The Royal Windsor Rose and Horticultural Society is one of the oldest of local organisations, and has been honoured with the patronage of six Sovereigns.
Founded in 1892, under the name of the Windsor, Eton and District Horticultural Society, it held an inaugural Show in the Royal Albert Institute on 8th July of that year. Even at this early stage, Royal favour was already being extended to the organisation, for the guests of honour were Princess Christian, daughter of Queen Victoria, who lived at Cumberland Lodge in Windsor Great Park, and Princess Helena of Schleswig-Holstein.
The second annual Show took place in the Bedborough Meadow, off the Long Walk, in the following summer. The third, also held there, was a combined Windsor and National Rose Society Exhibition, and there were three flower tents. This was on 27th June 1894. The year is memorable, not only because roses became of prime importance in the schedule, but because the interest of Queen Victoria herself had been gained. Besides sending a group of roses from the Royal Gardens of Frogmore, the Queen presented a silver cup, executed by her half-grand niece, the Countess Gleichen, for the best exhibit by an amateur, and at her command the roses awarded first prize were sent to Windsor Castle to decorate her dinner table.
The show coincided with the visit to Windsor of the Czarewitch of Russia – afterwards the Emperor Nicholas II – the Princess Alix of Hesse, granddaughter of Queen Victoria, to whom he was betrothed. With Princess Henry of Battenberg and the Princess of Leingen, they visited the Rose Show, where all hearts went out to the future Empress.
It was in the following year, 1895, that Queen Victoria gave permission for the Show to be held on the Slopes below the North Terrace and State Apartments. Succeeding Sovereigns confirmed the gracious gesture, which at the time was greatly valued by the Society because these Royal grounds open to the public only on the occasion of the Rose Show.
The Queen’s bounty did not end there. In 1897, she presented a Challenge Cup to the Society, which is believed to have been the only organisation in England to receive such a mark of Royal favour. The Cup, a handsome three-handled model in silver, was to become the property of any competitor who won it for an exhibit of roses twice in succession. As the Colchester firm which carried it away in 1897 repeated their success the following summer, it soon passed out of the Society’s annals.
In 1899 Queen Victoria herself visited the Show and also gave a second Challenge Cup, which was to become the property of the competitor to whom it was awarded three times in succession. This was won outright in 1905. King Edward VII who had accorded the Society his patronage in the year of his accession, then represented another, which was won outright in 1912. In 1913 King George V gave the perpetual Challenge Cup, which is still being awarded annually for the best group of roses.
The Show continued as a successful event, often honoured by the presence of Royalty, until 1917, when it was abandoned on account of the First World War.
When it was revived in 1920 the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII) presented the Society with the perpetual Challenge Cup for sweet peas, and King George V and Queen Mary sent flowers, fruit and vegetables to be sold for the funds of King Edward VII Hospital.
Again, the Show continued for many years and again war interrupted the sequence in 1939 – by which time King Edward VIII (now Duke of Windsor) and King George VI had in turn honoured the Society with their patronage. For nearly ten years there was no Rose Show. In 1950 after the Society had overcome many difficulties, it was held again ; and in the following year, to mark the Festival of Britain, the Show was planned on a scale which permitted the same beautiful spectacle as in pre-war days.
With the death of King George VI the Society lost a Patron whose interest had been of incalculable help in the difficult task of reviving the Show. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II consented to become Patron a few months after her accession in 1952, which by happy coincidence was the year of the Society’s Diamond Jubilee
The Coronation Year Show in 1953 reflected the nation’s pride in its young Sovereign, and was one of the most picturesque and memorable in the history of the Society.
Golden Jubilee Show
The Society reached yet another landmark – the Golden Jubilee Show. This was an occasion which summed up the achievements of the past but promised more for the future, for the Society reported a record membership that year.
A record number of cups and trophies too – no fewer than 35 – were offered. Mary, Duchess of Devonshire, Mistress of the Robes to the Queen, presented these to the winners on the afternoon of Friday, June 25th.
The Coronation Trophy has been replaced by the Vice-Presidents’ Challenge Trophy. This was being offered for a novel conception of flower decoration – an arrangement forming a still life picture, with title, suitable for an artist to paint.
To the many handsome awards for roses has been added the “Mitchell” Memorial Trophy for the best bowl of not more than eighteen blooms exhibited by a member of the Society. Three new cups had been given for sweet peas : the “Davis” Challenge Cup, which brought the number of awards in the open classes to four, and the “Mary Jeffryes” and “Aird” Challenge Cups for sweet peas grown by local amateurs. The presentation of the “Bragg” Challenge Cup for cacti by a schoolboy donor was expected to draw added attention to the possibilities of cacti and succulents.
An increasingly popular feature of the Rose Show was the Junior exhibitors’ section, for which Mrs. B.W. Rycroft for the second year in succession presented the “Pixie”, “Peter Pan” and “Junior” Cups : from henceforth these would be regarded as Challenge Cups to be competed for yearly.