Raising a glass or two at shows’ annual dinners

THE farmers, growers and guests who attended the dinner which followed the Chobham show in the 1890s certainly enjoyed raising their glasses in giving some hearty toasts.

Last week, we featured the extensive categories and the generous prize monies presented at the 1895 show of the Chobham, Windlesham, Horsell & Bisley Agricultural Society, as reported in the then-named Woking News.

Mr Benham, I presume – Is the man shown here also seen in the Chobham show photograph?

The detailed report also reveals the key people who attended the dinner afterwards, the loyal toasts given, who proposed them and who responded, and comments about the state of the nation’s agriculture at the time, one that was facing some hardships.

The show was held on 23 October of that year and the dinner was held in the dining room of the White Hart Hotel in Chobham, CH Combe MP presiding.

The report said: “The post-prandial proceedings were commenced by the chairman proposing the toast of the ‘Queen’. They could not but express their appreciation of Her Majesty, who within six months, has completed the longest reign of any monarch in English history.”

There followed toasts to the Prince and Princess of Wales, the Army and Navy, the agricultural society itself, the show’s judges, the givers of the prizes, the chairman, the visitors, ladies, and the press.

Names of people who had been successful in the show’s competitions earlier in that day are also quoted in the reporting of the toasts written in the typical style of the time: “Mr. Medhurst, in proposing the toast of the ‘givers of the special prizes,’ mentioned the names of Messrs. JA Berners, FW Benham, J Wood, HP Leschallas, LH Baker, the chairman, etc.

A panel of judges peruses the entries at a village show, one of whom may be Messr FW Benham

“Regarding Mr Berners, they were very pleased to see him present as he is at the head of a pack of hounds [Applause].

“Mr. Medhurst, in the course of an exhaustive reply, said that he had tried to make farming a success, but it was ‘Down! Down!! Down!!!’. Perhaps it had reached the primal stage; it could not be much worse.”

Between 1875 and 1914, agriculture in the UK was in a state of depression due to a number of factors that included refrigerated imports of meat, butter and wool from New Zealand; cheap wheat from the American prairies, Canada and New Zealand; a series of bad harvests; a fall in the value of land; deteriorating farming standards and badly paid labourers leaving to work in towns or emigrating.

The same fears over growing crops were expressed at the dinner that followed the show of 1896. In a reply to the toast to the show’s judges, the Woking News’s report noted: “Mr. Collier, in his reply, referred to the falling-off of fruit and vegetables, and debated the question whether it is better to cultivate fruit or grow corn, &c. The roots shown were, as a rule good.”

“Mr Howard said the show had given the judges great satisfaction. They found the roots good though rather deficient in quality that being on account of the weather. Turnips were a failure throughout the country; but as a whole, they had nothing to complain about, and as things are, it was a good all-round show.”

Mr Benham proposed a toast to the “visitors”. He is also mentioned as giving the prizes for “the best 12 mangels, from crops of two acres”.

Peeps reader Mark Coxhead’s is researching the shows. He wonders whether the man pictured on the right of the vintage photo of a Chobham agricultural show we published a few weeks ago could be Frederick Walter Benham.

In that photo, signs proclaim “For Benham’s Prizes”. Was that the 1896 show?

To back up Mark’s suggestion, is it the same man seen talking to a boy in the picture postcard view here? The pair are outside the FW Benham grocery store in Chobham, a few years after 1896.

If you have some memories or old pictures relating to the Woking area, call David Rose on 01483 838960, or drop a line to the News & Mail.

David Rose is a local historian and writer who specialises in what he calls “the history within living memory” of people, places and events in the west Surrey area covering towns such as Woking and Guildford. He collects old photos and memorabilia relating to the area and the subject, and regularly gives illustrated local history talks to groups and societies. For enquiries and bookings please phone or email him at: davidrosemedia@gmail.com

Recommended For You

About the Author: Editorial Team