The Early Years of the Rainham Flower Show
The origins of the Rainham Flower Show date back to 1885 when exhibitors from the village and the surrounding area converged on the show to display their poultry, rabbits, fruit, vegetables and flowers. Up to 2,000 visitors regularly attended in what became regarded as a major annual event in Rainham, usually held on a Wednesday in late July.
During the course of the years the organisers tried many things to attract the crowds ranging from musical bands, athletics meetings, tennis matches and demonstrations by the Fire Brigade. All of these activities contributed to making the Rainham Flower Show an attractive event for people to attend.
In 1889 a special new cricket match involving Rainham Cricket Club was arranged to coincide with the Rainham Flower Show and this became an annual match, designed as a sideshow for the crowds. This became known as the ‘Rainham Flower Show Match.’ The first of these matches was played against Newington. The ‘East Kent Gazette’ set the scene perfectly:
‘The fourth annual show of fruit, flowers and vegetables, in connection with the Rainham and District Horticultural, Poultry and Rabbit Society took place on Wednesday at Berengrove, Rainham, the pleasantly situated grounds of this residence having been kindly placed at the disposal of the committee by the Rev J.A. and the Misses Walter. The weather, an all-important factor in open-air gatherings at this season of the year, was magnificent, and made ample amends for the heavy downpour of rain with which the show of 1888 will always be associated. An additional attraction had been arranged this year by way of a cricket match, and something special was announced to be in store for lovers of the great national game of cricket..... The game was witnessed by many spectators, who could recline at their ease on the green award, and sheltered from the sun by the shade of those fine old trees at Berengrave watch the cricket, and also enjoy the music so excellently discoursed by the band of the Metropolitan Police from Chatham, while away in the distance a view of the winding Medway formed a picture pleasing to contemplate.’
At the 1889 Flower Show the exhibits were considered to be better and more numerous than on previous occasions. Open classes were introduced for the first time and this allowed people to compete who didn't reside in the village. William Wakeley from Macklands House in Station Road dominated the flower section of the show with some beautiful roses both in this and in later shows.
Windy conditions with heavy showers marred the 1892 show while the Upchurch Brass Band provided the music through the afternoon. This was the last Rainham Flower Show where a cricket match was played until 1903. The venue of the show moved to Parsonage Field, just off the top end of Station Road on the basis of being more central for visitors to attend. Unfortunately, the surface of the field proved too uneven for cricket so a match didn’t take place there but during the closing years of the 19th century tennis matches were arranged by the organisers and these were played on ‘Mr Brice's Meadow,’ which belonged to Solomon Brice from Milton Road (now Webster Road) and was situated adjacent to the railway line, opposite the Temperence Hotel (now ‘The Railway’ pub). After this the organisers decided that Rainham Recreation Ground would be more central for visitors to attend and the event took place there in future years.
Although The Rainham Flower Show took place in 1904, the cricket match between Rainham and Sittingbourne Wednesday was cancelled due to heavy rain but the other events proceeded under miserable conditions making the day unenjoyable for visitors. A problem also arose in 1905 when King Edward VII paid a visit to Chatham on the same day as the flower show which resulted in a low turnout at Rainham Recreation Ground because many people wanted to see the monarch. About 1,500 visitors attended the show which the organisers regarded as a little disappointing with an estimated £10 loss in takings. However, on a fine day everything proceeded well and after the cricket match the ‘East Kent Gazette’ reported that everybody was 'appy and 'ot.’
Visitors remembered the show of 1906 mainly for the prize winning roses of Joseph Wakeley who took 33 prizes that season, including a silver cup at Harrow in a national competition making him champion rose grower of the year. He followed in the footsteps of his relative William Wakeley who had dominated rose competitions at the late 19th century Flower Show as well as at other local and national shows throughout the country. As in the previous year Joseph Wakeley dominated the flower section of the show with his roses, followed in the evening by a new activity which took place when a London artist gave an exhibition of cinematograph pictures at dusk which proved to be very popular and attracted a big crowd.
Although the weather turned out to be glorious at the 1908 event a falling off in attendance resulted in only about 1,000 people attending with little improvement in the number of exhibits received. Meanwhile, Rainham Cricket Club staged a Married v Singles match which the Singles won by 31 runs.
During this period members of Rainham Horticultural Society played a big part in the organisation of the show getting everything prepared. These included Messrs Finness, Quinnell, Tucker, Glass, Stedman, Scott, Holmes, Jelly, Gunner, Seymour and Sid Wakeley and honorary secretary Mrs E Pearce who were all committee members.
With fine weather enhancing the 1909 Flower Show, Walter Brewer's popular String Band played music for the crowds attending the event and a shock took place in the flower section when Rainham nurseryman George Longley pushed Joseph Wakeley into second place for the first time in some years with his roses.
The Rainham Flower Show celebrated its 25th birthday in 1910 and it also turned out to be the last appearance by Rainham Cricket Club at the event. On a fine day but with a disappointing crowd Rainham played their local rivals Newington but this time it was a one sided affair as Rainham scored 69 while Newington were bowled out for 24. Walter Brewer's String Band played for the crowds again and another shock occurred in the flower section when Sid Wakeley who had earlier won the Sittingbourne Show with his sweet peas was knocked into second position by a local grower named Mr T Barrett who became the Rainham Sweet Pea Champion for 1910.
The Rainham Flower Show proved to be very successful in forthcoming years and continued to attract large crowds from the village and beyond. It became a major annual event during mid-summer and a well-known feature of life in Rainham.