There can’t be many occasions when the Secretary of State for War has been asked whether it was appropriate for the Grenadier Guards to play at the Shrewsbury Flower Show. The year was 1887 and Edward Stanhope’s reply was that regimental bands were forbidden to play out of their military districts without special permission from headquarters. The Grenadier Guards played at Shrewsbury believing that they had the necessary permission. This minor misdemeanour did not prevent Mr Martin of Ledbury winning first prize with his apricots, and Mr Shaw of Kidderminster being acclaimed for his dahlias.
Visitors in the 1890s witnessed crime, tragedy and a dramatic escape. Clarence Vaughan of Manchester was caught picking pockets at the show in 1890 for which he was sentenced to twelve months’ imprisonment. In 1893 Captain Whelan, the ‘Huddersfield Aeronaut’, fell from his balloon Victoria at Crudgington after an ascent from the Quarry Grounds during the show and died from his injuries. The aeronaut had made 315 ascents before this first – and final – accident which was caused by high winds.
A surprise explosion occurred in 1898 as a Birmingham firm was preparing a display of fireworks for the show when a mortar went off and blew a workman some yards away. The explosion set fire to a tent containing £50 worth of fireworks ‘causing terrific and repeated explosions which continued for half an hour’. Two fire brigades were utterly unable to stop the explosions. A number of workmen near the tent had ‘marvellous escapes’. Half a century later in 1948, the show lost £3,821, but turned a profit of £5,000 in 1949 by the simple expedient of moving the fireworks display outside the showground thereby saving £7,000 in entertainment tax.
The turn of the 20th century saw events of a calmer nature at the Shrewsbury Flower Show. All previous attendance records were broken in 1905 when 72 special trains ran into Shrewsbury bringing people to the show. Visitors the following year, 1906, would have seen Miss Gertrude Bacon, the first woman in the world to take a voyage in an airship, ascend from the show in one of these craft with Mr Stanley Spencer. Miss Bacon later suggested, partly in jest, ‘that the time was not far distant when airships would be quite as numerous as motor cars, and that there would be aero-policemen regulating the traffic mid-air and enforcing the speed limit’.
All showgoers, now as then, keep an eye on the weather. Mrs Salome Bourne told Derby Bankruptcy Court in 1908 that she had paid £375 for the right to provide refreshments at the Shrewsbury Flower Show but it was a wet day and she made a loss of £181, which contributed to her financial difficulties. Contrast this with the ‘brilliantly fine’ weather that Queen Mary enjoyed when she visited the show in 1927.
Fingers crossed for some brilliantly fine weather at the 128th Shrewsbury Flower Show in 2015. See you there.Posted in Archives, Blog Tagged archives, documentary records, house history, old documents, old newspapers, Shrewsbury Flower Show