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Capel Horticultural Society – a short history.


The Royal Horticultural Society, to which Capel Horticultural Society has been affiliated since its inception, was founded in 1804.  The RHS was founded by Sir Joseph Banks and John Wedgewood as the Horticultural Society of London.  By the 1820’s a series of ‘Floral Fetes’ were held at the Society’s gardens in Chiswick.  By 1861 it had been renamed “The Royal Horticultural Society” when Prince Albert, who was the then President, arranged a new charter.

In 1862 the new garden that had been acquired in Kensington played host to the first Great Spring Show which later transformed itself into the RHS Chelsea Show.  Thus the tradition of flower shows goes back almost two hundred years, preceding the Victorian era.

The claim to be the oldest horticultural society belongs to The Ancient Society of York Florists that was founded on 20th April 1768 and still uses the coat of arms belonging to Queen Anne.  The term ‘Florists’, in this context, specifically refers to growers of flowers, as opposed to the perception of being retail sellers.

Capel & District Horticultural Society – the beginning

The exact origin of the Capel & District Horticultural Society is unknown.  Interest in horticulture was encouraged by annual flower shows held by the ‘Band of Hope’ – an evangelical arm of the Baptist Church.  In addition, there were lectures held under the auspices of Surrey County Council Education Department.  It is probable that the Royal Horticultural Society was also influential in the latter part of the Victorian era.  Perhaps it was through their influence that public lectures started to be given in rural communities.

In August 1892 the Capel, Ockley, Oakwood and Newdigate Parish Magazine recorded that:

“Cambridge University Local Lectures “Plant Life”.  A very satisfactory report has been received from Cambridge of the results of the examination of the candidates from this parish, all of those who entered having received certificates.

September 1892 – Parish Magazine reported that:

The classes on Plant Life (Technical Education) are now to be resumed, being so much appreciated last year by the few who attended.

In October 1892, it was reported that:

A course of lectures on Horticulture, comprising the general conditions favourable to fruit culture and the treatment most desirable for successful raising of bush and stone fruit, apple, pears etc and finishing up with the diseases of various fruit trees and the best means of combatting these injurious pests.

This was followed by reports of six lectures on the Chemistry of Common Life (November 1892) as well as another course of lectures on “Chemistry for the Farm and Garden”.  The first lecture had an audience of 26 people, by the third lecture this figure had risen to 52 and the final lecture played to a packed house of 87: (Parish Magazine, February 1893).

The success of these lectures that were held in the schoolroom of Capel Church of England School, led to a meeting with the intention of forming a Horticultural Society for the ecclesiastical parishes of Capel, Ockley and Newdigate.

The Dorking Advertiser reported that a meeting was held on March 2nd 1893 where it was decided that the Horticultural Society should comprise three classes of membership:

  • ‘Patrons’ who will subscribe not less than £1.00 per annum (roughly £70 at today’s prices)
  • ‘Gardeners & Amateurs will pay 2s.6d (twelve and half pence, or about £9 at today’s value), if they were elected to the Committee , in which case they would pay double, or five shillings
  • ‘Cottagers’ who would pay one shilling, but if they were elected to serve on the Committee without having to make any payment.

The Dorking Advertiser went on to report that “It is proposed to hold a Show annually in August for garden produce, the best kept gardens, cut flowers and honey and for such other articles as the Committee may think fit.  Only members will be allowed to exhibit; Patrons may not have prizes awarded to them.

The meeting elected their first President Mr William Calvert JP, Vice President Mr E K Bailey, Secretary Mr Walter Goodchild, Treasurer Mr J H B Broadwood with a numerous Committee.

Capel Horticultural Society name changes

There seems to have been more cooperation between the parishes at the start.  The inaugural rules included members from Capel (including the ecclesiastical parish of Coldharbour), Ockley and Newdigate, so it was originally called the Capel, Ockley and Newdigate Horticultural Society.  This name continued until 1904 when the Society was entering its eleventh year.  During this period other villages joined in so that South Holmwood joined in 1902, and Rusper came in 1903..  This was acknowledged in 1904 when it was called:

“The Capel, Ockley, Newdigate, South Holmwood and Rusper Horticultural Society”.

