2012 - CHS Diamond Jubilee Celebration

New Beginnings for Crawley Gardeners?

In February 1904 the Crawley and District Gardeners Mutual Improvement Association was formed, and apparently was successful for the following 34 years until WWII brought an end to its activities.

The Association’s 34th annual report and balance sheet of Feb 1939 lists a membership of 63, each of them paid a 1 year subscription of 2/- (two shillings, or 10p).  In addition a list of ‘subscriptions and donations’ details 37 persons and companies who between them provided the sum of £27/14/- to the associations funds.  In 1938 the statement of accounts shows a balance of £25/15/6d in the bank.  (for any of you who don’t remember old money, that’s twenty five pounds, fifteen shillings and six pence, which converts to £25.77½)

The trophies awarded at the 1938 summer flower show – the Bradshaw Cup and in the autumn show - the Oakwood Cup, are still awarded now.

In 1939 the officers and committee were an interesting bunch.  The president was ?Norman Longley (later to be honoured as Sir).

A New Beginning
On 14th May 1948 Norman Longley presided over a meeting to re-form the old Association and it was agreed the body should be known as ‘The Crawley Horticultural Society’!!!  Unfortunately the society lasted for just 2 years and was disbanded in September 1950.

Another New Beginning

There was a public meeting at the Railway Hotel in Crawley on September 19th 1952 with the aim of forming a ‘New’ Crawley Horticultural Society.  Norman Longley chaired the meeting.  The meeting was successful and a committee was formed.  The new chair was Noel Prockter who drafted the constitution.  This was presented at the second meeting on November 27th and adopted along with the rules of the society.  The subscription was 5/- per person per year or 7/6d for couples.

On February 19th 1953 the society held its first A G M when its formation was officially confirmed.  The membership then was 89 and the society had a credit balance of £18/13/11d. (£18.70 approx)

The new committee was elected and led by Noel Prockter as chair,  Mr J Mercer – secretary, Mr J B Jasper - Treasurer and 9 other members.  Sir Giles Loder of Leonardslee became the society’s first President.

Membership grew from 89 to 206 in the first year.  The first annual show was held at Robinson Road School on September 19th 1953, where 58 exhibitors staged a total of 370 exhibits.  A report in the Crawley & District Observer showed that the judges expressed themselves as being satisfied with the standard of the exhibits.  Sir Giles Loder said it was a magnificent show for the first effort and some of the entries were exceptionally good.

Amongst the prize winners of that 1st show were Norman Longley and Fred Russell.  The profit from that show was 3/6d. (Three shillings and six pence – or 17.5p)

In 1955 Sir Giles Loder retired as President, it was then Mr Fred D Edwards, founder of Edwards High Vacuum, who became President and remained in office for the next 11 years.

It was also in 1955 when Charles Moon became Secretary of the society.  There is a rather amusing account of how that came about in a press cutting of that time.

The quote was:-

“There are normally two ways of finding officers to do the work in local organisations.  Either you are forced into a post by a quick-fire proposition and vote which allows no time for second thoughts, or occasionally someone likes the work so much that they volunteer.  But I heard of a new method this week.  Crawley Horticultural Society’s Chairman Mr Noel J Prockter, searching for a replacement for their Secretary Mr J Mercer, received a rate demand from The Horsham Rural Council.  As he was going into the Council Offices he met, coming out, Mr Charles Moon, an official of the Council’s Finance Department.  Before he knew it Mr Moon had “volunteered” to take over.  That is really assessing a man’s worth at a rapid rate!”

In the 11 years that Mr Edwards was President, Charles Moon served as Secretary, Vice-Chairman and Chairman, and then in 1975 he became President.

The Swinging 60's - Ups & Downs

By 1960 the Rose and Sweet Pea show was established as the annual summer show with over 700 entries.  So in 1961 a marquee was erected for the autumn show at the end of the Martlets, where we now have a row of shops that include McDonalds.  The show was so popular that it attracted 1046 paying visitors.  The judges said the chrysanthemums were equal to those at the R H S show.  High praise indeed.

Mr Derek Mountain joined the society in it’s infancy.  In fact he became a pioneer.  Ten years on and the numbers had dwindled, an air of apathy had come over many members.  Fortunately some of the committee still had plenty of life left in them and they felt an urgent need to do something about the situation.  It was decided that a trading committee should be formed, in order to sell fertilizers to members at discount prices in the hope that more people would be attracted to join the society and those who were members already would be encouraged to renew their subscriptions.

Derek Mountain volunteered to get this idea off the ground and Charles Moon purchased a one hundred weight bag of bone meal from M Nightingale & Sons, the local agricultural merchant in Crawley.  This arrived at Mr Mountain’s house where it was weighed out into 7lb bags on his wife’s kitchen scales.

