British Cactus and Succulent Society

Dover Branch
For cactus and succulent enthusiasts of all ages and abilities

Our History
The Dover branch of the British Cactus and Succulent Society has been in existence for a great number of years in one form or another. Please read the club's history below.
A potted history by Bob Hollingsbee
The DOVER BRANCH of the British Cactus & Succulent Society was formed as the South East Kent branch of the National Cactus & Succulent Society, in 1952, at a meeting in Deal, organised by William Ruggles, a retired corn merchant, of Gladstone Road, Deal.

Remarkably he had only a lean-to greenhouse at the back of his terraced house and over-wintered a fair number of his smaller plants, as I recall, wrapped in newspaper in a cellar which may have had a small window. I visited him there a fair number of times and it was he, at the age of 80, still growing 150 odd plants, who spurred me on to join was then the National Cactus & Succulent Society. That was a long time ago and I think I was already a member of the Cactus & Succulent Society of Great Britain (now merged with our society) having got the ‘bug’ for collecting from my grandmother living in Maidstone.

She gave me a small piece of the “Peanut Cactus” (Chamaecereus Silvestrii) grown for decades in a small unheated, upstairs bedroom in Maidstone where my father was born. I think I was more impressed at the time by an enormous Sempervivum arachnoideum in the garden which ‘overflowed’ a large upturned chimney pot forming a perfectly grown, rounded mass of white heads, like cotton wool, which managed to overflow down the sides in a tight cluster about 18” in diameter. It did not appear to enjoy, or need a repot but appeared as perfectly at home and as it would have done in its native home, snow or no snow. I should not be surprised to learn that plant is just the same today, but sadly my grandparents passed on decades ago and the house is in new ownership. And I have been unable to grow a specimen to match it.

But I have strayed from my subject! The branch went from strength to strength. In 1957 Mr William A. Newbery, of St Margaret’s-at-Cliffe, became chairman and remained a leading light for decades. He revelled in growing “stone plants” (Lithops and Conophytums, from Africa.) The branch staged shows in Dover as well as Deal and also in the larger villages. More and more people became interested in the hobby, society membership grew and thoughts turned to holding monthly meetings alternately in Deal and Dover. By the mid-1960s members had switched their base to Dover, with (two or three a year) shows and displays held in the Biggin Hall and monthly meetings at the former Savoy Café, in Snargate Street. Chris Simpson, of Monins Road, became secretary.

A highlight of this time was the visit, as a speaker, of Ted MacDonald, for years in charge of the cactus and succulent plants at Kew Gardens. Ted, born in 1908 and an old boy of Harvey Grammar School, Folkestone, probably surprised everyone by revealing he had been born in Dover, yet it was the first time he had spoken at a meeting there! He told how sisal was produced from Agave plants, and also revealed how the milky and sometimes poisonous latex from Euphorbias, was used in Cancer research laboratories and the juices of Aloes in radio dermatitis research. He also told how some plants had to be withdrawn from public display, possibly on the advice of the Police, because of their ‘drug’ properties – and their ‘appeal’ to addicts.

In the mid to late 1960s the branch put on three big displays of plants at Folkestone Flower Show, then quite a big event in East Kent, which are still remembered by one or two older members. Each display earned an award. By now the branch, officially known by then as the Dover Branch, had become very successful and ambitious, with 40 members and took the step of holding its first Open Show (Biggin Hall, 1969), attracting many entries from other Kent, and even Sussex, branches.

One of the most successful exhibitors was Tom Jenkins, from the Medway towns, who was later to run one of the UK’s top cactus and succulent plant nurseries, in Lincolnshire, to where he moved as his cactus business boomed.

By now yours truly had become branch secretary …. which had nothing to do with gaining most points in that open show – (one more than ‘visitor’ Tom Jenkins … after a recount!)

An ever bigger open show followed in 1970 and the branch took the gamble of booking the Town Hall, with its two big halls. This time Tom Jenkins took the honours with most points!
Return to this page regularly for more updates on the history of Dover BCSS.