The society was formed in 1893. It is believed that minutes of the Society were recorded from 1896 but the location of the early minute books is unknown and the earliest records the Society now has are those from 1911. However by an examination of contemporary newspaper records it is possible to reconstruct some of the Society’s early history. In 1896 “Mr. David Goodhew chaired the meetings and there was a good attendance of members.” The Accounts showed an income of £21/15/6 and an expenditure of £20/16/9 –truly Charles Dickens precepts were adhered to.
When the society was first formed, it was named The Borden Gardeners’ Society. By 1911 the Minutes show that the name had been changed to The Cottage Gardeners’ Association. There were two groups within the Society: the first group was the Cottagers and the second group were The Gardeners and Amateurs. It would seem that the Cottagers were the more professional, presumably as they were employees of the local farmers.
The Society met every month, with competitions for flowers and vegetables. At judging, points were awarded for successful entries. Each point awarded was worth one penny. Thus if an entrant gained 6 points, prize money of 6d was awarded. Prize money always seems to have exceeded income, which seems to have been augmented by a “whip round” each month.
In 1912 the Needlework Class was not awarded points owing to “insufficient competition.”
Most of these early meetings were held at Mr. Hinge’s farmhouse. Occasionally the venue was moved to Posiers or to The Homestead.
As well as the business of exhibiting and judging produce, the monthly meetings seem to have been very pleasant social meetings. The records show that meetings often finished with individuals rendering songs. (The present Chair assures me that this is no longer the practice!) At the meeting held on 16th January 1911, “Mr. Pearson gave some selections on the gramophone”. That was, of course, the height of technology at the time.
Village events are sometimes noted. On 12th March 1912 it was observed that Mr. Miles “was wished prosperity,” in his new home in Canada. At the monthly meeting of November 21st 1912 Mr. Fuggle stated that he would “do the catering” for the Annual Dinner “at 2/6 each” (12.5p).
Membership of the Society has varied considerably. Indeed on several occasions the Society has been on the brink of closing down. As early as October 1911 the Committee considered closing the Society down. However by February 1914 membership increased: coincidently meetings were to be held in the Maypole pub’s Orchard Room. Members continued to render songs.
After the outbreak of World War 1 the Society reflected national and local feeling. On Monday 19th October 1914 the Vicar started the singsong by playing the piano. “All members joined in with such stirring songs as, The Death of Nelson; The Bay of Biscay and Rule Britannia.” The Minutes secretary records the songs as “being most appropriately rendered and taken up in fine style by all present. They exactly voiced the patriotism of us all at such time of national anxiety and solemn thought.” Mr. Levy then gave “a most enjoyable reading from The Lays of Rome.” The meeting closed with the singing of the National Anthem.
For the duration of the war it loomed over meetings of the Society, as it loomed over national life. For example a Minute notes the donation of 2/6 each by members to the Belgium Relief Fund. This donation was made instead of holding the annual supper. Gifts of tobacco and cigarettes to Borden Old Boys who are upholding King and Country.” Whether this would be seen as a politically correct gift today, these items would no doubt have been very welcome in the damp trenches of Flanders Field. On many occasions produce produced by members was sent to local hospitals where war wounded casualties were being treated. During the war years the Special Constabulary took over the Orchard Room of the Maypole Pub, thus curtailing the Society’s meetings.
By March of 1919, something of the prewar conviviality had returned to the Society’s meetings. As it was St. Patrick’s Day Mrs. Taylor sang “The Dear Little Shamrock” for the assembled members.
Some mysteries remain. For example, why was a special meeting convened to “correct a mistake”? We read that the matter was “thoroughly discussed and settled” but can only guess what the drama was. Similarly in September 1921, members discussed a letter. As they were discussing it, the writer arrived in the room. “He was then asked for an explanation of his letter but miserably failed to answer the question put to him. After insulting members he was “dished out the contempt he had brought on himself.” An episode for a modern T.V. soap?
During the 1920s outings were frequently organised. One such trip involved a charabanc ride to the Corn Exchange, Rochester to take part in a regional exhibition. Members left their exhibits at the Corn Exchange and went to Cobham. They toured the church and Almshouse and then visited the Leather Bottle Pub for a “most convivial afternoon in the Dickens Room of the pub, after which they started the return journey to Rochester” and “although the rain came down incessantly it in no way dampened the spirits of the members.” They stopped at Chatham where the members went to a show at the Empire Theatre the party finally got back to Borden at about midnight.
The Society’s Annual Show was an important event in village life. Mr. Hinge often lent a field and the programs of the period suggest a combination of serious exhibiting of fruit; vegetables and flowers mixed with other items such as cricket matches and other sports; maypole dancing and a beer tent. The evening ended in a dance. The scale of these events may be judged from one occasion when the Society had to pay for a police presence there and issued 200 tickets for bicycle storage. A dignitary was invited to open the shows, on one occasion Lady Harris. It was proposed that Mr. Tidy’s little daughter “be invited to present Lady Harris on the occasion of the opening of the show” with a bouquet (Cost 7/6 37.5p). On another, occasion, no less a personage than Mr. Borden, the then Prime Minister of Canada.
The meetings often describe the important issue of appointing judges for the various categories to be exhibited. Dealing with the arrangements for the annual show was also a perennial issue. On 25th August 1920 the twenty-seventh Annual Show was held.
On Monday 14th of February 1921 the Minutes refer to a change of venue to the Parish Rooms. From that time the Annual Show and Annual Dinner seem to have been held in the Parish Rooms where concerts and whist drives were held. This minute book ends in 1923. The Society seems to have gone into abeyance for much of the 1930s and throughout the Second World War, happily to be revived in the 1960s.
On 22nd March 1966 the Society was affiliated to The Royal Horticultural Society and by 1977 to The Kent Federation of Agricultural Societies.
By 1987 typed minutes are in evidence, though our predecessors’ hand writing in the earlier records is an interesting aspect. By the meeting of 7th July 1988 “It was reported that the last show had been the best attended for many years.” At the Annual General Meeting of that year it was noted that “the number of members had increased by 4 to 35”, however it was feared that the numbers might decrease as “some members are having to move out of the area because their houses at Mountview are being pulled down.” In 1991 however, paid up adult membership still stood at 35. In that year there were 555 exhibits in shows. This was an increase of 130 on 1990 and was said to be the highest level for a decade.
During the 1990s the pattern of holding a Spring Show; a Summer Open Show and an Autumn Show and having an Annual General Meeting and a Harvest Supper was continued.
Our predecessors in the village showed a keen interest in horticulture. It is pleasing to note that in the first decade of the twenty first century the Society continues to flourish under the vigorous leadership of its current chair, Mr. Terry
Keith F. Lainton