Even for Edwardians, this was a bit of a mouthful, because by 1905 the Society’s name was changed to:  The Capel and District Horticultural Society.  This continued for nearly another hundred years, but in the early 21st century it was simplified to:-

“The Capel Horticultural Society”.

Despite the earlier name change in 1905, the Society’s rules continued to include all five parishes, with Kingsfold added in 1939.  In 1947 the rules were changed to a more general inclusion of members living within a “ten mile radius of Capel”, based on the map reference for St John the Baptist Church as the centre point.  By 1987 the membership of the Capel & District Horticultural Society was made open to all.

Other local village Societies sprang up along the way, which seems to have been due to increased local interest.  A report in the Dorking Advertiser in 1909 says that the 12th Annual Oakwood Flower Show took place on 6th August 1909, which suggests that their first Show was in 1898.  Similarly the Advertiser reported that the Holmwood Village Produce Association held their first Show in 1945, and they celebrated their 70th Show in 2014.


Shows and showing

The first Flower Show Day was on Wednesday 17th August 1893.  It was staged in a meadow at the rear of the Parish Church, later it was known as part of Church Gardens Farm and was loaned by the Misses Lee.  It was not moved from there until 1913, when it found its home on the Recreation Ground that had been donated to the Village that year by the Mortimer family.

Wednesdays were popular since many of the exhibits were staged by the professional gardeners of the big estates, and Wednesday was half-day closing for many of the local businesses.  By 1948 it was found that Wednesday was not as popular, many of the big estates had been hit by the impact of two world wars and more people were working full time.  Consequently, it was decided to move the day of the Show to a Saturday.

Until the Second World War, one of the notable features of the Flower Show Day was the displays put on by the estates and large houses by the competitive staff employed there.  As many as five marquees and tents were filled with displays from the gardens of places like Arnolds, Broomells, Grenehurst, Lyne, Ockley Court, Pleystowe and Temple Elfand.

In 1896, the Dorking Advertiser reported that there had been classes for kidney shaped potatoes and that this was the first class for these kidney shaped potatoes in England.  A few years later, in 1909 there were entries “not for competition” (i.e. a display) of twentieth century runner beans that were 3’ in length put on by Mr A. A. Wilmott of the Red Lion, Ockley.

One of the most successful exhibitors was William Ede (Peter Ede’s Grandfather).  In the Parish Magazine of September 1903, it was reported that “William Ede was again the most successful exhibitor and carried off the Royal Horticultural Society Bronze Medal” (now known as the ‘Banksian’ Medal).  Then, two years later in 1905 the Dorking Advertiser recorded that; “William Ede’s garden was the best cultivated in the county.  Having been awarded 205 marks, were the most marks ever obtained in Surrey.  In 1908, he gained the Royal Horticultural Society Silver Medal.

Mr S. Laverty had done well gaining 197 marks and, as Mr Ede, would be debarred from competing for the next five years. It was suggested that when Mr Ede’s medals arrived they should be presented at some public function.  The Parish Magazine of December 1905 reported that at the close of a meeting Mr Dean and Mr Wright who were Lecturers of Surrey County Council delivered short speeches at the close of which the Royal Horticultural Society’s Silver Medal was presented to Mr William Ede for the Best Cottager’s Garden in the County of Surrey.  Mr Laverty also received a Certificate.

These few items show that the Capel & District Horticultural Society was a thriving and pioneering organisation in the early part of the last century.

In 1936, William Lacy entered exhibits when he was aged 103.  Between1940 and 1946 no shows were held in Capel because of the war.  In 1950 there were a record 1,350 entries for the Capel Show which was the highest number ever recorded for a single show in Surrey.  The first Spring Show was added in 1989.  During that year at the Summer Show a television crew from Channel 4 filmed an extract for their production called ‘Growing Places’ that starred Penelope Keith the actress who attended and entered a collection of six named herbs in the show.  In 2015, Muriel Dale at the age of 106 entered an exhibit thus beating William Lacey as the oldest exhibitor in the history of the Society by 3 years.

Based on the work done by David Hall, Clive Coward, Peter Ede and Ernest Barnett, Capel & District Horticultural Society – Centenary Year 1893 – 1993
Summarized by Chris Coke taken from the original.