No Open Garden Squares, instead a Victorian flower show

Flower show

This weekend would have been the annual Open Garden Squares Weekend, when normally closed gardens open and the open gardens in Bloomsbury take on a festival air too.  Not this year, thanks to coronavirus Covid-19, not yet anyway.  However, here is a previous floral celebration  in Bloomsbury to enjoy as some small compensation.

In 1863, Russell Square played host to the first Bloomsbury Flower Show, which was deliberately intended to “…encourage the taste for cultivating flowers among people of the working class”. This was seen as a startling innovation, being the first time the working classes had been allowed into one of the large, private London squares: “…thrown open for the recreation of the masses” was how the event’s organiser, the Revd. Samuel Hadden Parkes, senior curate of St George’s Bloomsbury, put it, describing the event as a “…working man’s flower show”.

The City Press expressed its dismay: “The inhabitants of Russell Square have consented to allow the exhibition to be held in their garden, which sounds as if the end of the world was near at hand.”

The event, which was attended by the Earl of Shaftesbury, featured in the Penny Illustrated News on 18th July 1863, titled Working Men’s Flower Show. It was so successful that it was repeated the following two years, with reports in the Holborn and Bloomsbury Journal describing the events as inclusive, with as many women as men involved, and with entries from schools and domestic servants. The events were loosely based on the traditional summer fêtes hosted by householders of squares for their friends and neighbours, with the addition of a large marquee filled with a wide variety of flowers grown by local people. Read more (it’s very interesting!)

The extract is taken from ‘From Fields to Fountains: The Story of Bloomsbury’s Russell Square’ by Ricci de Freitas. (Available to purchase from Café Tropea, Russell Square, with all profits from sales going to Friends of Russell Square) and was published in the recent Bedford Estates Bloomsbury News.


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