One of the things I like most about freelance work is that you just never know what you will be shooting next or who you will meet.
On a cold, windy and wet day in November 2013, I found myself in an exposed field sharing some meagre shelter from the rain with two ladies, Sue and Karen. We were waiting for Martin Clunes to arrive to open a racehorse rescue centre and as we waited, conversation turned to where Mr Clunes lived and then to the fact that Sue was the Chairman of the Wambrook Flower Festival. We chatted about the history of the festival and she mentioned that 2014 was the Flower Festival's centenary year. My mind darted back to 2012 and my coverage of Dolton's celebrations of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee and I decided I wanted to cover the flower festival. I gave Sue my card and she promised to contact me nearer the time.
Then in May this year, an email dropped into my inbox with an invite to attend the flower festival, along with some additional information sent to me by Marjie Dorling who has just published a book about the history of the Wambrook Flower Festival.
In the words of Marjie, here’s a little history of the flower festival :
“Originally called the Bewley Down Flower, Vegetable and Dairy Show, it was held in a large marquee on a field in Bewley Down just south of the Somerset border. World War One intervened a few weeks later postponing the second show until 1919. The local ‘show area’ was initially restricted to those who lived, were employed or owned land in Bewley Down (which straddles Wambrook, Chardstock and Membury), but grew over the years to include 11 parishes: Wambrook, Chardstock, Membury, Yarcombe, Stockland, Whitestaunton, Combe St Nicholas, All Saints, Churchill, Chard Borough and Chard Parish and boasted that it was the 'best flower show between Taunton and Exeter.'
In 1944, the decision was taken to hold a flower show and fete in aid of the Red Cross at The Berea in Wambrook and call it Wambrook Flower Show. This show went back to its roots and, as it was organised on a much smaller scale, the ‘local show area’ was once again restricted to Wambrook and Bewley Down. Many of the same people were involved in its organisation as officers, committee members, judges and businesses e.g. Jarman & Co., Chard seed merchants and nurserymen, which donated a large not-for-competition display of flowers and vegetables to be auctioned off at the show’s conclusion. Since 1944, the show has continued, unabated, until the present day and is currently held at the Cotley Tithe Barn, Cotley, Wambrook.”
Bewley Down Flower Show 1914 – 1939 is available from the publisher, Beechwood Books, and retails for £10.00. Please contact email@example.com to order a copy. All proceeds from book sales will be given to the show’s direct descendent, the Wambrook Flower Show, in celebration of 100 years of flower shows in the parish.
Despite my Sat Nav trying to get me slightly lost, I arrived at the Tithe Barn on Friday morning and I fell in love with the place instantly. It's located on a farm and it was so nice to see that the temptation to turn the barn complex into holiday accommodation hadn't been taken and what had been done instead was the creation of a fantastic event location. I don't really do weddings but this would be an amazing place to shoot one.
The barn itself has lighting that's very tricky to photograph in but the pale walls and floor mean that where the sunshine does flood in through the windows and massive double doors, it creates a lovely soft light. Wambrook Flower Show Centenary 010The Tithe Barn, venue for the centenary flower show.
Wambrook Flower Show Centenary 087Everyone who helped set-up the flower show on Friday: Anne Asquith, Marjie Dorling, Rachael Asquith, Sue Logan, Elfride Vaughan, Karen Bayley, Sue and David Stocks, Penny Luther and Cathy Jones.
Clearly an event like a flower show takes a lot of planning but when you are planning a centenary flower show, the pressure to get it right must be even more intense. However, when Sue and her team turned up at 10am on Friday they slipped into their working routine like a well oiled machine. Everyone knew what they were doing and got straight on with it. Tables were papered, chairs arranged, the tea stall (more of a cafe than a stall) was set up, bunting was strung and signs re-erected.
Wambrook Flower Show Centenary 019Sue Logan and Marjie Dorling prepare the tables for the flower show. Wambrook Flower Show Centenary 043Penny Luther, Sue Stocks and Karen Bayley hang bunting in the marquee. Wambrook Flower Show Centenary 071Elfride Vaughan and Anne Asquith prepare the tea stall.
By 3pm on Friday the barn was ready. All it needed now was for the tables to be filled with flowers and more.....
Now, for me, the flower show signs were the first evidence of just how seriously flower shows are taken. Signs had been placed in strategic places on road junctions to help out of town photographers find their way to the Tithe Barn. Well, ok, maybe not photographers per se but they were there to help people find their way to the flower show. However, it appears that these signs were erected on the Thursday night and by early Friday morning they'd gone. I'm not casting aspersions around but apparently the neighbouring village was also having a flower show on Saturday. I'll leave you all to draw your own conclusions! But rather than start an inter village war that would require a UN intervention, the good folk of Wambrook simply put more signs up and sure enough, when I returned on the Saturday morning, the route was clearly signposted. It was a good thing too as the flower show was very well attended, with I'd estimate, a couple of hundred people turning up to show their support and enjoy the day.
At 8am on Saturday, it was already clear that it was going to be a lovely warm day and it wasn't long before people started arriving to prepare their entries. Great care was taken in arranging them, making sure everything was just right, all ready for the arrival of the judges - the men and women who could make or break hard earned reputations. The competition between entrants was clear, but good natured with a lot of banter between friends and neighbours.
