At the start of the 20th century Littleton was a very small village consisting of a farm, the manor, a few houses around the church and, nearly a mile away, a farm and several quite large houses on the Harestock Road. There was no development between Harestock and the Running Horse until 1907, when this area was divided up into lots and sold. A large amount of it was turned into small-holdings, market gardens and nurseries. The rest was used for housing with quite large gardens, many up to 100 yds long. During the first World War not many houses were built, but small-holdings etc. developed. After war however, building really got under way.
In the nearby village of Sparsholt there had been formed a gardening club and many of the Littleton residents joined. It was from this club that the idea of a village flower show came. It was to be a three-village show, Crawley, Sparsholt and Littleton, being held in turn, one year for Crawley, next for Sparsholt and then Littleton on the last Thursday in July, early closing day in Winchester. The committee meeting would be held in the village where the show was to be held that year. There was very little in the way of transport at that time and members would have to walk from village to village. The meetings would be fixed at full moon so that there was light to see their way.
The first show to be held in Littleton was in July 1921, a very hot dry summer, in the field opposite the Running Horse, where Paddock View is now built. The present Rec had only just been bought from the owner of Lainston House in May of that year. Since then all shows have been held on the Recreation Ground. It didn’t get off to a very good start, as one of the judges for the show had to travel from Southampton, and unfortunately he got on the wrong train, which did not stop at Winchester and he finished up at Waterloo. A replacement judge had to be found among those present. The original judge turned up half way through the afternoon.
Because at that time many of the men living in the village either worked in the garden of a large house, market-garden or nursery, the classes for the flowers and vegetables would be open class for the professional gardener and what was called a cottagers’ class for everybody else. The flower classes would be for summer blooms – sweet peas, roses, blue scabious etc. Vegetables would be peas, beans (string and broad), carrots and potatoes, with several collections from large private houses. The fruit would be raspberries, black currants, gooseberries and early plums and apples. Flower arranging classes would be far simpler than they are to-day – plants and all-round arrangements like atea-cosy or a table-centre done on a card table. Some of these classes would be done by the professional gardeners. The children’s classes would include drawing, writing etc and two classes which are not allowed to-day – wild flowers and wild grasses. There was a WI competition between the three villages.
In the 1930s there was always a small fair held with the show; a roundabout, swing boats. The fair caused much excitement among the children of the village. A couple of days before the show there could be heard some distance away and they would run up to the road to see a gleaming show engine pulling several wagons behind it. It would turn into the Rec with some difficulty, as the entrance was much smaller than it is to-day.
One of the events that was nearly always held at shows and fetes in those days was the Bowling for the Pig. This consisted of a board about two ft high with small holes about 6 inches high at ground level and just wide enough to allow the wooden ball to go through. Above each hole would be a number from1 to 7. Participants would be allowed three balls a go. The maximum score would be 21, and children would be allowed to stand closer to the board than the men. The prize would be a small pig which would be penned by four hurdles under the shade of a nearby tree. The pig caused a lot of interest mainly among the children and the men - the children because it was quite small and the men trying to show off their knowledge by discussing its merits.
Sports races would be held in the field, mainly for the children, different classes for each age group. Novelty races also caused a lot of fun with everyone joining in. Sack race, three-legged race, wheelbarrow race, egg-and-spoon race. There would also be a longer race for men only. The tug-o-war stirred up local rivalry with teams from Crawley, Sparsholt, Littleton and Flowerdown. Because at that time the children had not broken up for school, Sparsholt and Crawley children were given a day off. Many of the Naval personnel on Flowerdown also got involved in the Show both as competitors and organisers.
Unfortunately, early in the 1930s Crawley dropped out, leaving Sparsholt and Littleton to carry on. The last true village show in 1939 was held in the field on the corner of the Stockbridge and Sparsholt roads, parallel to the road running up to Lainston House. The gardens were open to visitors, as part of the attractions of the day. The flower show had brought the village residents from all walks of life together in a competitive and happy atmosphere. Over the years many friendships were made from all walks of life , who looked forward to meeting each other at the show. Unfortunately, there were to be no further flower shows for another 17 years.
In 1956 a small flower show was held in the old village hall by the St. Catherine’s Church Fellowship. They had already held a very successful Hobbies Exhibition. A young man of 16, Mervyn Merwood, was secretary. His grandfather was a professional gardener for the Catleys at Sparsholt, who had been involved in the pre-war shows. The schedule was drawn up and Mervyn went from door to door selling it. There were about 250 entries which filled the hall. Another show was held in 1957 with the exhibits in a tent on the Recreation Ground and teas in the hall. Bowling for the pig was re-introduced as well as sports for the children. Although both shows had been a great success, it was not possible to carry on, as Mervyn who had been the driving force, left to go to university, and no-one could be found to take on the job of secretary; but they had sown the seed of the show which was to start in 1971.
