fonds ASYF - Records of the Ancient Society of York Florists

Identity area

Reference code



Records of the Ancient Society of York Florists


  • 1700-2012 (Creation)

Level of description


Extent and medium

0.22 cubic metres

11 boxes, 1 wrapped item

Context area

Name of creator


Administrative history

The Society of York Florists was founded in 1768 in York, possibly as a re-foundation of the Royal Society of Gardeners of York who were known to have held a ‘florists feast’ in the city as early as 1739 and thereafter exhibited flowers at their annual shows.

At its foundation the society declared that "happiness being the ultimate aim proposed by the Society" this would be obtained through "the cultivation of flowers.’ This was a sentiment in keeping with the contemporary meaning of the word ‘florist’ as someone who cultivated plants to a high standard for their beauty alone, rather than the more modern definition of someone who sells cut flowers and plants. More than 200 people signed its founding rules, including such notable York citizens as the Quaker philanthropist William Tuke, Charles Yarburgh of Heslington Hall, and John and George Telford who ran the celebrated nursery on Tanners Row, York. The rules stipulated that six stewards were to be elected annually, three of whom would then be chosen as judges to judge flowers entered by members at a show held before the annual Florists Feast.

The first annual show and feast was held on 20th April 1768 at the Sand Hill Inn on Colliergate and prizes were awarded in three categories; best hyacinth, polyanthus and auricula. These annual shows continued to be held at the Sand Hill Inn until 1777 when its proprietor Mr Sedgewick, a founder member of the Society, died.

Between 1777 and 1856 meetings were held at Mr Baynes’ Coffee House on Petergate and a number of hotels in the city. During this period the Society underwent a number of changes. Around 1804 the Society acquired the moniker ‘Ancient’, possibly in reaction to the foundation of the Royal Horticultural Society in that same year. There is also evidence of expansion. In the 1820s the records show evidence of vegetable and gooseberry shows being held by the Society as well as an annual show of tulips and geraniums in May and, from 1829, a further late summer show for the showing of dahlias.

There were also changes to the Society’s administration and finance. In 1825 an annual subscription of 5 shillings a year was introduced for members with growers paying an additional guinea for the right to show. Those not paying a subscription were required to pay one shilling per flower when entering the shows. In the same year the Society also introduced a new series of registers in which to record the details of its committee meetings and finances, separating these for the first time from the details of its annual shows, judges and prize giving which had hitherto been recorded in the same volume.

In 1856 the City Council offered the Society the use of the Guild Hall and this became one of the principal venues for the annual shows until 1983. The Society’s activities continued to expand. In 1869 a new class was introduced, ‘Window Gardening for the Working Classes’ with no entry fee and prizes offered for best fuschia, best geranium, best bulbous plant or other of the exhibitor’s choice. In 1872 a summer exhibition was held in the grounds of the Yorkshire Museum by arrangement with the Yorkshire Philosophical Society and from 1879 there was also an annual Chrysanthemum show held in November.

By the turn of the twentieth century the Society had an annual revenue of £1000 and a membership of 800, enjoying the patronage of the Prince and Princess of Wales, later King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra. The Society proceedings of 1911-1912 show a highly organised body with separate executive, finance, floral and entertainment committees.

The First World War brought a temporary halt to its annual shows (only one show was held 1914-1918) but as allotments were turned over to vegetable production the Society adapted, including vegetable classes in its usual schedule.

Following the war traditional gentry and aristocratic support for horticulture societies declined but in its place came the rise of the amateur gardener. In the interwar period schoolchildren were increasingly encouraged to show and in 1926 a window box competition was introduced to the annual summer shows. The involvement of the ‘allotment gardener’ had the keen support of local businesses such as Terry’s of York and Rowntree; in 1926 Messrs Rowntree donated four gold medals to the Society.

