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History of Aldbury Garden Club

ACG History: Text

When we launched the AGC’s website at the start of 2022, we vowed to write up the history of the club.  Easier said than done; there are few existing records, so, our source material has been confined to:

  1. Aldbury Allotment Association (AAA) account book dating from 1950 to its last year, 1961. This also contains a yearly list of members.

  2. Aldbury Garden Club account book (AGC) 1976 to 2009 after which records went digital. 

  3. Engravings on the various cups and trophies given out at shows

  4. The memories of some of our long-standing members. Thanks to everyone who gave us their personal accounts.

We are very grateful to Chris Fido and Bill Page for trawling through the account books to unearth some of the interesting nuggets you’ll read below, and especially to Chris for pulling these into some sort of shape for you to read. 

“The leafy, twiggy - perhaps misty - back pages of the Aldbury Garden Club are intrinsically linked with the Aldbury Allotments.   Parish Councils were set up in 1894 and at Aldbury’s first Parish Council meeting there were questions about the 4 allotment sites in the parish: at Greenings; behind Barrack Row; at Franklins (the current location ); and at Tring Station where Clarkes Spring housing is now located.   

At some point, the allotment-holders formed their own Association; we’re not sure exactly when but probably in the late 1930s as the winners engraved on the impressive Aldbury Allotment Association Mead Cup date from 1938.  However, World War Two quickly put the club on hold from 1940.  The need to grow for the kitchen, pre and post two world wars, steadily evolved into friendly competition between plot holders and thence the re-birth of the AAA in 1950 with 61 members.  The annual subs were 1/-,  ie one shilling or 5p in today’s money, and the annual turnover was about £200. 

Growing potatoes was obviously a very big thing during these years and the mass combined delivery of spuds to Tring Goods Yard was then transferred to be stored by John King (Peter’s father) for an annual charge of one shilling.

There was just one annual show, held in late August, for showing flowers and veg, with some classes open only to men and others only to women.  During the ‘50s there were usually about 20 exhibitors at the annual shows but each entering many more classes than exhibitors do today.  

Some beautiful silver trophies made their appearance during this era but it’s not clear whether all of these were purchased by the club or some donated.  The only recorded purchase in 1958 is for one ‘Fish Bros. Rose Bowl’ for £13 10s which we believe must be the lovely and hotly contested Aldbury Allotment Association Challenge Bowl.  In these early years, the cups are engraved with just the winner’s initial and surname.  In the lists we have compiled of cup-winners over time, (link) we have added first names where we know them but if anyone can help us expand the names of people such as F. Bierton, K. Fleckney, T. Collier, G. Hart, G. Jeffs, D. Barber, Mrs R. Cato, Mrs K. Frazer and many others - all legends in their time we are sure - we would be very grateful.

The schedule for the 1957 annual show lists activities including ‘…rings; bowling; darts; logs; sweets; treasure hunt and raffle plus the presentation of Thorne’s Prize’.   There is sadly no indication of who Thorne was nor for what it was awarded - nor what on earth ‘logs’ entailed, but they clearly knew how to have fun. The impression is of a very busy event, possibly with a few health and safety risks! 

By 1961, membership had dropped to 49 - with a low of just 32 members in 1956 - so at this date the club was once again put to bed, with final assets of £18 17s 1/2d.

The very hot year of 1976 saw the flowering, so to speak, of the Aldbury Garden Club, instigated by a Mrs Joan Collins, who must have turned her hand to horticulture in between takes of the film Empire of the Ants.No, not really.  Not THE Joan Collins.   Mrs Joan Collins was named in the inaugural Committee meeting, where Brian Brightman became the Chair of the newly formed Aldbury Garden Club, but she is mysteriously absent thereafter apart from her name on the Domestic Cup which was awarded for the first time in 1976. 

There were 42 members in total that first year but it gradually increased to 95 by 1984, dropping back down for a while until membership eventually peaked at 111 in 1994.  Since then, membership has fluctuated, dropping to only 40 in 2005 and only getting back to over 100 in 2022.    

The Aldbury Garden Club differed from the AAA by holding 2 shows a year, in spring and summer.  The shows were still competitive but also offered stout advice to novices about when and how to plant to get the biggest and best veggies, and how to gain the respect of your fellow gardeners. Winning never was and still is not about money.

AGC members have always been generous with their advice: how to use Jeyes Fluid, Sulphate of Potash, Blood, Fish & Bone, Nitrate of Soda.  Imagine various of these splashing down onto perhaps Dunlop rubbery wellies with in-turn welted socks and no seams;  teaching the difference between a spit and a rod or tilth and loam; consulting the Murphy Chemical Company Ltd (tel Wheathampstead 2233) for pest control as there were considerably more insects of the pesky type then. These are my historical supposition and not stated as actual events but I am sure the advice from the veteran allotment holders vacillated between “Ahh! don’t do it like that, do it like this” and was contradicted the following week by another venerable but always kindly AGC guru.

The AGC also started to organise coach trips to gardens and horticultural talks, though the demand for these declined as more people got their own cars and gardening advice became easier to get hold of from the telly and online.  Plant sales, it appears, were always quite buoyant.  In the first few years after 1976 they were held on the village green, thereafter in the Mem Hall. By 1997, Pat Quigg, Ted Badrick and Brian Brightman were shifting over £100 annually into the club’s coffers.  Even today, our plant sales are what keep the club afloat.

