St Ives Flower Show from 1876

Note: This content and future updates are now available on a dedicated web site, to access click St Ives Flower & Produce Show.

What an amazing heritage our Flower & Produce Show has! In the year General George Custer was getting wiped out at the Battle of the Little Big Horn, and the first ever telephone call was made by Alexander Graham Bell, 1876 was the year of the first St Ives Flower Show.

Hosted by the Mayor and Mayoress and ending with a fireworks display, that first show was so popular it quickly established itself as one of the main events in the town's calendar. Many businesses closed early to allow their staff to attend and there were acrobats, a Montgolfier balloon and dancing late into the night for entertainment. The exhibits didn't disappoint, with a section for singing birds and a big cash prizes. Anyone winning several classes would leave a very happy contestant!

There's a history of the show below, and you can access transcripts of newspaper articles about the show by clicking the links shown. You can also use these links to do a family history search to see if your ancestor's surname appears as a prizewinner or official, thus giving you a faint echo of what he or she was doing one Thursday afternoon in late July many decades ago. Guidance on how to search is given within each link. Gradually, further articles are being added and other related content will be added in time, such as minutes from St Ives Town Council and an extended summary of the show's history, so do revisit to view new content.

The small team that puts on the current show is seeking your help. Might you have any photos of past St Ives shows in your family album? Maybe a snap of your grandfather or his dad proudly displaying winning exhibits? Do you have any old programmes? If you have we'd love to hear from you. Just click the 'Contact me' above to get in touch.

History of the show

The first show in 1876 was restricted to St Ives residents and offered cash prizes, the top award being ten shillings, about £40 in today's money. But in the second year neighbouring villages were allowed to compete and the event was firmly established in the town's calendar. The reporter of the second show was clearly impressed, waxing lyrical for the majority of his article about mother earth, the richness of her bosom and even breaking into poetry. The range of exhibits were extended and included a section for singing birds.

The report of the 1878 show gives us a clue of it's location, in Mr Henry Goodman's paddock on the Needingworth Road, as well as a detailed list of some exotically named fireworks. But by 1879 there were small signs the popularity of the show and increased weight of administration was starting to tell, with the newspaper report for that year mentioning problems with the reception of entries early in the day. The top prize, the open class for roses, was now up to £4/4/-, equivalent to a month's wages for an agricultural or manual labourer.

By the time of the fifth show in 1880 the open classes for roses section had achieved national recognition, attracting competitors from around England to complete for the highest prize of £5 for 24 distinct varieties of roses. In the absence of a similar show in Huntingdon, the St Ives Flower show was already being recognised as the county show. Besides the established entertainments of refreshments, dancing and fireworks, Mr Warner (who donated an outlying field to the town, now Warner's Park, on his demise in 1905) opened his grounds for the public to walk around and all major dignatories attended the show, many contributing prize money. However, the organising committee still had work to do with staging of entries, the newspaper reporting a delay that was perhaps inevitable given the increased number of exhibits.

The number of entries at the 1881 show had blossomed to 726, twice as big as the St Ives Flower & Produce Show of 2011. The inventiveness of the committee was shown in their desire to have a bicycle meet at the 1882 show by sending invitations out to numerous clubs. Unfortunately all but two had previous engagements so the plan fell through.

Although the Hunts Guardian & East Midland Spectator had faithfully reported the full results of each show since it's inception, the paper followed up its glowing 1882 report with an amazing piece of vitriol, the cause being that it's printing office had not been asked to carry out any of the printing work for the show. The piece is well worth a read, claiming poisonous elements within the organisers being responsible for personal favour or spite!

The show was the chief holiday for the town by 1886, attendance being so large that special trains were laid on in the hour from 22:00 to transport all the visitors to the town back to their destinations.

A total of 46 officials are named for the 1888 show, many drawn from surrounding villages, and head gardeners from the most prestigious residences were listed as judges. Entertainment had extended to include acrobats. There was dancing into the night for which there was an admission charge of sixpence, equivalent to £1. With businesses closing at 2pm to allow their staff to attend, St Ives was 'en fete' for the occasion.

Just how big and prestigious did the show become? Was it suspended during World War 1, and when did it restart and with what success afterwards? Revisit to catch updates of subsequent years.

Here are links to newspaper reports.

And finally, here are links to the latest run of the show that started again in 2010 after a break of fifteen years.

(Photo courtesy of The Illustrated London News)

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