Originally published in NCS Yearbook 1996.
Dire need for a Yearbook
Up to 1894 the Society never had a Year Book and members looked in vain in the publications of the Society for any regular records, tabular or descriptive of exhibitions held in bygone years. This was greatly deplored. How things have changed since our Year Book has progressively developed over a period of 100 years. Nowadays regular records of exhibitions are recorded in every Year Book. Rightly so, for I feel that every Society should write its own history year by year, remembering that it has a duty to the future as well as to the present members, and a sacred duty to those who are gone.
In the first Year Book published by the National Chrysanthemum in 1895, Arthur Wortley, a former Secretary of the Society (appointed in 1851) in an article on “Recollections of bygone days” described the formation of the original Stoke Newington Chrysanthemum Society in 1846 and traced its progress through the following years, until, on the recommendation of a Sub-Committee, it was agreed (in January, 1884) to change the name of the Society to the National Chrysanthemum Society. I think that with this fact in view we ought to have another celebration in 2034.
Birth of the Floral Committee
At this same meeting in 1884 a Sub Committee was appointed to deal with new varieties (note the word cultivar was not in use then), this ultimately became the Floral Committee of today. From this day on all the meetings were held in the Anderton Hotel, Fleet Street, London.
The N.C.S. at that time held three shows annually at the Royal Aquarium, London, in October, November and December. The Aquarium Company made a grant, the N.C.S. provided the Schedules and offered the prizes, with free admission to N.C.S. members, and the Aquarium Company took the gate money. This arrangement continued until 1903 when it terminated after a period of 26 years - the Aquarium Company closing down. The November Show was always a special feature at the Royal Aquarium. The Great Vase Class, in which each entry consisted of 60 Large exhibition Blooms - “12 vases of specimen blooms, 5 blooms of one variety in each vase, arranged on a table 2 feet high and facing all around” - with the entries filling the whole of St.Stephens Hall, it must have been a sight to behold and never to be forgotten.
In 1903 a new home was found for the three shows each year at Crystal Palace. An agreement was made with the Crystal Palace Company on terms similar to those of the former agreement with the Aquarium Company.
Transactions and Annual Report
The first Year Book was published in 1895, along with two more publications, namely “The Transactions” and the “Annual report”. The two later publications were deemed satisfactory and the Year Book was not published again until 1906, when the Society decided to issue a Year Book for circulation to it’s members, many of whom owing to distance, were unable to visit the Society’s Meetings and Exhibitions in London. This met with considerable success.
The Transactions carried new classifications, Show audits, reports of the Floral committee and their outings, lists of show winners and winners of the Holmes Memorial Challenge Cups since they were obtained by means of private subscription in 1892. We still have these two trophies at our present late show but in those days one was for 36 incurves, distinct and the other for 48 Large Exhibition blooms, distinct.!! The prize money in 1901 was £10, £7, £4 and £2. At present one Holmes Memorial Trophy is 25 incurves and the other one for 12 large exhibition.
The Floral Committee report each year enumerated at great length the year’s awards and their outings to various nurseries. These became a feature of every publication of the Transactions. In the early years of the 1900s the members of the Floral Committee had placed before them a large number of chrysanthemums specially suited for market and they were of such high quality that more than ordinary interest was created by them. As a result of this the Floral Committee were anxious to inform themselves as to the methods of culture and other particulars regarding these novelties, and, in consequence the Secretary was always asked to write to the nurseries who put the flowers before the Floral and ask if they would afford facilities for the Committee to visit their establishment. To these requests a cordial invitation was invariably forthcoming.
The Committee were always impressed with what they saw and this was always reported in the Transactions. They must have enjoyed them as well, quoting from a visit made to Mr. Percy Cragg’s nursery in 1911. “It was exceedingly kind and thoughtful of this firm to anticipate the comfort of those forming the party, as they did by the provision of ample accommodation in the way of horses and conveyances to make the visit more pleasurable and less of a tax on the members. - The party had been on the move for some hours, and darkness came upon the scene somewhat unexpectedly. However, the members of the firm had thought of creature comforts, and at the end of a large glass structure the good things in the way of hospitality had been provided in abundance, and it is unnecessary to add, the members of the party did ample justice to them.”
List of Subscribers and Fellows
The Annual report contained a list of Subscribers and Fellows. Subscribers were Members and paid 5 shillings or lOs 6d. Fellows paid either one or two guineas. It is worth while pausing a moment here to consider what good value your N.C.S membership is worth today. The financial index shows that one pound in 1901 would be worth 50 pounds in 1996, such has been the rate of inflation. If the N.C.S. membership fee had kept up with this rate of inflation it would now be in the region of £50 to £100!
