The inaugural show of the East of Fife Chrysanthemum Society was held in Upper Largo's Simpson Institute on 24th November 1892. The notice below from the 11 November East of Fife Record heralded the event as "something new in East Fife". With its focus on late season produce, and its independence from existing horticultural societies, the display was hailed as "a most welcome new departure at this season of the year and doubly so when it relies for its attractiveness mainly upon the chaste chrysanthemum".
Turning the Simpson Institute into a haven of colour on a grey November day, large tables of pot plants including ferns and palms, were brought from Gilston and Lahill Houses (homes of the Baxter and Rintoul families). The feature of the day was of course the chrysanthemum display but there were also other plants, fruit and vegetables on show, plus a small handicrafts section. Society Secretary, William Short, head gardener at Lahill, was instrumental in the creation of the show. Originally from Dorset, his connections there resulted in cider apples and a flowers making the journey from the gardens of Lord Wimbourne of Canford Manor in Dorset. These flowers were described as "very fine albeit their long railway journey had told somewhat against their appearance". Several prizes were contested for at the inaugural show and local entries came from John Watson of Eden Cottage, William Laing of Church Place and Robert Smith of Largo Place, among others.
The duty of opening the exhibition fell to Mr Gilmour of Montrave, honorary president of the society, who was accompanied on the platform by president Dr Stuart Palm. The former generated laughter when he remarked that he thought flowers were much better at opening themselves than in trying to have anyone do it for them. He supported the decision to start up such a society and hailed the chrysanthemum's ability to brighten the shortening days. Music was provided by Mr Adamson's string band from Leven - a "pleasant change from brass".
The show returned the following year and the Simpson Institute again provided the venue in the "stormy month of chill November". This time the show was opened by Mr J.H. Baxter of Teasses. The third show in 1894 had a change of venue, taking place in Anstruther Town Hall. The show date and schedule of competition classes were advertised many months in advance, as the 13 April 1894 East of Fife Record notice below shows. William Short was the key point of contact for the schedule.
The fourth show took place in Leven Town Hall in 1895 and saw entries larger than any previous year. The following year saw a return to the Simpson Institute. The committee at this time included chemist Andrew Hogg (president), William Short (Secretary) and John Watson of Upper Largo's Eden Cottage (Treasurer). By now there was a cup (for the best 24 Chrysanthemums) and a silver medal (for the best 12 Japanese blooms) among the prizes, which also included many valuable money prizes. Unfortunately in 1896 the "climatic conditions were not of the first order" and this fifth show was hampered by "the muddy state of the roads" which "prevented those in the outlying districts from being present in such numbers as would otherwise have been the case". Nevertheless the centre table was "literally a blaze of rainbow hues, radiating from the phenomenally large chrysanthemum blooms".
The sixth show was held in Anstruther Town Hall in 1897 and the seventh in Leven Town Hall in 1898. On the latter occasion, the newly knighted Sir John Gilmour commented on how he preferred opening this type of event to a bazaar with its "tea cosies and carpet slippers". He also noted that he believed there to be 100,000 Chrysanthemum Societies in the country now. The eighth event in 1899 came home to the Simpson Institute (see notice below from Leven Advertiser) before visiting Leven Town Hall once more in 1900, where the display provided "a magnificent scenic effect as viewed from the gallery".
The Leven Advertiser commented that the Society had "grown from the friendly rivalry of a few Largo cultivators to quite a county organisation" able to send competitors to the national shows at Edinburgh and Dundee. The opening speech by Dr Durward included facts such as that chrysanthemums had been introduced to Britain a century ago, that they originally came from Japan and that the name meant 'golden flower'. Both John and James Brown received a mention in the newspaper reports on exhibits, as did Robert Smith of Largo Place, who was in the unique position of having won a particular category every year since the show was instituted - namely potatoes.
In 1901, a new venue hosted the event - Beveridge Hall in Kirkcaldy. The following year, the tenth anniversary year, the show was held in Leven (Kirkcaldy growers having been inspired to set up their own society by that time). Captain Gilmour opened the show. That year (1902) was considered to be one of the worst summers ever, providing a challenge to the growers. In 1903, the display returned to Largo once again, with Dr Stuart Palm presiding at the opening ceremony. It was noted in the local press that the Simpson Institute proved quite small for the large number of entries. Thus in 1904 the venue switched to the Co-operative Hall in Methil - the larger hall "showing the blooms to great advantage".
The 1905 show took place in Leven Town Hall and the 1906 one in the Free Gardener's Hall, Buckhaven. The Simpson Institute hosted in 1907 (following a smaller display the previous year). As the notice below from 6 November Leven Advertiser shows, this was presided over by Robert Paxton (who was yet to move into Homelands and resided at the time at Elphinstone). George Lumsden of Aithernie House (now the Old Manor Hotel) performed the opening ceremony. The entries overflowed from the main hall into the entrance and an awning was formed outside from the door to the gate, where the vegetables were laid out. Lumsden used his speech to inform the crowd that the chrysanthemum was not in fact the national flower of Japan as many thought but that the cherry blossom was. The blue ribbon of the show was won by William Short of Lahill and the prize for best twelve blooms by local John Watson.
In 1910, a female opened the show for the first time - Lady Eva Wemyss of Wemyss Castle. The 16 November Leven Advertiser commented that, although "cradled in Largo", Leven was the most popular venue for the show. Major Shepherd introduced Lady Wemyss and commented on her great achievement in the creation of the Randolph Wemyss Memorial Hospital. Now a new tradition had begun with a lady performing the opening ceremony and in 1911 Miss Leonora Rintoul of Lahill did the honours. Miss Rintoul was already a well-known ornithologist by this time. The 16 November Leven Advertiser extract below recalls her introduction by Provost Balfour.
The 1912 show was opened by Mrs Sprot and the 1913 event by Mrs Shepherd. A date was set for the 1914 display, however, the onset of World War One saw this, like many other events, cancelled. The concise notice above from the 17 September 1914 Leven Advertiser informed the public of this. Life changed in many ways over the years that followed and the East of Fife Chrysanthemum Society was never re-established, in spite of pleas such as the one below from a reader of the Leven Advertiser on 18 January 1923.
However, that was not quite the end of the story. After the Second World War, in 1946, a new Leven Chrysanthemum Show was established which would go on to run for many years. The old East Fife society was acknowledged by the creation of the Short Gold Medal for the best exhibit in the flower section. This was in memory of William Short, who had died in 1924 after 48 years as gardener at Lahill.
The Leven Mail of 21 November 1951 ran the headline "Leven Chrysanthemum Show Breaks All Records" and tells of how Miss Leonora Short, one of William Short's six daughters, was in attendance and presented the prizes at Scoonie Hall. This new Leven show was run by the "Leven and District Gardens and Allotments Association" showing that the ambition to provide allotments to local working folk had been realised.