132 years of Flowers: A history of Shrewsbury Flower Show
The Flower Show has come a long way from humble beginnings in 1836, when it started out as a Carnation and Goosebury show in Frankwell.
Shows and pageants were introduced into Shrewsbury in the early 1800s by the town burgesses to increase trade and income to the town. Villagers from outside town had hardly any need to come to Shrewsbury and the annual fairs – such as the Gooseberry and Carnation fairs – were a means of enticing them in.
Fairs in town had a history of drunkenness and debauchery, however, – especially the former Shrewsbury Show, dating back to the Middle Ages, held on Kingsland fields, where the trade guilds of Shrewsbury would each have had an arbour for entertaining the Mayor and members of the Corporation. It was abolished in 1875 due to Victorian dislike of disorderly behaviours!
The burgesses, craft guilds and freemen of the town set about organising more salubrious events instead and an early forerunner of Shrewsbury Flower Show was held in 1857, near the showground at Coton Hill.
The present Shropshire Horticultural Society was formally established in October of 1875. This was in spite of the Home Secretary banning such shows in 1878 - a special dispensation was given to enable the Flower Show to be held together with the Agricultural Society Show in the Quarry Park in the centre of town.
The Band of the Coldstream Guards played at that first event - military Band performances have always been a central feature of the show, a tradition that continues to the present day. The takings for the two-day show were £791-12s giving a profit of £409.
High quality exhibits of flowers and horticulture have always been the main focus of the Flower Show, but it has always delivered family entertainment too, including the likes of Bon Bon the tightrope walker in 1881, whose rope was 150ft long and 40ft above the ground. In more recent years, well-known bands and high-profile singers have providing evening entertainment, such as Katherine Jenkins in 2004 and this year's Scouting For Girls - with fabulous fireworks displays rounding off the night.
There have been balloon ascents too, which must have amazed crowds in the years before aeroplanes - and back in 1987, during the Centenary Show, there was even a flyover from Concorde.
No shows were held during the first or second world wars, when The Quarry was used as an allotment for growing food. In January 1946, Percy Thrower was appointed Parks Superintendent by the Borough Council. Percy was then the youngest Parks Superintendent in the country and set about creating the present Quarry Park and Dingle layout from the rough areas which had been cultivated during the war. Percy became the Society’s Honorary Horticultural advisor and was a great driving force in the further development of the Show for many years, alongside his work as TV and radio’s first ever celebrity gardener!
The Shropshire Horticultural Society is a Registered Charity which has a policy of providing grants in support of a wide range of organisations and activities in Shropshire and has provided many millions of pounds to the community since its inception in 1875.
Many people won’t know that in 1924, the Shropshire Horticultural Society bought Shrewsbury Castle from show profits for £2,621 and presented it to the town!
Today, the Shrewsbury Flower Show is recognised by the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s longest running horticultural show held in the same location.
Let’s hope this year is not a rerun of 1970, when weather halted play as two inches of rain fell on the first day of the show!