There were 83 Fellows, 625 Members, 37 Foreign Members and 139 Affiliated Societies in 1901. The Foreign Corresponding Secretary was responsible for letters to the Foreign Members who were spread over ten different countries. One of them being the head gardener to H.M. The King of Italy, Monza.
The Report of the Classification and Catalogue Committee was also included in the Annual Report. They met on the first day of each show and as required, their function being to determine the classification of certain varieties of doubtful character. It was also their duty to keep the Society’s Catalogue revised and up to date. (I was interested to see Madame Edmond Roger is in this list, dated 1895 and I have a superbly healthy plant of this green incurve growing away well and with no sign of any disease). A list of Synonymous or Too much alike varieties of which there were 26. They then clarified this by saying that at times they so nearly approach each other in general appearance that they MUST NOT be shown in the same stand at any exhibition held by the N.C.S. (I’m glad we don’t have these now, though on second thoughts it may not be a bad idea).
Exhibition and Schedules
The show Schedules were also in the report along with the entry forms for the three shows that were held each year in October, November and December. The Executive Committee of 36 all came from around London with the exception of one who came from lpswich. I guess that travel would be difficult in those days.
The other feature was the class for 48 distinct Large Exhibition and in 1901 there were 8 entries. What a sight to behold! In fact at the 1901 late National there were 2445 Large Exhibitions shown!
Most of the exhibitors during these years were head gardeners showing in the name of their employer, the resultant prize money was a welcome supplement to the gardener’s lowly income, that is if his Lordship allowed it! In 1912 a record was set and I don’t think it will ever be beaten. Mr. T. Stevenson (gardener to E.Moccatta Esq.) won first prizes in 36 Large Exhibition, 48 Large Exhibition distinct, 24 Large Exhibition distinct and 12 Large Exhibition distinct. Large Exhibition were now at their peak!
The Executive Committee decided that knowledge of the chrysanthemum could best be extended by holding Conferences and then publishing for the benefit of all members the full text in the “Transactions”.
1915 saw the shows moved to Vincent Square. The Admiralty had commandeered Crystal Palace thus closing an important phase in the history of the Society. Both membership and finances suffered in the war years and the work of the Society was somewhat restricted. A one off show was put on in 1921 in the R.H.S. Hall and it was only rendered possible by donations and special prize contributions from members.
The work of the Society’s Floral Committee continued throughout the 1914 - 1918 war period. Exhibitions were held whenever possible, and after a lapse of four years the “Transactions” were published again in 1920.
Earlies making their mark
Earlies were making a mark in the late twenties and the first trial was carried out by W. Hatch, at Cookham in 1928. In September 1930 a broadcast was made by Thomas Stevenson on early flowering chrysanthemums from 2LO. The early 30s saw a great development and improvement in the decorative and early flowering varieties. There had been one or two classes in the October shows ever since 1900 but not many. The Early National now came into being and the three Late Shows seemed to amalgamate and become the Late National. At the Late Show in 1934 Messrs Sutton and Sons Ltd. staged a wonderful exhibition of “Cascade” chrysanthemums. In later years Slough Parks put up superb eyecatching central exhibits of charms, cascades and espaliers; how we miss this type of exhibit now at our Late Nationals.
After a lapse of some years a Year Book was again published in 1930 then the next one was in 1935 and it covered the years 1931-35.
In 1938 an arrangement was made with the Royal Horticultural Society to form a joint early flowering chrysanthemum committee to deal with varieties blooming in the open air before October 1st. This Committee continued up to last year, now the R.H.S. has a standing Chrysanthemum Committee and the N.C.S. a Floral Committee.
World War II
The outbreak of hostilities in 1939 largely curtailed the Society’s activities but it is worthy of note that, although limited in extent, the work continued unbroken, thanks to Messrs. Sutton and Sons, Reading, who placed accommodation at the Floral Committee’s disposal during 1940 when the bombing of London was intense. In the Centenary Year a Classified Official Catalogue of Varieties and Rules for Judging was published and distributed to members. Two shows were held at Westminster and the prizes offered were worthy of the National Society, including the New Centenary Trophy presented by the President Frank Doodson Esq. together with other challenge cups and medals the attendance being the best ever.
The Society was taking off again in fact in 1949 over 2000 new members were enrolled. From then on two Nationals were held each year at Westminster until 1966 when the Early show was held in Alexandra Palace as it was in 1967. Both back to Westminster in 1968 and they remained there until the Early show was moved to Stafford in 1990.
Special Provincial Classes were instituted during 1947 at both the Sheffield and Huddersfield Shows, with the object of assisting N.C.S. members living at a distance, who found it difficult to exhibit at the London Nationals. In the same year the advice bureau was set up by the N.C.S. at the Southport Flower Show. Again in 1947 over 1000 new members were enrolled.
