Show off a British tradition

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Village shows – as quintessentially British as cricket played on the village green.

The Show has been a popular event all over the country for over 200 years. Different exhibits take centre stage, depending on the time of year, or even geographical location, but it is generally a timeless ‘social gathering’ – and one well worth preserving.

It may seem strange, but the Village Show and the Industrial Revolution are intrinsically linked...

It was the Industrial Revolution that spawned the ‘working class’; country-folk, farm labourers, left the crops of their home villages to work in the mines, mills and factories. ‘Home’ became a terraced house, with a tiny garden, yet these folk wanted something to grow – to remind them of what they had left behind.

This was the time when all manner of exotic species were introduced into Britain. But these fancy orchids, rhododendrons, magnolias and the like were for the ‘big houses’, not the common man!

It was the old favourites of the cottage garden, such as auricula primulas, carnations and pinks that could be grown in pots and ‘perfected’ in the limited time when not at work.

Florists clubs took off all over the country. Men (yes, just the men) would meet to discuss cultivation of their chosen flower, and breeding led to thousands of new cultivars – many now lost to cultivation. But all these had to be grown, and shown to perfection – at florist club shows. The Lancashire mill-hands developed new auriculas; the Paisley weavers developed the laced pinks. Indeed, the National Rose Society had its roots in a Nottingham miners flower show, and even the RHS shows of Malvern and Chelsea may not have come about without these early shows.

The popularity of shows has varied over the last couple of centuries – as has the produce on show. Vegetables became the ‘in’ product to show through the 19th and into the 20th centuries, along with more flamboyant floral additions such as fuchsias, orchids, dahlias and chrysanthemum.

Village shows embrace some of the ‘competition’ of the Floral and Horticultural Shows – but have developed into much more of a community event for all. For a start they are also open to women and children, as well as men!

The horticultural element is still important, but as well as fruit, vegetable and flower exhibits, you can also show off your prowess in art, handicrafts, cookery, photography, or bee keeping.

Many villages will be having their shows over the forthcoming weeks – and most will accept exhibits from people living outside the village.

Wimblington and Stonea Summer Show is on Sunday, August 3, at their Parish Hall.

Next week I will give a few tips and hints on how to win!

Manea School of Gardening is an RHS Approved Centre. For more information, visit: