A Brief History of the Flower Family 

My Great Great Grandfather Edward Fordham Flower 1805-1883


Edward Fordham Flower was born in 1805, the son of Richard Flower, a brewer from Hertfordshire. The family emigrated to America in 1812 founding and settling in a town they called Albion in Illinois. Legend would have it that part of their journey was by raft down the Wabash River complete with a floating grand piano.  They persuaded others from England to come and join them. 

The settlement had a radical ethos and was vehemently anti-slavery. Escaped slaves from Kentucky settled in Albion, encouraged by the Flowers and other community leaders. However, these formerly enslaved people were always in danger of kidnappers aiming to sell them back into slavery. In1823 one such gang kidnapped a group of free African-American residents of Albion and headed south. Edward Fordham led a party that captured the gang at rifle point, freed their captives and saw the leaders tried and punished.

Edward Fordham's anti-slavery views were now well known and an attempt was made on his life. He had a narrow escape whilst sitting at home when a bullet shattered a mirror above his head. His father Richard thought it would be for the best if he returned to England for a while. Little did he know that Edward Fordham would make a new life in England. 

Aged 18 Edward Fordham returned to England in 1823. Allegedly, when he arrived in Liverpool he was wearing a Davy Crockett outfit complete with racoon skin hat. He finally settled in Stratford upon Avon where his first job was with Coxes Timber Yard which still exists today, a stone's throw from the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. Harking back to his roots he decided to take up the family trade and, after a struggling start, Flowers Brewery in Stratford upon Avon became one of the most famous in England.  

The First Flowers Brewery in Stratford upon Avon

 Edward Fordham had two other passions. A love of William Shakespeare and a love of horses. Both these passions were to prove to be his legacy. William Shakespeare was born in Stratford upon Avon in 1564. In1864 Edward Fordham and his son Charles Edward Flower decided that a festival should take place in Stratford to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the playwright's birth. Edward Fordham was now a wealthy man from the brewing business and he wanted to give something back and what better way than to promote the world's greatest playwright in the town where he was born. Flowers even adopted an image of William Shakespeare on their beer bottle labels which they still do today. A pavilion was built and several plays were performed during the festival. 

The Tercentenary Shakespeare Celebration Pavilion under construction

As an elderly man and retired to London Edward Fordham devoted his remaining years fighting for the rights of horses. In Victorian times ceremonial horses were controlled by a "Bearing Rein" which was deliberately intended to hold the horses head at an intolerably uncomfortable angle purely for the purposes of show. Edward Fordham as a passionate lover of horses hated this. So much so that he wrote a pamphlet entitled “Bits and Bearing Reins”. He campaigned tirelessly to get this cruel contraption banned. The story goes that he confronted Queen Victoria on the Riviera in 1897 with his pamphlet. As a direct result of Edward Fordham's intervention,  the Queen banned the Household Cavalry from using this cruel contraption and soon after the "Bearing Rein" was dropped all over the country. 

Edward Fordham's son Charles Flower was to take forward the newly established Shakesperian Tradition in Stratford. Not happy with a one off event in 1864, he decided to promote the idea of a permanent home for the performance of Shakespeare’s plays on the banks of the River Avon. He donated the land and gave £22,000 which was half the cost of building the theatre (over £1m in todays money). Further funds were raised on both sides of the Atlantic and The Shakespeare Memorial Theatre was born and opened in 1879 with a production of “Much Ado About Nothing”. 

Charles Edward Flower 1830-1892 son of Edward Fordham Flower

Charles Flower's other passion was Scotland. In 1856 He bought an estate in "Sutherlandshire" called Glencassley. It is said that he based the turrets on the "castle" in Scotland with the tower and turrets of the original Shakespeare Memorial Theatre seen below.

"Glencassley" the Flower and Lloyd family home in Scotland 

Charles Flower died in 1892 and for the next nine his younger brother Edgar took over the running of both the brewery and the theatre.

Edgar Flower 1833-1903

Edgar Flower died in 1903 and his son Archie Flower assumed the reins of office of the two family "Firms". For the next 40 years Archie was chairman of both the theatre and the brewery. He ran both operations with prudence and total control even with regard to artistic matters in the theatre. In 1926 tragedy struck and the theatre was destroyed by fire.

The Theatre on fire in 1926

The remains of the interior of the theatre after the fire

Perhaps Archie's greatest contribution to the legacy of William Shakespeare was the raising of funds on both sides of the Atlantic for the construction of a new theatre beside the ruins of the old. Apparently Archie and Bridges Adams, the artistic director of the theatre at that time, sketched out their thoughts for a new theatre with their umbrella points in the ashes of the old. The new theatre constructed and opened by the Prince of Wales in1932 still stands today and is the home of the Royal Shakespeare Company.

The Prince of Wales with Sir Archie at the opening of the new Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in 1932

 The New Shakepeare Memorial Theatre in August 1932


Here is an old film recording the building of the new Shakespeare Memorial Theatre opened by the Prince of Wales in 1932  "The rebuilding and opening of the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre filmed by FJ Spencer" 

 

In 1986 we produced a promotional film "The Flowers of Stratford" for Whitbread & Company on the re-introduction of Flowers Beers. The film tells the story of the birth of the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre, known today as the Royal Shakespeare Company. It tells the story of the Flower Family, Brewers in Stratford-upon-Avon, who were instrumental in creating a theatrical tradition in the town of the playwright's birth over 150 years ago. Beyond the content of this film there is a fascinating story of emigration and settlement in America, the fight against slavery, the return of Edward Fordham Flower to England where he built a brewery and started a theatre dedicated to William Shakespeare in Stratford which still flourishes today. A story still to be told.

In 1992 we produced a draft proposal for a film/television series entitled "The Flowers of Stratford" which tells the full story of the origin and the birth of the Shakesperian tradition in Stratford. At the present time this project is still to be realised. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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