During 1948 the N.C.S. began a series consisting of about 150 cultivars. These trials were grown in the North by Mr.G.R. Bacon and by Mr.J.B.Stevenson in the South of England. The Wisley Trials of Early Flowering cultivars were also continued. This year saw another 1500 new members joining the Society.
Formation of the Northern Group
In 1949 the formation of a Northern Group of Affiliated Societies was approved. More than 1800 new members were enrolled in 1949. Owing to the rapidly increasing membership and the extra work entailed, an Assistant Secretary was appointed.
In April 1950 the increasing income of the Society enabled the Executive Committee to fill a long felt need for closer contact with members, by the publication of the first issue of a regular Quarterly Bulletin, designed to give up to date information on chrysanthemum matters and the work and progress of the Society.
The total number of new members in 1959 exceeded 1100. The Trials were continued at Mr. G. R. Bacons and by Messrs Woolmans in the Midlands.
Both the Early and Late Flowering Shows in 1951 were the largest since the War, and every available foot of space was occupied by either amateur or trade exhibits. 1200 new members were enrolled in 1951.
Membership continues to grow
In September 1952 the Society introduced “The Chrysanthemum Growers Diary”. This proved an immediate success and demand exceeded the supply, notwithstanding the fact that 15,000 copies were printed. Messrs Greenyer Bros. of Worthing undertook the Southern Trials of Early Flowering Chrysanthemums and Mr Bacon continued with the Northern Trials at Bradfofd. Another 1300 new members joined during this year.
South Wales Group
The South Wales Group was founded in 1953 and another 1500 new members were enrolled. This year also saw the introduction of a Judges “Certificate of Competence” which is issued by the Society to any Member who can satisfy the Floral Committee that he is fully qualified to judge chrysanthemums.
The first National Register of Names was introduced in 1955 to be followed in 1957 with the first edition of the Chrysanthemum Manual; this has proved to be the most popular book put out by the Society.
Stopping & Timing
1962 saw the first edition of the publication Chrysanthemum Stopping and Timing. This only lasted for a few years until the Northern Group put a smaller booklet out called Stopping Times, and this is reviewed and brought up to date every two or three years. The Scottish Group was formed in the same year to be followed by the Midland Group in 1965.The new Championship Classes came into being at both National Shows in 1963. Mr. Bacon decided that the Trial grown at Bradford in 1963 would be the last he could grow for the Society, after sixteen years he deserved a rest. Mr. Harold Walker in the kinder climate of the Dee Valley was to continue the Northern Trial on his new nursery site at Chester: they remained here until 1972.
Membership at all time high
The six Groups covering the British Isles were finally formed in 1968 with the South West Group in 1968 and the Southern Group in 1971. Membership of the Society was at it’s highest around this period with a total of 14000 in 1967.
The first demonstration of late flowering spray growing took place in the greenhouses at Wisley in 1971. The early Trials were moved to Peel Park at Bradford in 1972 and they have been run very efficiently by Bradford Council ever since. They are run at present in conjunction with the Royal HorticultUral Society’s early trials at Wisley. 1975 saw the start of the Championship Classes at Westminster in our National Shows and they are now continuing at Stafford.
Judging and Exhibiting manual
The Society’s publication Chrysanthemum Exhibiting and Judging, collated and written by E. Morley Jones in 1963 formed the basis of a new publication in 1975 called Judging and Exhibiting. Considerable work by a Committee of ten was put into the preparation of the new rules and was finally collated and written by Harry Randall. 1974 saw the South Western Group discontinued owing to lack of support, but 1986 saw the formation of the Western Group.
Editor's note: It is hoped that we can extend this article with events that have taken place since 1996.
No history however brief it may be would be complete without mention of the officers who have seen us progress in our later years. To keep this inside your editor’s requirements I can only mention three official but important positions.
J.J. WARD 1934-1936
F.DOODSON 1936 -1950
B. F. JONES 1950-1965
G. WILSON 1974-1975
J.F. WOOLMAN 1976-1993
D. BIRCUMSHAW 1994-1998
Mrs R Boon 1999-2003
Mr J Bawden 2004-
E. F. HAWES 1920-1959
J.B. STEVENSON 1959-1966
H. JAMES 1967-1982
D. BIRCUMSHAW 1983-1991
B. A. BOON 1992-1995
Mr J Bawden 1996-2003
Mr TA Porter 2004-
W. WARDMAN 1933-1945
E. T. THISTLEWAITE 1945-1960
S.G. GOSLING 1961-1983
H. B. LOCKE 1984-1994