeded to walk out on us. Fortunately I found ten volunteers from the TocH to take over.
In 1939 we mounted our most spectacular attraction in the form of a mock air raid. Having cleared the cellars of The Empire, The Hippodrome and The Theatre Royal of all their old scenery, four men were engaged to erect what eventually looked like a castle with houses either side of it. Behind all this we dumped 400 tons of inflammable rubbish that we had collected. An explosives expert came and wired up a series of explosive devices behind the scenery. On the day three aircraft from Hendon came up to Nottingham and flew over Lenton as though on a bombing raid. At the appointed moment the siren sounded and the aircraft arrived 'firing' machine guns and 'bombing' the set. The volunteer men and women who had been positioned to make it look like an ordinary street scene then played their part to make it look quite authentic. The explosives man sat high up in a tree detonating his charges to imitate the bombs and setting off series of smaller charges to create the machine gun fire. As the first 'bomb' went off, a policeman set fire to all the rubbish and there was a terrific blaze, which kept the fire brigade busy for the rest of the evening. The whole thing was set up to demonstrate how the emergency services and the ARP 's would cope in the event of an enemy raid. It all felt most realistic. Afterwards it took us three weeks to clear away all the debris and cart off the forty five tons of sand put down to protect the grass.
A final note - In going through all the newspaper accounts of the Flower Show we have come across an instance of 'Chinese Whispers'. In 1929 a Flower Show official wrongly stated that the Show was the 27th when in fact it was only the 25th. Each year thereafter the two extra years were always included and by 1937 a further three had erroneously been added on. This mistaken belief continued to the end, such that it was reported that 'the (1950) Show was the 43rd to be held in the Society's history'. To put the matter right our own calculations only allow for a total of thirty-eight shows.