Sutton Seeds were the chosen buddies for providing seeds and gardening sundries and the onerous job of coordinating the orders was embraced by Jack Quigg, club secretary Pat’s husband, who was thankfully eagle-eyed in the arithmetic department. Each member, having received a copy of the catalogue, would fill out an order form and return it with the money to Jack; he would then collate the whole thing and send the combined order and AGC cheque to Suttons. Jack would check everyone’s maths and would chase up any naughty members, even if they were only a few pence out.  But the biggest task was then sorting through the hundreds of packets once delivered and distributing the orders correctly. Eventually, in 1999, the committee gave Jack a bottle of whisky in recognition of his Herculean efforts though even a whole case would have hardly been commensurate recognition of the all the effort Jack had expended.  Thankfully, online ordering eventually came along to rescue Jack, and most members have now embraced this approach.

A naming of the main stalwarts from the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s would have to include the Badrick boys, Percy and Ted, and their Dad, Tom; Eric Sparkhall, with a cup in his name presented at the Spring Show; Eric Moss similarly, all now gone to pastures heavenly, and the doughty support of the Crauford family. Brian Brightman, as Chairman, and Pat Quigg, as Hon Sec, served the club tirelessly for many years, and the support of John and Joan Wright and Mary Whittell was invaluable; all are now Honorary members of the AGC, a small recognition introduced in 2022.   

Accounts from these years were all very healthy perhaps because the cost of a cup of tea at the lectures offered in 1978 was raised to 5p.  Four hundred entries for that year’s Summer Show were notably of a very high standard contributed by 61 exhibitors. I noted from the Minutes from June 1979 that the category “Boiled Potatoes” (presumably home-grown) would now be appearing at the Summer Show and the organised trip would be to Wisley. Subscriptions were then fifty pence per annum. Roger Engel was Treasurer and costs for engraving cups were escalating. There seemed to be an insatiable need for raffle tickets necessitating the purchase of 2,000 in number at a cost of fifty quid. A shed load must have been sold.

1997 saw Ted Badrick, who had been on the AGC committee since the start, step down and gradually take a back seat in other areas. If Jack Quigg was czar of the seed order, then Ted was emperor of the daffodil order from Ron Scamp’s Quality Daffodils company. His garage floor would be covered with the members’ bulb order and also the club stock which members would grow in pots and exhibit, vying against each other directly at the Spring Show. 

Like a magic lantern, the pages flip by and 2000 is the year when subs were raised to the princely £2, each entry to a Show was raised to 20p from 10p. Show Schedules were printed by Jim Hendry. Brian Brightman was still Chairman, Pat Quigg still Secretary. 

By 2005/6, the AGC had reached a rather sad state with only 42 members and minimal participation in shows and AGMs.  It was looking like the club might collapse again.  Sue Gill, the then chair, wrote a ‘Whither Aldbury Garden Club?’ piece in Aldbury Outlook.   Then, like a sickly plant springing back into life, new names started appearing on the committee including Bill Page, Shirley Chamney, Julia and Anthony Kent, Shelley Taylor, Dot O’Gorman and Chris Fido (ie me!).  Coach trips and lectures started up again and the AGC began to front a stall at the May Fair, raiding the allotments for everyone’s rhubarb to sell to happy visitors.

In 2012, a new regime took over with Bill Page as Chair, Chris Fido as Hon Sec and Julia Kent as Treasurer, the latter followed by Tess Alps from 2014. The club was well supported but the finances needed some attention as annual accounts were tipping into the red regularly and reserves were being used up.  Membership subs were raised to £3 and there was renewed effort directed to plant sales, taking the accounts safely back into the black, which enabled the club to make donations to Aldbury School in some years of bulbs or seeds.  The tradition of an annual summer barbecue was established as coach trips and lectures fell away.

In 2015, the combination of a desire to protect the allotments from development with a request from Aldbury Parish Council for the club to help manage the allotments on their behalf saw the club’s name change to the Aldbury Garden Club & Allotment Association.  What a mouthful. 

In 2018, Chris Fido followed Bill as Chair, with Juanita Mann stepping in as Hon Sec.  The club flourished until the Covid pandemic put all communal activities on hold.  However, the club played its part in encouraging more people to start growing their own veg throughout lockdown by gifting free plants and membership started growing again.  Various questions about how the club was managed began to emerge from a few members which the committee was unable to answer.  They had just followed what previous officers had done and not questioned anything too closely.  As a result, the committee led the creation of the club’s first proper Constitution which now gives all members a transparent look at how they can become part of managing and shaping the club; the latest version can be read here.

Rod Allsworth had valiantly taken on the task of liaising with the parish council as the allotment representative on the committee back in 2015, and he was followed by Phil Fido.  But, by 2020, it was evident that this collaboration was unfruitful and frustrating for all parties so, in 2021, under the new committee of Tess Alps as Chair, Rachael MacRae as Hon Sec and Linda di Mizio as Treasurer, the club relinquished its allotment duties and changed its name back to the Aldbury Garden Club.  

Writing now at the end of 2022, a year which has seen the introduction of a smart logo and website, new activities such as the Members’ Open Gardens and membership back over 100, I shall leave the record here, hoping future AGC committee members will add to it in due course.

Definitely to be continued… 

Chris Fido

ACG History: Text
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