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Bittersweet day for fans of Shropshire sweet pea festival

Three decades of honouring the humble sweet pea with a festival have come to an end in the town of Wem.

Christine Lea, from Whitchurch, with her display
Christine Lea, from Whitchurch, with her display

Victorian Henry Eckford is known across the world as the inventor of the modern sweet pea and it was in Wem that the horticulturist did most of his hybrid work with the flowers.

The first sweet pea festival in the town in honour of Eckford was held 30 years ago.

But now organisers say they need a break, and have decided to call it at day, at least for now.

Mandy Silvester and her son Owen Silvester, 14, from Prees

Hundreds of people descended on the Stanier Hall at the weekend for the last festival in its current form.

They were rewarded with beautiful sweet smelling blooms of every colour and every size.

There were competitions for the best of many varieties and one of the winners for Graham Johnson of Shrewsbury who took four first place certificates.

Derek Heathcoate, of Stafford

The weekend included not only sweet peas but several stalls and sideshows focussing on the countryside and crafts. There was also a demonstration of basket weaving by partially sighted craftsman, Steve Lowe.

Sue Thornhill from Wem's Sweet Pea Society, said it had been decided this would be the last show.

"It has been a sad and difficult decision to make but the volunteers are all ageing and despite requests, no new younger volunteers have come forward," she said.

The sweet pea festival at Wem

"Thanks to the work of the Eckford Sweet Pea Society, Wem is now well known as the birthplace of the modern sweet pea and our shows have attracted over 45,000 visitors to the town over the last 30 years.

"The Society will continue to promote sweet peas by inviting membership, selling seeds and holding social events. Membership of the Society will continue at the reduced cost of £2 for the year, while the decision is taken on how the Society will be run in the future."

The sweet pea festival at Wem

She said one idea was that the show might run on a smaller scale in conjunction with another event in the future.

Founder member Val Goode set up the show with her late husband, John.

Both keen gardeners, she said her husband had the idea for the show after noticing a street name in the town, Eckford.

The sweet pea festival at Wem

"He realised that Henry Eckford was very important to Wem and to the modern sweet pea. Then he thought it would be good to put Wem on the map by having a sweet pea show," she said.

"We have competitors and entrants from across Britain."

Over the years a host of souvenirs have been sold linking Wem to the sweet pea.

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