History of the Alford and District Horticultural Society.
The origins of today’s Alford and District Horticultural Society lie with a group of men who started the Alford and District Allotments and Gardens Association in 1919, principally to supply members with seed potatoes. The society continued to be known by this name for 61 years and only became the Alford and District Horticultural Society in 1981.There had been a horticultural society in Alford for a few years before WW1; “a well known soldier, sportsman and solicitor” who once resided in East Street and was its secretary from 1906 to 1914, being one of the founders.
By January 31st 1920 membership had risen to 102. By 1927 it was said to be one of the soundest organisations of its kind in the country. However, there were only 109 entries for the show that year, due to a late season and the following year this number had reduced to 16 entries and a financial loss of £12.00 rather than the usual £3/£4. There was no show in 1929 although the membership had risen to 160 , only 20 of whom attended the A.G.M. and there was poor support for the Annual Dinner. A show was held in 1930 with an improvement in the number and quality of entries.
Unfortunately the minutes of the first A.G.M.s have been lost so the earliest records are from the period 1936 to 1955.In 1936 the 18th A.G.M. was held in the Drill Hall (built in 1910 for the 5th Battalion Lincolnshire Regiment, it later became Alford Bargain Centre and was converted into houses a few years ago). Seed potatoes were stored at Dawson’s warehouse behind the George Hotel. During this period committee meetings took place four times each year and the venues were the Congregational or Methodist Schoolrooms, the Manor House, the Corn Exchange, the George Hotel, the Half Moon Hotel and the chairman’s home.
In the 1940s it was realised that the Association could make an invaluable contribution to the “War Effort”. Food shortages and rationing caused people to “Dig for Victory” and membership rose from 171 in 1939 to 330 by 1943. Members also raised money for the War Effort.
In the early 1950s gardeners using Tothby Lane allotments were concerned because the local council wanted to requisition the land for building. The Alford and District Allotments and Gardens Association assisted financially with their appeal which was successful and kept the allotments safe for another few years. In the same year (1953) the show theme was red, white and blue to celebrate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.
The Alford and District Allotments and Gardens Association continued into the 1960s with the foundations of social evenings and outings being laid. The first Spring Buffet with a speaker took place in 1969 and the first coach trip in 1972. The 50th Annual Show in 1970 was the Golden Jubilee of the Allotments and Gardens Association and there were extra trophies, celebratory decorated cakes and floral arrangements.
In 1972 the Tothby Lane allotment holders were once again threatened with requisition. The Association intervened, arranging a meeting between agents and holders, the result being that the allotment holders we re moved to a new site.
In 1973 Freddie Grisewood and the Gardener’s Question Time team came to Alford and recorded a programme in a packed Corn Exchange but by the 1980s membership had fallen to below 100. Since the mid 1960s there had been a decline in the requirement of seed potatoes by members, the profits of which had helped to balance the finances for so long. A concerted effort by Mr J. Elliot, the Chairman, to cut costs and save money saw profits increase and fortunes improve.
On February 12th 1981, the "Alford and District Allotments and Gardens Association” was renamed the “Alford and District Horticultural Society”. The Annual Show continued, the members’ store was established, seed orders instituted and the monthly newsletter was introduced to keep members informed. By 1993, 384 households were members. The store opened in 1982 in temporary premises in a shed to the rear of a local inn, selling growbags, fertilizer and compost at favourable prices to members. It moved to premises on Caroline Street on July 1st 1983 with a wider selection of goods and opened most Saturday mornings from January to July. Less than 4 years later the premises were scheduled for demolition and redevelopment so the search was on for alternative accommodation. Fortunately in 1987 the Civic Trust offered the society a stable to rent in the Manor House grounds where it stayed until the refurbishment of the Manor House in 2004. It then moved to premises at the rear of the George Hotel where it remained for several years and is now in temporary premises again until a permanent home can be found.
Membership is currently 220 and there is a full social calendar monthly social events - an evening meeting with a speaker followed by supper; a Coffee Morning and Plant Sale in May; an annual holiday; the Alford in Bloom competition in June; the society Annual Show in August.
The committee meets once a month and the next major event will be the centenary in 2019, a celebration of 100 years of gardening in Alford and District!