Old programmes shed light on society’s roots

Kath White,Ursula Makepeace,George Baston and Fiona Peters with some of the historic programmes. Ref

Kath White,Ursula Makepeace,George Baston and Fiona Peters with some of the historic programmes. Ref shb 06-16TI 0684. Picture: Terry Ife - Credit: Archant

Members of Beer Horticultural Society have reminisced over flower shows of old after the discovery of a number of historic exhibition programmes.

The schedules date back as early as 1931, when the group used to be called the Beer and District Horticultural and Poultry Society.

The programmes were donated to the society after a clear-out. They run chronologically until August 1939, before the outbreak of World War Two. The summer show is at the heart of the society’s calendar.

Underleys resident George Bastone said he was pleased to see the programmes as generations of his family were members of the committee. His father, Charles, was one of the founders of the group and his brother, Bill, went on to have an exhibition cup named after him. George recalled childhood memories of the show - including musical performances from the Beer Brass Band when the event was held on Whitecliffe Field.

George said: “My father was the bandmaster. They would march up to the field and play all through the afternoon. My twin brother and I would carry a bandstand in, so we didn’t pay a tuppence. There were two marquees - one marquee was all the vegetables, flowers and the other marquee, three-quarters of it was for ladies’ items. Competition was fierce. There were real rivalries. They would sneak into each other’s gardens to see what they had got. It was a big night in The Dolphin. All the winners would take their cups down and fill them up and pass them around.”

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Each show featured more than 130 classes for vegetables, poultry, flowers and classes for ladies and children at Beer school.

President Dr Edward Tonge MBE introduced the President’s Cup in 1936, awarded to the entrant with the best collection of six vegetables. The winner received 10 shillings as prize money.

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George said that Dr Tonge was a ‘real village doctor’ after visiting him on Christmas morning when he came down with diphtheria.

In 1937, Tiverton and Honiton MP Cedric Drewe became president of the society. The show took a hiatus for eight years and returned for its 22nd exhibit in 1947. Major General Russell Gurney opened the event.

Fast-forward 80 years and some traditions have not changed - as the summer show still takes place at 3pm on a Thursday.

Lifelong member Kath White said it was interesting to see how the society was run before she joined. Her husband John was a key committee member for more than 30 years alongside Joey Mutter, in the running and exhibiting of the Charm Chrysanthemum show.

Current president Ursula Makepeace said: “It is the history of the society and it is an important part of Beer.”

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