My next step was to look at the reports in the Wigan Observer for the years 1882 and 1884. The 1882 report was entitled New Springs Flower Show. It said that the show compared favourably with those of previous years, suggesting that the allotments were there before 1882.
“There was a splendid collection of flowers and plants sent for exhibition from Haigh Hall Gardens; Mr J. Hilton also kindly lent a number of hot house plants. A model garden, constructed by Mr. Saywell, gardener to Mr J.W. Fair, was exhibited. The judges were Mr Jamieson, of Haigh Hall Gardens, and Mr Bell, seedsman, Wigan.” (another note to self – find out who all these people were.)
There were prizes for vegetables grown in the allotment gardens – peas, beans, turnips, cabbage, parsley, lettuce, potatoes, and carrots. A chap called J. Moan won first prize for the best kept and cropped allotment, but he kindly declined it as he had won it last year (so the allotments were definitely there in 1881.) There were also prizes for “window plants” and the best window displays. So this was not just an allotment show, but involved the wider neighbourhood too.
There was also this interesting account of a disagreement: “Objection having been made to the committee by Mr Holker against some plants exhibited by Mr Crewdson and Mrs Foy, the committee requested several gentlemen to enquire into the matter, which they kindly did, and found that the objections were unfounded, and that Crewdson and Foy were fairly entitled to the prizes they had won, and entirely free from all suspicion or unfairness. Charges of this kind are serious and ought not to be made without good foundation or upon mere surmise. On the other hand nothing could be worse than for people to attempt to win prizes by unfair means. So far the committee of the New Springs show have little to complain of in this respect. They believe that the competition has been fair and honest, and trust that it may always be so, and the rivalry between the different gardeners and plant growers a friendly and open one.”
Mrs Foy came second in the class for the best display of plants in small windows, while Mr Crewdson was highly recommended. Mr Holker came first in the class for best display in large windows. Mr Crewdson won second prize for his fuchsias, while Mr Holker came third. Mr Holker came second in both the geranium class and variegated geranium classes and Mrs Foy came third with her scented geraniums. So, that keen sense of competition was there again, but maybe not such a good natured occasion as in 1913.
According to account of the 1884 show it was the seventh annual show. The 1912 show had been described as the second annual show, so this didn`t make sense. But, if there had been a long gap, people may have forgotten about the earlier shows – 1911 was, after all, nearly 30 years later.
“Compared with previous shows there was this year a slight falling off both in the number of plants and the quality of them, but the vegetables grown in the allotment gardens were again very good. During the evening the Earl and Countess of Crawford walked through the gardens, and afterwards visited the show, where the Countess gracefully distributed the prizes to the successful competitors. After this had been done, the Rev C H James, who works most indefaticably to ensure the success of the society, proposed a vote of thanks to the Countess for her kindness in coming amongst them that evening to distribute the prizes. The thanks were accorded to every one present, with much pleasure, and the Earl of Crawford, in responding, expressed his pleasure at being present, and his admiration at what he had seen in the gardens. He said the change there, was really wonderful, and reflected great credit on the tenants, who in so short a time, and without any previous knowledge of gardening, had brought their allotments to such a high state of perfection. He was quite prepared to further help the committee if they thought fit to extend their operations. There was a fair company present including Mr J W and Mrs Fair, Mrs and Miss Bryan etc.”
The Earl and Countess of Crawford were important people in the district, so this would have been an exciting occasion for everyone. This report shows that that the allotments had been there for a “short time” in 1884, so that would fit if they had been made in 1881. Rev James had been very important in the beginning of the society (and had still been around in 1912 and 1913 as he had lent them the room in St John the Baptist school). This fits with my knowledge of Victorian clergymen in poor parishes – often they were very involved in community and social action. Did he see the allotments as a way of improving the lives of the industrial poor? I knew there was a tradition of local philanthropy among the aristocracy and I was very interested to know more about the nature of the Earl`s help. He probably donated money. He also lent plants and flowers for the show and one of his gardeners to judge it. I knew there had been extensive gardens at Haigh Hall. The walled gardens are still there and I have seen a photograph of the old greenhouses, and heard tales of childhood memories of former grandeur. Did he help with plants and seeds for the allotments? Manure from Home Farm? Tools? The new plotholders would have needed a lot of basic equipment. He remarked that the tenants had no previous knowledge of gardening. Did his gardeners help by sharing some of their knowledge and expertise?