In 1971 the Chairman of the Littleton & Harestock Parish Council, Harold Mason, proposed that, with the help of the Activities Association which had recently been formed, an effort should be made to revive the Flower Show. A meeting was held and a committee formed with Mrs. Grace as the chairman. It was decided to hold a Littleton & Harestock Flower Show and Fete, with a sub-committee for each. The Flower show committee members were: Ted Wedge, Chairman, Brian Lovelock, secretary, with committee members, Iris Wedge, Philip Coyne, Audrey Cocksedge, Connie & Austen Hooker. The date of the show was to be 4th September 1971. The flower and vegetables were to be displayed in the old village Memorial Hall and an army tent was borrowed for the W.I. to provide teas. The Fete was to consist of stalls, side-shows and sports. The flower show schedule had 51 classes, which included vegetables, flowers, cookery, and art and handicraft classes for the children. Each class had an exhibit charge of 3p, limited to residents of Littleton and Harestock only. The charge for entrance to the show was to be 5p for adults and 2.5p for children.
When the 4th September arrived, in spite of much worrying by the organisers right up to the show, the gardeners, cooks and children of the parish turned up in good numbers to support the show. The day started the tradition of being very warm and sunny, which caused a problem. The members of the W.I. were pestered badly by wasps in the refreshment tent. At the end of the day it had been well supported and was considered a great success with all expenses covered and a little bit over, with everybody looking forward to next year. There was a cup awarded to the overall prize-winner, a silver cup which had been presented to the pre-war show by the Catley family from Sparsholt. It had been found, black and covered in dust by Horace Saint in his billiard room. At the show it was won by Mr. Janes, the former stud groom. He declined to take it home, as he felt that it was so valuable that it might get stolen. The cup is still competed for to-day.
For the 1972 show a marquee was hired from Carters of Basingstoke. The schedule was enlarged to 100 classes by including some classes open to exhibits from outside Littleton & Harestock, including professional gardeners. The Fred Hooker memorial bowl was given by his son, Bill Hooker, for the most points in the flower classes. It and the Catley Cup were both won by Mr. Janes. The day turned out again to be very warm, which caused a problem. A jelly class had been included and as it was a hot day, the jelly was melting and running down the table and needed mopping up. The show was opened by Andrew Harvey, the presenter of BBC South (later on the BBC national news). He was accompanied around the Show by the President, Mrs Grace and the Fete Queen, Jane Sratten and Fete Princess, Elizabeth Wedge. The Andover Boys Brigade band gave a marching display. There were sports and pony rides for the children and a Tug-o-War between the local hostelries and the W.I. provided the teas in the old teashop. Stronger thirsts were catered for at the Dewdrop Inn. At the end of the day it was again agreed that the show had been a great success. The Hampshire Chronicle summed it up by saying “the people of Littleton and Harestock by their enthusiasm and generosity have proved that the show, revived in 1971, is here to stay”. The gross takings were estimated at £450.
The extension to the Recreation Ground by the Parish Council in 1975 to include the Jubilee Field was a great advantage, providing a large area for car-parking. Over the years the show has grown to become one of the largest village shows in the district and the marquee was growing bigger every year. In 1987 the Hampshire Chronicle report estimated the crowd at over 3,000 with a total of 1,135 entries in the Flower Show, which was a record. The name was also changed from the Littleton and Harestock Activities Flower show and fete to the Littleton and Harestock Show. Many different attractions have been added. A carnival procession with a Show Queen and Princess and floats in fancy dress made its way from Henry Beaufort School to the Show ground, followed by a large crowd. A barn dance was held in the large marquee after the show.
A craft tent was added with people demonstrating and selling their work. This has always been very popular. A Horse Show had also been started and became very successful. Unfortunately, there was not enough room for it to expand. It is now held the weekend before the show outside the village. Junior football was held during the day, with the final in the afternoon in the main arena. This drew many Mums and Dads to the show. Over the years there have been a wide range of arena attractions. The army from Sir John Moore barracks has provided quite a number of them, including parachutists, marching bands and an assault course for the younger generation. Other items have included an aerobatic display, folk-dancing, hawks, several dog events and the fire brigade.
A comment about the date of the show which is often heard is that it always clashes with Alresford Show. For this reason, in 1986 the date was changed to be a week earlier, the last Saturday in August. This was not very popular as many folk were still away on their summer holidays. In 1987 the date was again changed, this time to the 12th September, a week later, but this clashed with the Romsey Show. So in 1988, the date of the show went back to the first Saturday in September, where it has remained ever since.
The weather for the show has usually been very kind, but there have been a couple of times when it hasn’t been too good. One show in the late seventies was held in a gale. Committee members had to keep driving in steel pins to support the tent. It must have been worth the effort as several marquees were blown over at Alresford. Another time, which many people won’t forget, was the hail-storm in 2013, but fortunately it came right at the end of the show.
The BBC Radio Solent programme, “Top Soil”, has been broadcast from the show a couple of times, and on one occasion BBC television planned to broadcast the preparation of the show on the Friday evening before, live on South Today. Unfortunately the transmitting van started to go up in smoke and the whole idea had to be abandoned. They did however go ahead and make a recording, which we still have.
Over the years many people have helped to make the show into the event which it has become to-day, far too many to mention names. They have made an event which is the highlight of the parish year, bringing everyone together like a big party. It has become well known, not only in Littleton and Harestock, but also in Winchester and the surrounding villages. It is now up to the present generation to continue the tradition.
© Austen Hooker 2016