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Society history

The first record of what was initially called the Mickleham and Westhumble Cottagers’ Show was a meeting held on 20th March 1909 under the chairmanship of Sir Trevor Lawrence of Burford, which resulted in the first show being held in July of that year. There were 200 entries in 41 classes. Shows and AGM’s were subsequently held at the Village Hall until the outbreak of war in 1914 led to their abandonment. It was not until 1923 that the show was reinstated with Sir Trevor’s son, Sir William, now in the chair. It was now called the Mickleham Village Show and they were held every year until 1939 when a show was planned but cancelled at the end of August and by 1940 all idea of a show was abandoned. They were restarted in 1950 under the auspices of the WI with Mrs. Duckham, its President, as Chairman. At this point it became the Mickleham & Westhumble Village Show, only changing its name to the Mickleham & Westhumble Horticultural Society in 1951. It has been held continuously since then, celebrating its centenary in 2009.

All this history is contained in a number of handwritten minute books that continue until 1995 when the computer finally took over, and there are also copies of the Schedules dating back to 1911. These early schedules differ from ours today; they included advertising, with seedsmen offering prize money, and entries were often limited to specific occupations. For example, the Industrial Section catered for the ‘cottagers’ but these were still the days of big private gardens and gardeners so there were separate classes for them. In 1937, Section A allowed residents from Dorking and Leatherhead to enter, Section B was for residents of the parish of Mickleham and Section C was for cottagers and allotment holders. Under-gardeners were allowed to compete but not head or single-handed gardeners. There was clearly a strong social hierarchy that persisted.

The inter-war years seem to have been a time of expansion with what had been two small committees (one headed by the Rector, the other designated the Ladies Committee) blossoming into a large General Committee, a Gardening sub-committee, an Industrial sub-committee and a Sports Committee. ‘Industrial’ is perhaps misleading being what we now call Cookery, Needlework and Arts & Crafts. Originally there were classes for Maidservants only, a Laundry class (non-professional), as well as Men and Lads and Schoolchildren. The gardens behind the school were worked by the children who were taught how to grow vegetables as part of their school experience. In the early years the headteacher of the school would close the school the day before the show and it was a case of all hands on deck!

During this time, money was awarded for 1st, 2nd and 3rd prizes for gardeners and for children and we do still reward the children with cash prizes. These were not large sums, only shillings (perhaps 20p), but may have been a welcome addition to the income of some of the villagers as one class demonstrates only too well, that asking for 'A cold dinner for a Working Man costing not more than 6d.’ A 3/- prize would have covered the cost of 6 such dinners. The numbers required for each class was considerably greater too; no measly 6 pods of peas but 25, and 48 bunches of black or white currants. A scything competition and a class for the highest number of dead rabbits reveal the agricultural nature of village life at that time.

Although originally the committees’ composition was very much made up from ‘the great and the good’ and the local gentry, over time it is clear that the villagers, many of whom were gardeners at the big houses, also played a crucial role in the planning and organisation of the shows, probably in fact doing most of the physical work involved. It was not until the end of the 1950’s that there was annual membership by subscription. Prior to that the shows had been funded by a quite limited number of residents, mostly those who lived in big houses, who donated a sum that varied from 5/- to 5 guineas (25p to £5.25) and whose names were listed in the schedules.

We no longer hold dog shows or run races, and while photography (introduced in 1930) has gained hugely in popularity, needlework of a workaday kind, such as knitted stockings has declined, as have the craft entries which are kept alive by a keen minority. We also no longer pick wild flowers!