In 1963 the annual subscription charge was raised from 5 shillings a year to 7 shillings and sixpence per year for men, 5 shillings for women, and two shillings and sixpence for schoolchildren. The annual schedule of shows for 1970 shows that in addition to their traditional flower and vegetable classes the Society had by then incorporated classes for pot plants, fruit, floral art and ladies cookery and handicrafts. Shows were held in Museum Rooms or the De Grey Rooms in Exhibition Square until in 1983 when a fire in the De Grey Rooms caused the Society to move its shows permanently from the city centre to Kingsway Junior School. In 1991 Mr K. Bowser raised a gold centred alpine auricula which he named ‘Ancient Society’ in honour of the Society and in 2010 the site of its first show at the Sand Hill Inn was commemorated with a plaque by the York Civic Trust.

Today the Society holds four shows a year. The shows are held in spring, summer and autumn, with an additional late Chrysanthemum show in October, and classes are included for flowers, fruit and vegetables, floral art, baking, handicrafts and photography with competitions for both adults and children.

Archival history

Immediate source of acquisition or transfer

The archive was transferred from York City Library to the Borthwick Institute by the Society in December 2003. Further additions were made to the archive in 2007 and 2013.

Content and structure area

Scope and content

Constitution, 2002; committee books, 1768-1880, 1911-2008, including lists of members 1768, 1770-1824, 1826-1882, details of shows, 1768-1788, 1797-1826, and show accounts, 1770-1792, 1795, 1797-1798, 1804, 1806; agendas for annual general meetings, 1911-1913, 1915, 1918-1919, 1922-1925, 1927-1929, 1931-1932, 1934-1936, 1938-1941; blank membership cards, n.d.; 2 copies of invitations to the Florists Feast, n.d.; copper printing plate used to print invitations to the Florists Feast, n.d.; show account book, 1973-1991; annual schedules of shows and prizes, 1908-2013; registers of show details, 1827-1880, 1912-1936; show visitor books, 1974-1996; correspondence, 1978-2003; newspaper cuttings and press articles, 1890, 1911, 1940-1993, 1997; ‘Bi-Centenary Souvenir History of the Society,’ 1968; ‘The Ancient Story of York Florists, A Potted History 1768-1993’ by A. S. Robinson, 1993; audio tape of ‘A Feast of Flowers’ a tribute to the Society, with transcript, 1995; photograph of Executive Committee, 1900; photographs of shows, 1971, 1993, 1997, 2002-2003; papers relating to George Russell, member of the Society and breeder of Russell Lupins 1881-1957; papers relating to Arthur Robinson, secretary of the Society, 1992-2010; transcript of a conversation between Michael Race of the Yorkshire Oral History Project, Arthur Robinson and Arthur Heard, an employee of George Russell, regarding Russell’s life and work, 1994; service of remembrance booklets for Arthur Robinson, 2012, and Sir Marcus Worsley 2012.


Further accruals are expected.

System of arrangement

Conditions of access and use area

Conditions governing access

Records are open to the public, subject to the overriding provisions of relevant legislation, including data protection laws. 24 hours' notice is required to access photographic material.

Conditions governing reproduction

A reprographics service is available to researchers. Copying will not be undertaken if there is any risk of damage to the document. Copies are supplied in accordance with the Borthwick Institute for Archives' terms and conditions for the supply of copies, and under provisions of any relevant copyright legislation. Permission to reproduce images of documents in the custody of the Borthwick Institute must be sought.

Language of material

  • English

Script of material

Language and script notes

Physical characteristics and technical requirements

1 compact audio cassette tape. Access to audiovisual material may be restricted due to technical requirements, please contact the Borthwick Institute in advance.

Finding aids

A partial typescript finding aid, to file level, is available for consultation in the searchroom of the Borthwick Institute. This includes all material received up to and including 2007. Later material has not yet been catalogued, please contact the Borthwick Institute for further information.

Allied materials area

Existence and location of originals

Existence and location of copies

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Related descriptions

Notes area

Alternative identifier(s)

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Description control area

Description identifier

Institution identifier

Rules and/or conventions used

ISAD (G): General International Standard Archival Description, International Council on Archives (2nd edition, 2000); Rules for the construction of personal, place and corporate names, National Council on Archives (1997).

Level of detail

Dates of creation revision deletion

Created by S. A. Shearn, 21.04.15.




Accession area