The forerunner of Crowborough Horticultural Society was established before 1900 as Crowborough and District Horticultural Society. This is confirmed in an article from the Courier in August 1927 which reported the death of Alderman William Troy. Amongst his many involvements, he was President of the Society for 27 years prior to his death. The catchment area at that time was wider than just Crowborough, with the allotments being in Eridge, Jarvis Brook, Queens Road and Station Road.
During the 1920s big Shows were held, with one involving three marquees, probably on Chapel Green, (although two were for poultry!), and for the 1929 Show there were 500 entries. Following the 1919 Show the Society had the resources to donate £100 to the local War Memorial Fund (approximately £5,300 in today’s money!!).
During the aftermath of WW1 and the worldwide depression of the 1930s things went downhill for the Society. In 1930 the Society’s income was £146 4s 10d with an expenditure of £165 0s 9d, and had a bank balance of £12 17s 2d.
At the 1932 AGM the President and other Officers resigned and appealed for renewed public support, despite a satisfactory position. The 1934 Show was cancelled and in 1935 the Membership was 218. The bank balance was down to £3 0s 1d and at a meeting in November a motion to wind up the Society was passed. The Society’s assets were subsequently sold.
The Society was reborn in 1941 as the Crowborough Horticultural and Allotments Society, the first President of that Society being Clifford Haigh, who, unfortunately, in 1946, died. Income for that year was £149 2s 9p, expenditure £113 13s 0p and with a bank balance of £18 9s 9p.
During 1950 the Society had 525 Members, but only 114 were paid up! An Extraordinary AGM was held to consider dissolving the Society, but fortunately the proposal was rejected. Entries for Shows which were held during this period were; 1945 – 300 entries from 18 exhibitors, 1949 – 131 entries from 31 exhibitors, and 1951 – 250 entries from 88 exhibitors.
The Show records show that in 1958 the Society was still called Crowborough Horticultural and Allotments Society. From 1959 the name appeared as Crowborough Horticultural Society.
Items of Interest
The records of the Society contain minutes of a wide variety of meetings, financial records, Membership lists, Show reports and photographs. The following are items which are of interest or provide summaries of various aspects of the Society’s existence :-
The January 1943 AGM Minutes report that Membership was approximately 340, with 70 to 80 Members attending. As the weather was foggy and wet and there was also an air-raid warning in place this was considered a good turnout. Income for the year was £81 6s 2d, expenditure of £75 0s 11p and a bank balance £8 7s 4p.
In November 1943 a Special Important Meeting was held at the Parker Memorial Hall. Chairman Sir Alfred Sargeant and Lady Sargeant presented the prizes to the best kept allotments holders; H Colbran at Pilmer Road and Y Wickens at The Herne Allotments. A talk entitled “Fruit Trees – Their Care and Maintenance” was given. Following this R T Pearl, Assistant Horticultural Officer for the East Sussex War Agricultural Committee gave a talk entitled “Harvesting and Storage of Crops” which was part of the Dig For Victory campaign. During this period the Society bought lime in bulk and distributed 6 to 8 tons to the Members in small bags for use as fertiliser. The government subsidised 75% of the cost.
[The historical context of Dig For Victory is that during WW2 all households were encouraged to grow their own food in times when harsh rationing was in place. The Crowborough allotments were changed from a mix of flowers and vegetables to solely growing food. Throughout the country open spaces, private gardens and public spaces were all converted into allotments. Rationing continued after the end of the war, being finally phased out in 1954.]
At the June 1947 Executive Committee Meeting it was reported that the Secretary had resigned and a proposal was passed to hold a Special AGM to decide the future of the Society. Although there were almost 600 Members, attendance at meetings and lectures averaged only 30, and non-payment of subscriptions had increased markedly. The Special AGM decided to continue the Society.
The following extract of Membership numbers illustrate how this has varied over the years:- 1934 216; 1945 479; 1960 250 (+50 in arrears); 1969 306 (+73 in arrears); 1979 234; 1989 341; 1996; 234; 2004 97.
Annual Shows have been held during most of the 120 years since the Society’s origin. The nature of the shows has changed during this time, particularly since allotments were a major part of the earlier Membership.
Examples of entries and exhibitors since the Society was reborn are:- 1949 131 entries from 18 exhibitors; 1954 300 from 88 exhibitors; 1962 639 entries; 1970 427 from 47 exhibitors; 1980 423entries; 1990 315 from 58 exhibitors; 1999 438 entries, and in 2008 250+ entries from approximately 50 exhibitors.
Over the decades the Society has held its meetings at a wide variety of venues. Examples include Ashdown Hall, Book Club Broadway, Cross Hotel, Christ Church Hall, All Saints Church Hall, Social Club, Girl Guides Hall, Red Cross Hall, Parker Memorial Hall, Further Education Centre, St John’s Hall, CCA Hall in Park Road, CCA Hall in Pine Grove from 2012, and most recently the Jarvis Brook Guide Hall from 2021.
At various times during its existence outings to gardens in the surrounding areas have been organised for Members. The gardens were often those which we are familiar with today, although some do not exist anymore (or at least are no longer open). However they seem to have been generally much appreciated as they still are today.
The current Society has at various times joined in local projects such as Crowborough In Bloom and the Millennium Project. Since 2003 Members have planted and maintained the flower bed to the left of the Waitrose Supermarket (by the steps to the car park). This is a memorial to Members Doris and Arnold Senior.
A final item of interest comes from the Secretary’s Report for the year to 31st December 1958. It begins:- “I have commented before on the difficulty of making a report interesting when every year is so much the same. I think it was this kind of thought that provoked the Secretary of a Church Choir I knew to present his report one year in verse. It certainly made a change. Perhaps one of these days we shall set ours to music and get the Committee to perform it as a ballet – but this year, at any rate, it will have to be in prose again.”
The mind boggles!