North East England AGS Local Group
This is the home page for the North East England Local Group of the Alpine Garden Society.
We have over 60 members, and attendance at our meetings is usually about 40. We meet on the second Monday of the month from September to May, and usually also arrange a few summer meetings, ranging from garden visits to demonstrations in members' gardens, field trips to wild localities with alpine plants, and we have sometimes arranged long weekends away.
We also stage two National Joint Shows for the Alpine Garden Society and the Scottish Rock Garden Club, at the Wentworth Leisure Centre Hexham in early spring, and at the Memorial Hall, Darras Road, Ponteland in the autumn.
Meetings are held in St Mary's Church Hall in Ponteland, about seven miles north-west of Newcastle on the A696. The Church Hall is situated just east of the shopping centre opposite the library; the turnoff is just north of the main cross-roads on the Kirkley Hall road next to the Blackbird Inn (NZ 165730). There are car-parks on each side of the hall, and the hall is close to bus routes. Meetings start at 7.30 pm, but the doors are usually open by 7.00 pm. Tea and coffee are served after the talk. There is an annual subscription of £8; members are usually members of the Alpine Garden Society. Guests are welcome, but are asked to pay a fee of £2 for each meeting they attend. The hall is comfortable, spacious and well-equipped, with a good projection screen and the Group owns both slide and digital projectors.
Members are encouraged to bring a few spare plants to sell at meetings, and to donate a proportion of their takings to the Group. Members also sometimes bring a few plants for display or as 'talking points'.
We are a friendly, outgoing group which makes new members welcome. Please make sure that we get to know you!
“What’s our history?” somebody asked. I had no idea. It seems there are no archives either. Some preliminary investigation yielded very little and only a chat with two senior AGS members provided a breakthrough.
The North-East England Group was set up in 1949 but it was an SRGC group. Like most men, I had been looking in the wrong place.
Mrs Maud Kelly of Bellshill, Northumberland, gathered together the scattered SRGC membership of the county to form the group. Meetings were held at the Bluebell Hotel, Belford, and social meetings at Mrs Kelly’s home. Membership increased and, when Mrs Kelly died in 1956, it was suddenly apparent that a great deal of effort was needed to raise money to run the group. It had not been appreciated that activities had been privately financed by Mrs Kelly!
Whether or not the travelling to Belford occasionally proved too much I don’t know, but the North East England (Tyneside Sub-Group) was formed and held it first meeting at the YWCA in Saville Place, Newcastle, on 15 July, 1954. Mrs Kelly was the first speaker and gave a “vivid and entertaining account of her recent plant hunting expedition to the Pyrenees”. Further meetings were to be held at three-monthly intervals and it was hoped that “more members on Tyneside and district will avail themselves of these opportunities of informal discussion and social intercourse”. Cyril Barnes from Jesmond was the Sub-Group’s Convenor.
At the same time there had existed since about 1949 a Northumberland and Durham AGS Group, one of 23 English AGS groups. There were also six AGS groups in Scotland. At that time there were four AGS members in County Durham (which included Sunderland and Gateshead) and 27, including Whitley Bay Horticultural Society, in Northumberland. Nick Lambert, who had joined the AGS in 1934 and lived in Lowfell, was the Secretary of the Northumberland and Durham AGS Group.
By 1959 Cyril Barnes had replaced Nick Lambert as Secretary. With overlapping membership and the position of Cyril Barnes as Convenor of the Tyneside Sub-Group and Secretary of the Northumberland and Durham Group, it was almost inevitable that evolution would take place. The Tyneside Sub-Group, which operated until 1960 as a sub-group of the NE England SRGC Group, began to share its activities with the Northumberland and Durham AGS Group from 1954. The North East England (SRGC) Group became the North Northumberland Group and continues to meet in Belford to this day.
This accounts for both the dual affiliation of our Group which ended only a few years ago although it continues in terms of the show scene and also the name ‘North East England Alpine and Rock Garden Group’ which we changed only recently.
(Thanks are due to Jack Brownless and the late Frank Tindall who provided me with the breakthrough.)