Cambridge Orchid Society


- as recalled by Founder Member Mr Jim Swainland in March 2006 

badge"It does not seem that 50 years ago a group of local enthusiasts met one evening at the home of Mr H.S. Johnson. We all grew or tried to grow orchids. If my memory serves me well , there were present Harold Runham, George Backhouse, George Dean, Harold Thoday, Bill King, H.S. Johnson and myself, the youngest of the group. Bill King was the most experienced grower. Harold Runham had some very good plants brought from Sanders of St. Albans. The rest of us had a few plants and were trying to find our way with cultivation and care. 

We met as a Society firstly at the Technical College where Mr Johnson was Governor, then at Corpus Christi College, thanks to Bill King who was Head Gardener there. I cannot think that we paid a room charge in those days. A few new members were gathered mainly through word of mouth. Roy Cox and Ron Richardson, two stalwarts of the Society joined at this time.Visiting each others greenhouses was a regular Sunday morning activity and we had the occasional speaker. We enjoyed visits to orchid nurseries by car, buying a few plants to bring home.  

As our membership increased, rebels with the Society wished for regular monthly meetings with talks and demonstrations by our own members, visiting speakers from nurseries and growers from away. Some of the old brigade would not think it possible to acheive this aim. Orchid growing in those days was mostly thought of as a rich persons hobby and that the professional orchid grower or breeder would not venture out to talk to a few amateurs in Cambridge. 

Ron Richardson took over as Secretary and through his keenness we acheived our aims of regular monthly meetings during the winter months. Coach trips on Sundays to leading nurseries of the era eg. Armstrong and Brown, Charlesworth, Vlack & Flory, Stuart Low, McBeans, Stonehurst, Mansell & Hatcher and Radcliffes. The majority are sadly gone, their rich clients of yesteryear have also gone and their collections broken up. Cheap imports of orchids from the Thames Trading Company did not help the established nurseries. The nurseries tried to reduce their stock by auctions of plants. Roy and myself attended many auctions in Sussex and Kent conducted by Protheroe & Morris. 

We had displays at Papworth Flower Show, a big event of the local horticultural scene. Ron Richardson appeared on television (both Anglia and BBC at Norwich), promoting our Society. I went with Ron on both occasions to the studios.The orchid world changed dramatically as orchid growing became the hobby of the man on the street. With new methods of cultivation, osmunda fibre and moss superseded by peats, barks and plastic mixes, all readily obtainable ingredients. During this period we temporarily joined forces with the London based Amateur Orchid Growers Society as the Cambridge Section, hoping to attract more speakers to Cambridge. Gaining little from this union we were soon to become an independant Society again.

We held well attended annual dinners a either a college, local hotel or club room, often with a speaker. Two local dignatories that I remember attending were Sir Hamilton Kerr our local retired MP who liked his orchids and Dr Irwin Peck an environmentalist and well known jovial farmer from Dry Drayton.Through the generosity of our then Chairman, "Gruff" Reece, regular meeting were held at his home; always with super refreshments. Mr and Mrs Reece often hosted the speaker for the night. 

We have had our ups and downs over the years with meetings at a village college, church halls, schools and the Friends Meeting House before moving to our present home at the Botanic Gardens where our Society has grown through the untiring leadership of our Chairlady and her Committee.I have penned these notes as I mentally remember them, having no written records to refer to. No doubt I have omitted much, sadly there is nobody about to correct me on the first 25 years." 


We moved to Gt. Shelford Memorial Hall in April 2008 due to the redevelopment of the Gilmour Building at the Botanic Garden Site and then some years later to Harston Village Hall where we now meet (2018)

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