It worked.  The idea caught on and soon his garage was full of fertilizers and the like.  Members would phone their orders in and collect them.  Large orders were delivered by Derek in his van, which encouraged members to order even larger amounts.  In the early days it was important to buy in as large a quantity as his garage could handle, this made for a better discount which was passed on to the members.  Sometimes people would just turn up and Mrs Mountain told how on many occasions she would be in the middle of bathing their oldest son, when someone would turn up and she would have to quickly wrap him in a towel, run down and serve, then get him back in the bath dust and all, hopefully before the water got cold. 

It was 1963 when things really took off.  The committee for that year was led by Noel Prockter as chair, with Charles Moon as vice chair and Derek Mountain as the first trading secretary.  The other committee members were - Mr F J van Went, (or Van to most people) was secretary, Tom Lawes – show secretary, Treasurer Derek Hayward, Kathy Stevens (the first membership secretary) Crawley’s parks superintendent Mr Peter Barnes, Bill Agius, Bob Bishop, Eddy Cox, Fred Lowton, Snowy Stenning, and Bill Young.  It was this group who made a momentous decision.

It soon became evident that trading could be the salvation of the society and after much discussion it was agreed the society should find a building of its own.  This was soon dropped in favour of building our own headquarters.  This was when Eddy Cox came to the forefront; it was he in conjunction with Derek Hayward, Tom Lawes and Derek Mountain who were responsible for the design of the building you see today.  The Council were approached and they offered a plot of land in Ifield Avenue.  Planning permission was granted and all that remained was to find the cash.

£110 in loans had been received but the society needed £300.  So in December 1963 Noel Prockter wrote to the members inviting them to finance the building of their own headquarters.

That year a two day autumn show was held at a cost of £150.  3000 visitors paying 1/- (5p) each were needed just to break even.  Only 1200 arrived.  Show secretary Tom Lawes said that the question of holding future shows would have to be discussed by the committee.

At the AGM in February ’64 Noel Prockter retired after being chair for 12 years.  Charles Moon was elected to take his place and Tom Lawes became vice chair.  It was announced by Derek Hayward that 6000 bricks were on order and building could commence once the paperwork was completed. 

James Longley & Co loaned a builders site shed as the building operations office.  It arrived on Good Friday.  It was an old timber shed in 14 sections that had been put up, taken down, transported and put up again many times so was a bit worse for wear when they got it.  There were just 6 committee members to put the thing together.  By mid afternoon the weather had deteriorated.  It had got very dark and began to snow.  Luckily the street lights helped and they had torches.  By the end of the evening the office was complete.  It was christened ‘the hut’ by Tom Lawes.  This name stuck for many years even after the building was complete and the wooden shed gone.

It was fortunate that both Eddy Cox and Derek Hayward worked in the building industry as their knowledge was vital in leading the willing helpers in the construction of our building.  It should be said that it was the society members who dug the footings, laid the bricks and put the roof on.  The first stage was to complete the shop and storage area.  This part is now used just for storage as the building has been extended since then.

Here is the News

The first newsletter was produced by Major A J MacKenzie who had been elected to the committee in 1964.  Some of the prices shown in the first newsletter are interesting reading.

        Bone meal 3/3d (16½p) for 7lbs.

John Innes composts 7/5d (37p) for 56lbs also sold loose in 7, 14 and 28 lbs.

Maxicrop 15/- (75p) a gallon.

Slug pellets 2/- (10p) per lb.

8ft bamboo canes £2/16/2d for 100. (£2.81 approx)

A good quality garden spade would set you back £1/4/7d. (£1.23½ approx)

1966 saw the opening of the then new shop extension and in the Queen’s honours list our very own Norman Longley received a knighthood for his services to industry.  That year also, Judy Denton of the Crawley Floral Arrangement group was invited to assist in judging the floats in Jersey’s famous Battle of the Flowers Parade.  It had been a very good year for the ladies.

Before I leave 1966 behind I should tell you of the dogged determination of Crawley’s horticulturalists.  The autumn show held at the Martlets entertained 2,000 people, but nearly didn’t happen at all.  There was a near disaster which followed the erection of the marquee on the Wednesday evening. 

Torrential rain during the Thursday flooded the marquee and bales of straw were obtained to cover the ground to enable the tables to be put up, then in the evening there was no lighting for staging and people took it in turn to use car headlights but these did nothing for the far end of the marquee and torches and candles had to be used, then on the Friday the sun shone and all was well again.

1967 the trading had reached over £4,000 a year and contributed a profit of £704 to the society’s funds which enabled it to clear its remaining debts.


We now have a huge gap in time which needs to be filled with factual information about the Society - Can you help?


A New Millennium

There have been many other changes in the development of our Society, including the revamp of the Society Logo in 2008.  With the aim of reaching out to local residents who may not realise we are here, we joined the world of the internet in 2008 with the creation of our own website.


and the use of email for corresponding with members.  This has proved to have been a very wise decision, as our membership numbers have started to grow again.  So keep an eye on it as new developments are in the pipeline.


Sixty Glorious Years

2012 sees the Society's Diamond Jubilee - see details of our celebration here.  Over the years there have been many changes but one thing remains constant; our interest in all things horticultural within the Crawley Gardening Community.


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