The West Chiltington Fete and Flower Show was founded in 1919 as part of the Peace Celebrations after the First World War. In 1939, the Second World War put an end to the event for a while, however it was restarted six years later as part of the village’s victory celebrations.
Inspired by the enthusiasm of the first Chairman, the Rev. Andrew Caldecott, it rapidly established itself as a popular feature in the village calendar and was attended by all the villagers, as well as former residents who returned to share in the show’s fun activities.
Highlights and differences from today
In the early days, the Fete and Flower Show commenced with a proud procession around the village, led by the show’s Chairman and the award winning Silver Band. Girl Guides, Scouts, participants in the Show’s fancy dress competition and the rest of the village joined in the parade as it made its way to the show ground.
The original location of the event was Gadds Meadow (near Church Grove). In 1946 the event moved to the old Recreation Ground and soon after 1954, thanks to its success fund raising, it moved to the ‘new’ Recreation Ground where it is held today.
The Show offered a full programme of fun events that lasted all day. Here’s a sample of some of the more memorable events everyone enjoyed:
- Sack Football
- Tug-of-War between the single and married as well as women’s and men’s separate teams
- Lover’s Race for Mixed Adults over 100 yards
- Guess the weight of the pig competition
- Button Race for women, with men partners over 75 yards (A test of sewing skills)
- Ladies slow bicycle race over 30 yards
- Flower Pot Race – 15 yards, Women (Flower pot stilts!)
- Bun and Whistle Race for Ladies (Competitive bun eating!)
- Thread-Needle Race for girls under 15 (How many girls could enter this today?)
- Cigarette Race (The winner finished his cigarette first!)
Traditions still maintained today
The primary objective of the show has always been to bring local residents together and to provide a fun event that everyone will enjoy. Thanks to its continued success, the event has also been able to provide a way of raising funds for the village. The show’s donations are used to support locally run clubs, and to improve and maintain village facilities and important historical artefacts.
One of the most famous residents of West Chiltington, Norman Wisdom, attended the event in 1959 and helped fund raising by selling his autograph, or the chance to have a photo taken with him for a shilling.
Some of the notable donations made include:
- In 1922, three donations made to the Royal Sussex County Hospital, Comrades’ Association and the WI.
- In 1954 the raised funds were used for the ‘new’ (current) Recreation Ground
- In 1957 the ‘New’ Village Hall was the beneficiary.
- And more recently, in 2010 a £3000 donation was shared with the village Youth Club, Brownies and Girl Guides.
Exhibiting has always been a focal point for adults and children. Indeed competition entries were taken so seriously in the years around 1927 that any exhibits placed on show the evening prior to the event were guarded by a night watchman to ensure they weren’t ‘interfered with’! (A cost of 10 shillings is shown in the accounts for this service.)
The Dog show was and continues to be a popular part of the show. At one time it became so renowned that there were nearly 700 entrants coming from as far away as Wales! The quality of the competition was such that for 6 years the ‘Best in Show’ dog went on to qualify for Crufts and it was well known that if you won at West Chiltington you could go on to win quite a lot.
The WI has been a great supporter and pivotal part of the event from the very beginning. Their refreshments and cakes have always provided a much welcomed focal point for people to get together, enjoy some convivial company and of course a delicious, quintessential afternoon tea.
At one time they provided free teas to all the children in the village – a much looked forward to treat when cakes were a rarity rather than the norm it is for children today.
Much of the information for this article was taken from the ‘Voices of the Village’ book by Anne Salmon (village resident ). Our thanks to her and also the village residents who have shared their memories of our village’s wonderful history.