The Darlington Chrysanthemum and Dahlia Society
Back in 1939 an 'off the cuff' remark whilst playing a game of snooker at the Hope Wilson Institute in Darlington saw the seeds of the towns Chrysanthemum Society being sown. A meeting of all interested saw the formation of a Committee comprising President F Hope Wilson, Chairman F Skilbeck, Secretary Jim Davidson, Assistant Secretary R Heward and Treasurer Jack Minto.
The first show which was held in the Billiard Hall of the Institute and attracted 39 entries of which 24 were baskets of late flowering Chrysanthemums, requiring growers to carefully tend to their flowers in the early winter months and bringing them into flower in a greenhouse. With wartime fuel restrictions in place this was no easy task, yet over 200 blooms were displayed, the main flower being a variety called J.W.Morris.
Subscriptions were 1 shilling (5p) per month and prize money for the show was taken from the door takings and the sale of flowers.
The end of the war saw the membership numbers increase and by 1946 the hall at the Hope Wilson Institute was too small to accommodate the show and the society moved to Harrogate Hill School. This hall became too small so Lady Starmer and F. Hope Wilson negotiated a move to the Baths Hall in Gladstone Street, making a guarantee against loss to the sum of £100. Darlington Corporation Parks Department started to support the society and erected some magnificent displays. The show became a major event in the town.
As each year progressed the society attracted growers of Early flowering Chrysanthemums and Dahlias and in 1952 the Early Show was started. Gladstone Street School would become the venue for the first two years, but this hall proved too small as the show quickly grew in size. This resulted in Bondgate Methodist Church being the new venue.
The bug had wetted the appetites of the members and the society set in sights on staging 6 vases of flowers at the Westminster Horticultural Show in London. To everyone’s surprise the society won first prize and the name of Darlington was well and truly put on the map in the horticultural world. This success saw the society name change to the Darlington Chrysanthemum and Dahlia Society.
In 1973 and 1974 the society won titles of Championships of Great Britain after winning the society classes in London. The crowning glory would have been a hat trick but in 1975 the society were placed third.
The society created a show garden for Dahlias in the town, under the care of Joe Kidd. This attracted interest from many of the suppliers of plants and the National Dahlia Society. Sadly the society was unable to keep the garden going, but this set the scene for today’s displays and national trial grounds at the Royal Horticultural Society, Wisely Gardens and Golden Acre Park in Leeds.
Darlington Chrysanthemum and Dahlia Society were instrumental in the formation of the Northern Group of the National Chrysanthemum Society, subsequently bringing the Northern Show to Darlington, with Darlington to provide the prize money for the show.
As the society grew, there was a need to raise funds for the society events. The society took a chance and invited Dorothy Perkins and Hepworth’s Tailors to stage a fashion show. This was a highly successful event making a profit of £300. Better and more ambitious events were organised with the staging of a Miss Chrysanthemum competition. Tyne Tees Television presenter Rod Griffiths was the compere.
The continued growing interest in the town for the Chrysanthemum and Dahlia Society saw it link up with the local newspaper and members of the committee provided articles for publication every Thursday. Sadly after a while the local press were unable to continue with the column.
From humble beginnings to the rise of National fame, the society today is still proud to present three annual shows in the town bringing floral spectacular, giving our own contribution to Darlington in the national Britain in Bloom competition. The shows start on August Bank Holiday in the St Cuthbert’s Church hall, followed by the early show on the second Saturday in September and finally the late show in the second Saturday in November, both at the Bondgate Methodist Church Hall. We attract exhibitors from across the North to Darlington.
The society has a total of sixty trophies to be won at out three shows.
Darlington Chrysanthemum and Dahlia Society continues to grow. We have 54 memberships with an age range of 44 to 80 plus. Members exhibit at both local and national shows. Our annual membership fees stand at £5 and £2 for concessions.
Most months on the first Tuesday, the society holds meetings at the Copper Beech Hotel in Neasham Road, bringing speakers to talk on a wide range of horticultural subjects, but never forgetting that our roots are with Chrysanthemums and Dahlias.
The Society has been blessed with our presidents Mr F Hope Wilson, Mr W sanders-Hutton, Lady Starmer, Mr A Stephenson and currently Mr A Maconochie who became president in 1988 and continues to give the society generous support.
Darlington Chrysanthemum and Dahlia Society are indebted to a number of local and regional businesses that over the past few years have provided sponsorship and support through-out the year, namely Sherwood’s, Glenwood’s, East End Club and Wilkinson. Whilst these organisations continue to support us, many for reasons have found it difficult to continue to support us. With this in mind, our working committee are always keen to attract new sponsors to help us continue growing and provide high quality shows and events with a horticultural theme for the people of Darlington and surrounding areas.
Darlington Chrysanthemum and Dahlia Society is a registered charity. We work on a non-profit basis. Over the past years the society has successfully raised money to make donations to St Theresa’s Hospice, Darlington Memorial Hospital, Macmillan Nurses, Age Concern, Glebe Road School, St Herbert’s Church, St Cuthbert’s Church, Holy Family Church, The Tsunami disaster Appeal, Newton Aycliffe Youth Centre Football Club, The Great North Air Ambulance, The Education Village, Brerley Park School and Cafe JJ. Our annual sale of plants is our main source of income and helps us with these endeavours. These plants are raised and sold by our members.
We are always keen to attract new members in order to continue the traditions of the society and we would welcome any interested visitors to would like to learn more about growing and showing Chrysanthemums and Dahlias.