The early history of the VPA
Local historian and former VPA President Stuart King traces the first 30 years of the VPA
By November 1939, the phrase “Dig for Victory” had entered into the public consciousness and the Minister for Agriculture encouraged the project by saying, "Let Dig for Victory be the motto of everybody with a Garden". Every village was encouraged to set up an individual organisation called a “Village Produce Associations”, or VPA for short.
The Dig for Victory campaign encouraged people to transform gardens, parks and sports pitches into allotments to grow vegetables. Nationally, people also kept their own chickens, rabbits and goats. Nine hundred pig clubs were set up and about 6000 pigs were raised in gardens.
The government knew that the British people could be starved out by a sea blockade; as much imported food came from Canada and America, supplies were vulnerable to attack from the German navy. The British Merchant Navy also had to change its role, to be available for transporting troops and munitions.
Holmer Green folk were keen gardeners and much discussion took place regarding the formation of a VPA between those in the Home Guard, the ARP and local policemen as their paths crossed doing their local wartime duties. And so it was that, on the 28th November 1944, our village elders, at the behest of local builder Sid Waller, convened a meeting, the result being the formation of the Holmer Green VPA. By forming a local VPA, Holmer Green residents could take advantage of free gardening advice, not just on growing vegetables but on rearing pigs, rabbits, and poultry and purchasing seeds and animal feed in bulk and save money.
At the inaugural December meeting, bulk seed orders were placed including potatoes. A ton of lime to sweeten our clay soil was also ordered, a rabbit show was suggested and the membership fee set at one shilling and sixpence (7½ new pence).
By March 1945, a separate produce show was proposed in the September with the rabbit and (now) poultry show to be held in June at the British Legion Hall. Already, a silver cup designated the “President’s Cup” was to be awarded to the household with the most points, plus prize money of 7/6d. Shows were nothing new in the village; in 1943 Sid Waller was instrumental in organising a rabbit and dog show at the Central Schools, School Lane (Parish Piece).
Things were now moving fast. Evening film shows had been held, with future talks and demonstrations planned covering bottling, budding, bee-keeping, pickle- and chutney-making, pruning, poultry-trussing, cheese-making, a garden and allotment competition and more film shows. It was announced that 16 tons of seed potatoes had been ordered for the following year. A squirrel (extermination) club had been formed with members being supplied with free shotgun cartridges.
At the September AGM, less than a year from its inception, the committee were able to report a membership of 85 households and an extremely business-like first 10 months. This had included a very successful autumn show with 222 entries in the horticultural and domestic section. including 78 for cookery plus another 100 entries in the rabbit and poultry exhibits. Also at the AGM, a request by the residents of Winchmore Hill to become members was turned down. During WW2, the then unused ‘old school’, now the much used “Village Centre” was commandeered as a store and distribution centre for seed potatoes, animal feed and fertiliser as well as a post for the village air raid wardens (ARP).
In 1948, the first harvest supper, or ‘Harvest Home’ as it was then called, was held. The harvest supper was an echo of past times when agriculture was a major occupation in the area and individual farmers celebrated the end of the harvest by providing a banquet in their barn. With plenty of beer and music for dancing, this was a highlight in the farming calendar. From the very start ,the VPA worked very closely with the British Legion, using the Legion’s premises for their early shows and this was the case with the harvest suppers. The VPA Harvest Home suppers were egalitarian affairs, with the ladies doing the cooking (always apple pie for pudding) and the apron-clad men acting as waiters. They had their meal after the event and then did the washing up; oh, happy days!
In 1948, the ‘annual’ autumn show was held late on the 13th November at the Central Schools in Parish Piece, there being 55 classes of exhibits. The vegetable classes included root vegetables, brassicas, marrows and tomatoes and the fruit section only apples and pears. Roses, chrysanthemums, a pot plant and a vase of cut flowers made up the flower section whilst on the domestic side bottled classes dominated (14), only one for a cake and five classes for duck and bantam eggs. The children’s classes were very different then and included: best drawing/plan for a food productive garden; one for knitwear; and another for gingerbread.
In 1949, a big change in the show schedule was seven classes for rabbits including one for a skinned carcase; the children were invited to enter a poster on food production.
The Village Centre was the venue in 1958 with new classes for honey, two for bread and four for home-made wine. Children were asked to enter their pet budgie, wild berries in a jam jar, jam tarts and a garden on a soup plate The total of classes now numbered 83.
Rabbit was off the menu by the 1960 show, probably due to the effect of myxomatosis (introduced into the UK in 1953). The 1965 show was held earlier in September allowing for an expanded floral section including five classes of floral art. There were 21 entries in the domestic section, there being less bottling but more cakes, bread and sausage rolls. Egg classes were still strong and there were eight children’s classes, painting and a plate of wild blackberries among them. Earlier that year there had been an outing to the Dutch bulb fields.
The Association had already purchased a material store at the rear of the Village centre (it is still in use) but, due to the need to provide the membership with a much wider choice of gardening products (as it still does today) a new store was erected on the Beech Tree allotments. The year was 1972 and the building was an old wartime prefab from Amersham and is now very much part of the village scene.