Farewell to Spalding Flower Parade

1958Tulip Queen Janet Bray and attendants Pat Newbatt (left) and Jean Davis (right).
1958Tulip Queen Janet Bray and attendants Pat Newbatt (left) and Jean Davis (right).
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Saturday’s flower parade will be the end of an era for South Holland.

It will be the 55th – and final – parade, and over the years millions of people will have watched what has been dubbed the greatest free spectacle in the UK.

Hundreds of local people have been involved in staging the production each year, from pinning tulip heads on to floats to driving the tractors that tow the floats along the parade route.

There are plans for an alternative people’s parade in future, but in the meantime tribute should be paid to the growers, organisers and volunteers who have worked with enthusiasm to put on the event over the last half century.

According to the Lincolnshire Free Press of April 25, 1950, the snowdrop was the beginnings of the district’s once famous bulb industry.

Apparently, “far-seeing pioneers John Thomas White, Richard Wellband and Frederick Culpin” had experimented with its bulb and those of other flowers 70 years previously. They found the local soil was particularly suitable for growing daffodils and by 1900 the production of those bulbs had spread to the surrounding district.

At the same time, the growing of tulips was becoming more widespread and by 1907 they had become of commercial importance.

The industry continued to expand until in 1939 the total acreage under tulips and daffodils was just under 5,000.

Five years after hostilities ended, the total acreage under bulbs was still only about 50 per cent of what was grown in 1939.

In 1950, when 18-year-old Joan Roberts was crowned “Tulipland’s first queen”, about 3,000 acres were in bloom.

Of those, about 450 acres were along an officially designated Tuliptime route that drew thousands of sightseers each year for three successive Sundays.

Joan was to tour the tulip fields on two of those Sundays – and sweetheart of the Forces Vera Lynn was another Tuliptime visitor that year.

Just eight years later, the Tulip Queen crowned in 1958 wowed the crowds by making her tour of the bulb fields in the first ever float, decorated with 50,000 tulip heads by Geest Industries Ltd.

Janet Bray was Tulip Queen that year and her attendants were Pat Newbatt and Jean Davis.

Their procession around the colourful fields of flowers in the floral float was described as “the most triumphant of all tours” and obviously set the model that was followed in successive years.

Floats became bigger, ever more imaginative, and the crowds came. But farmers switched to other crops, float sponsors became harder to find and finally the parade failed to create the mass interest it had once enjoyed.