If the 1884 newspaper report was accurate and that was the seventh annual show, then the first show would have been in 1878. I decided to trawl through the Wigan Observer of previous years. I thought it wouldn`t be too long a process as the show would most likely have taken place in July or August. It did take a while, but I found show reports from 1878, 1879 and 1880, of the New Springs Floral Society, which explains why they were not identified when the archivist did the search for New Springs Horticultural Society! They all took place in St John the Baptist School and were described as shows of Window Plants. There was no mention of prizes for vegetables or the allotment gardens. As the allotments were there in 1882, I concluded therefore that the gardens were made in 1881.
The 1878 show report said that the society “has been formed for the purpose of encouraging the art of horticulture, both indoor and outdoor, in the district,” and “Considering that this was a commencement only, the efforts made resulted in a success.” There were plants lent from the Earl of Crawford`s gardens, “Mr Saywell, gardener to Mr Jackson exhibited a tastefully arranged model garden, which was very much admired. The judges were Mr Jamieson of Haigh, and Mr Bell, seedsman, Wigan, and their decisions appeared to give general satisfaction. The Haigh Band gave their services, and considerably enlivened the proceedings.”
The prizes were gracefully distributed by Mrs Bryan, and the Rev. James (who worked indefaticably for the success of the society in 1884 and lent the school room in 1912) thanked everyone on behalf of the committee. The Rev. Bryan responded on behalf of Mrs Bryan (note that the women distribute prizes gracefully while the men do the talking – Lady Crawford and the Earl did the same in 1884). He “remarked that the show exceeded his expectations. He felt a great interest in the movement, and trusted it would prosper. Flowers were God`s most beautiful gifts, and the cultivation of them must have a beneficial influence.”
He also said that “Lady Crawford, who was not at present in the neighbourhood, had desired him to acquaint her with the result of the show. She considered the object of the society a very good one, and if the matter was properly taken up she would not be lacking in her aid.” Not as many people turned up as the organisers hoped, but those who attended appreciated it and expressed their determination to get the first prizes next year. The report also mentioned that “Mr. Jamieson had been good enough to send from Haigh gardens a large hamper of pelargonium cuttings to which the visitors were at liberty to help themselves.”
So, the story so far – NSHS began life in 1878 as a Floral Society to encourage the art of horticulture in New Springs. It was the idea of a local clergyman who thought the initiative would improve people`s lives, it was set up with the support of the Earl and Countess of Crawford, and some practical help from their gardeners. The allotments were built a few years later in 1881.