A Brief History of the Show
The Ayots Horticultural Society was founded at a meeting held at the home of George Davies, Ayot Lodge (1 Ayot Green) on Monday, 20 October 1952. The Society’s minute book shows that the prime mover was the rector, Rev. Jim Davies. He was appointed as the first chairman and volunteered to invite the 2nd Lord Brocket to become president - which he agreed to. The first treasurer and secretary were W. S. Messer (then living at Ayot St. Lawrence but later at 41 Ayot Green) and A. A. Wells respectively. The first event was a talk at Ayot St. Peter School on Friday, 21 November 1952 at 8pm on the subject of ‘The growing and preparation of vegetables for exhibition.
Local resident Graham Wren reports that the original idea for the Society came from Ron Jeakings who, at the time was in his late teens and lived with his parents at 8 Ayot Green. He was greatly supported by Mrs Rosalind Trench-Watson (née Gray Hill) who was one of the key original members. She lived in Jeeves Cottage next to the Red Lion, which was demolished to make way for the A1. She had previously lived with her parents at Sherrards House but returned after many years away, originally for a short spell, to stay with her mother's former cook, Mrs Jeeves, and never moved out. Her passion was gardening and flowers, and she established a wonderful garden at Jeeves Cottage. This is why there are so many cups in her name - she would have been most unhappy to think they have been awarded to children, for whom she had little time, and for cookery, in which she had no interest!
Another keen supporter was Mr Sargent the head gardener at Ayot Place (now Ayot Montfitchet). Graham Wren’s parents Daphne and Jack became very involved too. Jack was treasurer for years, responsible for the thankless task of putting the cash winnings into the countless small envelopes between judging and opening time.
In 1953 there were two shows, held in the school: on Saturday, 27 June (in conjunction with the church fête across the road in the garden of the Rectory) and what was called ‘the main autumn show’ on Saturday, 5 September. There were 271 entries for the autumn show. George Davies won the challenge cup; second prize (a load of manure given by Ernie Jeakings) went to Mrs F. K. Turnbull of Ayot St. Lawrence.
The first annual general meeting was held at Ayot St. Lawrence village hall on Thursday, 29 October 1953, at which point the society had 56 members and cash of £17 9s. 3d. Graham remembers that there were cash prizes for 1st and 2nd place in show classes – first prize was half a crown (12.5p). One year the former Queen Anne of Romania presented the prizes (the deposed Romanian royal family lived in Ayot St Lawrence for four years in the mid 1950s).
One of the special features in the late 1950s was the auction after the show which always raised large sums. There were cut flowers, magnificent big floral displays, for example from Ayot Place (now “Ayot Montfitchet”), vegetable produce, from professional and amateur growers, home-made wine, cakes and other produce.
Another feature was the regular entry from Lady Lenanton, authoress Carola Oman, who lived at Bride Hall. She was Patron of the Royal School of Needlework and exhibited some of her tapestry work, once a pair of magnificent dining chairs depicting scenes of Bride Hall, one of which included her pet Dalmatian dog.
The 1957 summer show on 29 June was the last to be held in the school hall - the floors in the hall were rotten and unsafe and the area was becoming too small for the number of entries. The first show to be held in a marquee on Ayot Green was the 1957 autumn show on Saturday, 21 September, when there were 350 entries. The committee thought it right to ask Lord Brocket’s consent to the use of the Green for this purpose - which he cordially gave. It is minuted that Charlie Potter had arranged with Inspector Winser from Welwyn Garden City for an hourly inspection of the marquee during the nights of the show. Mr Winser later moved into 20 Ayot Green. The shows were always held outside no. 6 (the old Post Office) and no. 8 as Ron Jeakings was able to supply the water from his home.
At the autumn show in 1960 there were no fewer than 567 entries and the society had 130 members. For over 40 years the two shows have been consolidated into one, held in a marquee on Ayot Green in July. It remains an important feature of life in the parish. Usually the show is followed by a party or event in the evening. On 15 July 1977 a barn dance was held in the marquee to mark the Queen’s silver jubilee.