A trip down memory lane

SUE SKINNER An exhibition charting the history of the Sandringham Flower Show will provide an additional attraction this year in honour of the event’s 125th anniversary. The display offers a fascinating trip down memory lane, as SUE SKINNER explains.


A main arena programme which features mediaeval jousting, lawnmower racing and a marching band - not to mention a flying and wing-walking display in the skies above Sandringham, is certain to generate plenty of excitement for spectators today.

Back in the early days of the show, however, the entertainment lined up for visitors was an altogether more sedate affair.

It included competitions for "tastefully-decorated" perambulators - complete with baby, bicycles and tradesman's horse or pony and carts, with the entrants either pushed, pedalled or driven in a grand parade around the showground.

Visitors may expect a few more thrills and spills these days but history shows how little the show has changed in many other ways.

The much-prized royal patronage, the traditional classes for flowers, fruit and vegetables grown on the estate, displays by leading nurseries, the friendly atmosphere and the emphasis on offering a good day out rather than commercial gain all remain essential elements of the show in the 21st century, just as much as they were in the 19th.

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This continuing link between past and present is clearly evident in the exhibition being staged in the Amateur Marquee today, which celebrates the 125th anniversary.

"As far as we're concerned - and I think all of the committee are in accord with this - as well as change, which you have to do to keep the show popular, it's so important to keep those traditions which have made the show a success," said treasurer Paul Murrell.

"I think the display shows just how much in common today's shows have with the ones which went before."

The event began in 1864, two years after Albert Edward, then Prince of Wales and later King Edward VII, bought Sandringham House.

It was a small, local show until the formation of the Sandringham Estate Cottage Horticultural Society, which aimed to "encourage labourers and others on the Royal Estate in the cultivation of their gardens and allotments, their wives and housekeepers in maintaining neatness and cleanliness in the cottages and the children in improving their needlework and writing."

The society held its first show on September 20, 1866, attracting entries of a high standard and a crowd of more than 3,000 - a particularly high attendance for a village event, with the proceeds going to worthy causes.

Today the turnout is more likely to be six or seven times that number, while the total amount raised for charity has soared to around £340,000.

But the same tried and tested formula has prevailed over the years, apart from the times the show was cancelled in times of war.

The exhibition, researched by Anne Frost, includes a range of memorabilia, with adverts and press reports, including those for the original show in 1866, rosettes, copies of certificates and numerous photographs. There is a big feature on the fur and feather section which formed part of the programme for half a century.

"I think it's going to be tremendous," said Mr Murrell. "We've got some really lovely stuff. There's so much of interest there and lots of old photographs of estate staff and the fathers and mothers of current estate staff. We've got photographs going way back - certainly to the 1920s."

The display will also highlight headline events and inventions during the show's lifetime.

To continue the anniversary theme, women manning the stands will be wearing period costume, while those selling programmes at the show will be in Twenties "flapper" dresses. Show chairman David Reeve said 2006 would be marked out as a special year in the history of the event.

"I am always very optimistic that our show gets better and better," he said. "Every year brings new challenges but the really important thing thing here is to retain everything it's already got.

"Any show that can carry on 125 years and retain a lot of its original concepts and ideas can't be a bad show. It's testament to the show itself that it's stood the test of time, with a little bit of updating here and there, but as I suspect we will see from the exhibition, lots of the tradition hasn't changed."

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