The Rosarian Library

A collection of books and other resources

dedicated to the rose


A tatty but inspirational pamphlet.

By Dr Elizabeth Perks, Feb 12 2020 11:31AM

This is one of the reasons why I love collecting rose books and memorabilia. While sorting through my catalogues and annuals, in prepararation for a possible further intake, I nearly discarded a nondescript pamphlet covered with a bulb advertisement. By chance I looked inside; to find the programme for the 1909 National Rose Society (NRS) Summer Rose Show. Not only is there a plan of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Regents Park showing the siting of the marquees etc but also the list of entrants and judges. To cap it all there is an article written by 'The Late Rev. H. Honeywood D'Ombrain VMH' entitled 'The Life History of the National Rose Society'. I think perhaps I am missing the cover of the programme, unless of course, they wanted it to exist incognito, but I doubt it!

The siting of the NRS Summer Rose Show in the early 20th century.

Having recently bought a ticket for the Chelsea Flower Show I began to wonder about the history of the NRS national rose shows and what had happened to them. I knew the very first national show had been organised in 1858 by a group of rosarians, including the Rev. Samuel Reynolds Hole, Thomas Rivers, Charles Turner and William Paul. It had taken place in St James Hall, Westminster. The show continued annually at various locations under the auspices of the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) until the late 1870s.

William Paul - a rose grower and writer who helped organise the first rose shows.

At this time it was considered that the rose was at a low ebb and the shows were not flourishing. One rosarian, namely the Rev. Henry Honywood D'Ombrain decided that it was time to act. He had a vision of a National Rose Society which could promote the rose, its popularity and exhibition. He called a meeting of all the rosarians he knew and, on the day, waited with trepidation to see who would respond to his invitation. He could not have been more pleased at the turnout and "when Canon Hole came in most of those present felt the day was won." (A quote from the article mentioned above. He continues by listing all those present at the meeting.) The society was formed to encourage the cultivation of the rose and to promote national exhibitions of the rose in London and the provinces.

Rev. Samuel Reynolds Hole, Dean of Rochester - influential in the rose world - joint

founder of the first rose shows and the first president of the National Rose Society.

In the Rosartians Yearbook of 1886 the Rev. Honywood D'Ombrain reported on the success of the first rose show " . . . as it was, every available space in the large conservatory at South Kensington was filled with roses and crowds of visitors thronged around the stands all day." The NRS shows continued to flourish in both London and the provinces. Queen Alexandra became Patroness of the Society and attended the London Show Annually. Thousands of blooms were exhibited both growing and as cut roses.

At the turn of the century the shows were still flourishing. A description of the 1907 London show appeared in the September issue of 'Journal des Roses' of that year. (It was translated from the French for the 1908 edition of the NRS annual).

"Several large tents, 5 or 6 measuring perhaps 50 to 80 metres long and 20 to 30 metres wide are entirely decorated with cut roses and rose trees. All these tents (except the groups of roses in pots and the accompanying stands of cut flowers in vases, hidden with moss, and placed on the ground itself) are arranged with tables either set against the sides of the tents or placed by themselves down the whole length of them. There are also generally in each tent three large central tables, as well as tables running round each side of the tent. Many nurserymen and innumerable amateurs show each year at this great competition in separate classes."

The author, Ms Turbat, then goes on to explain how the English way of doing things encourages amateur rose growers to become involved which allows for greater popularity of the rose among the people.

There was always a good lunch on offer!

For many years the summer annual rose show flourished in the botanical gardens, Regents Park. It was only in the 1970s that it was held at the gardens of the Royal National Rose Society (RNRS) as a rose festival where it continued for a number of years. In the intervening years the shows travelled via the Royal Hospital Grounds, Chelsea and the RHS halls in Westminster. Currently the nearest event we have to a National Rose Show is the Rose Festival which is incorporated into the Hampton Court Flower Show.

At the early shows they enjoyed a brass band.

The Chelsea Flower Show, the Hampton Court Flower Show and the other shows presented by the RHS have abundant roses on display. The rose is still a popular flower in Britain but the dreams of those rose pioneers in the late 19th century have come to an end. There is no national show dedicated to the rose.

This is a sketchy and unsatisfactory history of the rose shows and needs more thorough research to be done. The information needed should be in the Rose Yearbooks and Annuals, a full set off which are in the Rosarian Library. A report of each show is usually included in each edition.

To think that one little tatty but invaluable find could spark such interest but this is one reason I collect.

Rev. Henry Honywood D'Ombrain. A founder member and first secretary

of the National Rose Society.

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Welcome to my world of roses. How fortunate I am to be surrounded by the queen of flowers!


Over the years I have collected many ‘rosy’ souvenirs and am now surrounded by rosy pictures, china, fabrics and my beautiful books.


I hope you will wish to follow me on a rosy journey and contribute with your thoughts and ideas. I enjoy growing roses but I also appreciate the smell of a real rose potpourri, the glimpse of a painting of roses, the discovery of a different rose cup and saucer or piece of fabric or to see a wild rose nestling in the hedgerow.


I will share with you my rose stories and will endeavour to answer any queries you may have regarding this amazing flower.

Until then. . . .. . . .

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