Wambrook Flower Show Centenary 117 Wambrook Flower Show Centenary 155 Wambrook Flower Show Centenary 133 Wambrook Flower Show Centenary 125 Wambrook Flower Show Centenary 102Some of the first flowers to arrive and on this hot day plenty of water is needed to keep them fresh for judging. Wambrook Flower Show Centenary 098Some of the first flowers to arrive. Wambrook Flower Show Centenary 113Friends, neighbors and bitter rivals Peter Barber (front) and Philip Jackson.
In the above photo, Philip Jackson keeps a careful eye on his rival, Peter Barber. They live just 3 doors apart and tease each other about who's going to win. Philip isn't entering the string of tomatoes class this year - he jokes that it's because Peter had stolen his tomatoes and that's why Peter's tomatoes look so good.
Although called a flower show, it was more like a fete really, a true celebration of the past hundred years of flower shows. You didn't need to be a gardener to enter something, there were also classes for children's paintings and handwriting, crafts and even photography.
95 people entered 605 entries into the different classes and really set a high standard. Vegetables and fruit judge Margaret Excell commented that, "the standard was very high and more in line with a bigger show." Clearly the residents of Wambrook had worked hard to make this a show to remember. In fact this was the highest number of entries since 1933 when 755 entries were received.
When it was time for the judging to begin, the well oiled machine became a military operation. The Chard Army Cadets arrived and acted as runners between the front line judges and the command centre - in this case based in the Cider Room! As the judges scored the entries, the cadets collected the cards and ran them to the senior officers in the Cider Room where the scores were collated and entered onto computer before the cadets took the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and highly commended cards back to be placed by their respective entries. It was when I saw this part of the day that I really understood just how much work and organisation was needed to make it work.
Wambrook Flower Show Centenary 176Judging. Wambrook Flower Show Centenary 190Chard Army Cadets run the judges score cards to the command centre where the scores are tallied. Pictured new recruit Cadet O'Byrne. Wambrook Flower Show Centenary 173The Chard Army Cadets run the judges scoring cards to the command centre in the cider house where Marjie Dorling (flower show president), Penny Luther and Sue Logan (flower show chairman) collate scores before the cadets run the first, second, third and highly commended cards back to the entry tables.
The flower show officially opened to the public at 2.30pm and after the show's President gave a brief opening speech to the gathered crowd, the Chard Concert Brass (I was told not to say brass band) played the National Anthem, the show's traditional method for opening proceedings.
Wambrook Flower Show Centenary 204Marjie Dorling, president of the flower show, opens the 2014 centenary show. Wambrook Flower Show Centenary 205The Wambrook flower show traditionally opens with the playing of the National anthem and this year the Chard Concert Brass performed it. Wambrook Flower Show Centenary 207The Wambrook flower show traditionally opens with the playing of the National anthem and this year the Chard Concert Brass performed it.
With the show officially open, people were able to enjoy the displays and the exceptionally tasty and well priced tea and cakes, whilst all the while being serenaded by the Chard Brass Concert and then by the local group, The Window Trees.
Meanwhile away from the main barn, there were lots of stalls to browse around and of course a raffle. Keeping children entertained at events like this isn't always the easiest thing to do but the committee had catered very well for them with lots of fun and games for them to enjoy, including a magician, an assault course that a few of the adults couldn't resist, face painting and a skittle alley.
The afternoon passed quickly but I did find time to sit and enjoy some of the tea and cake, and to chat to some of the people I had been photographing for the past two days. One of the people I met and talked to was Elisabeth Jackson who has lived in Wambrook for 40 years and attended the flower show for every one of those 40 years. This year she was very pleased to have won 1st prize for her roses.
But before I knew it, the cups were being presented, the raffle winners drawn and things were beginning to wind down.
As the day came to a close, thoughts turned towards the evening party at The Cotley Inn where there was more music and a hog roast on offer.
Wambrook Flower Show Centenary 278The day ends. I headed home to start processing the images and to think about how important these types of project are. This is what photography is all about for me and I need to remember it and not get lost in hustle and bustle of making money.
Wambrook Flower Show Centenary 122Photograph taken at the very first flower festival in 1914. As the image above shows, photographers need to capture the everyday, the ordinary. This photo was taken a hundred years ago at the first Wambrook flower show (or as it was then, the Bewley Down Flower, Vegetable and Dairy Show). I stood and chatted to someone about the photo and it raised questions for us, such as, were they getting hot wearing their hats and coats, or was it a cold July? How did they get home? Did some share a horse and cart, or did most people walk? Is that a tea urn or a cup at the end of the table?
Photographs don't always tell us the story but they do offer an insight into the times in which they were captured. What is ordinary today will, before we know it, have changed completely and recording it is important. I can only hope that in a hundred years time, one of my photographs from the 2014 Wambrook flower show will be hung above the tea table with bailer twine and will generate some questions and memories of its own.
Thank you very much to everyone in Wambrook who made me feel very welcome and helped me to remember what it is I love about photography.
The complete set of photographs from the two days can be seen in my gallery - click here