Historical photographs celebrating 140 years of the School of Agriculture in Tábor

Sixth exhibition of Šechtl & Voseček Museum of Photography.

Brief history of School of Agriculture in Tábor

The School of Agriculture in Tábor, founded in 1866, is one of the oldest schools of its kind in Europe. The origins of agricultural schools in the Czech lands goes back to around 1750s, but the first schools to be teaching in the Czech language were founded only after 1850. At the time the School of Agriculture in Tábor was founded, it was the first Czech Higher School of Agriculture, and until 1906, when an agricultural programme was started at the Czech Technical University (ČVUT) in Prague, it was the only Czech University of Agriculture.

Dr. Jan Babtista Lambl

In 1861, the Member of Parliament for Bohemia, Dr. Jan B. Lambl proposed a law requiring that special schools for agriculture and the agricultural industry be created in the Czech lands. This law was passed on 13th April 1861. A Higher School of Agriculture, teaching in German, had been set up in Libwerd (now Libverda, nearby Liberec) in 1856. However, because no such school existed that was teaching in Czech language, all the cities, towns, manors and individuals in the Czech lands were invited to set up such a school, with Government support of 10 000 gold coins per year. (To compare, the annual income of director of elementary school was around 300 gold coins).

Old Building of School of Agriculture (above Budějovická street), photographed before 1891.

Seven cities, and one owner of a private agriculture school, Dr Čupr, applied. City of Tábor, which already hosted the important Czech gymnasium, was chosen, primarily because it promised to invest an additional 50 000 gold coins. The opening of the school was delayed, mainly because of the 1866 invasion of Prussian troops, who occupied the building where the school was intended to be housed. However, on 26th November 1866, the “Higher School of Agriculture and Agricultural Industry in Tábor” was opened, with a Mass in the Tabor church.

To be accepted into the School, students had to be healthy, be at least 17 years old, have graduated from lower high school, and have at least one year of practical farming experience. All classes were taught in the Czech language until 1870, when courses were also taught in the Russian language.

In 1877, the study programme was extended to 3 years, and the entrance exams were made more demanding. Still there was great interest in studying at Tábor, and the school had the largest number of students of any Agricultural School in the whole Austrian Empire. By 1881, students completing their studies peaked at 141 per year. The quality of education was further improved, which expanded to include civil engineering, such as the handling of steam engines, and drainage and river-bed reconstructions. Tábor also pioneered the founding of a veterinary hospital for livestock, an idea that only became popular elsewhere, 50 years later.

Study reforms in 1887 forced the School to temporarily reduce the study programme to 2 years, and negatively affected the interest in the school, but in other ways, the quality of education and research was improving. In 1874, the School set up an Agricultural Chemistry Institute; in 1880, a meteorological (weather research) station; and in 1893, an experimental station for seeds (later to become the Agricultural Botanical Research Institute). A lot of effort was also put into expanding the School's specimen collections.

By 1900, the School had produced 1 309 graduates. The number of foreign students continued to grow, and by the 1890s, foreign students (mainly Serbian and Polish) were one third of the student roll.

In 1900, the “Royal Czech Academy of Agriculture” the first University to be teaching agriculture in the Czech language, was founded in Tábor, by resolution of the Czech parliament. This officially acknowledged the quality of education at the former Institute of Agriculture. The new status was the result of long efforts by many professors and teachers at the School since its foundation.

The study programme was originally two years, but with one preparation year, and later, with a third facultative year. The School roll was between 120 and 200 students, about 40% of them being non-Czechs (ie Poles, Russians, Bulgars, Serbians and Croatians), so it was, de-facto, the Slavic University of Agriculture.

By 1900s, the increasing number of students required the School to be relocated to a new building, which was built, near the original school, in 1902 – 1904, for 424 000 K. (Annual income of teacher of elementary school was 1 200 K). This building is still being used by the school, to the present day.

Shortly after independent Czechoslovakia was established in July 1919, the new Mendel University of Agriculture and Forestry was founded in Brno, and a number of professors from Tábor moved there to help start the new University. The first president of the University in Brno was Tábor Academy Professor František Bubák, a very wellrespected mycologist and phytopathologist.

In 1919, the School was changed to being a “Secondary School of Agriculture”, with a fouryear programme. This school produced its first graduates in 1924. Basically the Czech Agricultural University was moved from Tábor to Brno, but all its equipment remained in Tábor and was further extended. In 1920, the National factory for manufacturing teaching aids was founded in Tábor. By 1921, it delivered a full trainload of teaching aids to Prague Agricultural Exhibition, and won the highest award. Almost 4 000 different items (models, preparations, stuffed animals, slides, etc) were made in the institute until 1932, when it was relocated to Prague.

In 1922, the Agricultural Research Institute was founded, which extended work which had begun in 1880s. It had departments of agricultural chemistry, agricultural botany, plant breeding, meteorology and phytopathology. In the same year the school was again turned into “Higher School of Agriculture”. In 1926, a new school farm was established in Měšice, and the first Agricultural Advisory Institute in the country was set up. Between 1922 and 1948, the School was attended by between 120 and 200 students per year, with an increasing percentage being women.

Study at the School was interrupted during WWII, but resumed immediately after the war. On January 1st 1948, the school was renamed the “Higher Peasant School”, with a roll of between 200 and 250, and a new student dormitory was built. In 1951, the school was reorganised into three different schools, all in the same building: Higher Peasant School, Basic Peasant School, and Basic Economics School. Now in 2006, under the name “Higher Vocational School and Secondary Agricultural School of Tábor”, the school is celebrating its 140th birthday.

New Building of Agricultural School

New Building of School of Agriculture, photographed before 1906.

The New Building of the School of Agriculture was financed jointly by the City of Tábor (52 000 K), Bohemia Region (also 52 000 K) and Ministry of Agriculture (20 000 K). The original design, produced in Prague under the direction of Karel Pokorný, was too expensive, so modifications were required. On May 11th 1902, the construction contract was given to builder Čenek Křicka from Kolín, and by winter, the main walls and roof were in place.

Before the building was completed, however, further modifications had to be made, especially to the facade. According to the contemporary press, the building “looked like a barracks”, so the Tábor City Council asked Prof. Čenský to design a new façade, with a further 3 100 K being offered for the project. The new façade was made in renaissance style, with modern motifs, taken from the world of agriculture, flora and fauna. The facade also features important personalities in Czech Agriculture, as chosen by the professors of the Tábor Academy:

Inside the building, the architectural decorations of the interiors are also in renaissance style. The plastering work was done, partly on place, and partly by Prague sculptor Jos. Pekárek.

The New Building was opened on October 15 – 16th 1904, and became one of the most beautiful buildings in the city of Tábor. The Šechtl and Vosček studios, together with Nepomucký Print, prepared postcards of the building just before the opening. The same negative was used for this enlargement.

Botanic Garden in Tábor

Old Botanic Garden in Tábor, before 1891.

The Botanic Garden in Tábor was founded in the same year as the School of Agriculture, on February 17th 1866. In all the Czech lands, the only older botanic garden was Na Slupi, the University botanic garden in Prague. With an initial area of 3.6 ha, the Tábor garden included experimental fields, a greengrocer's garden, and nurseries for fruit and forest trees.

In 1903, the garden was rebuilt on a new site, to the north of the School’s New Building, under the guidance of its Superintendent, Professor František Bubák, and the Head Gardener, Albín Arnold. Professor Bubák visited a number of botanic gardens, and finally decided on a novel organisation. While most gardens of the time divided their plants into families, in the Tábor garden, for the first time in the world, the plants were organised according their agricultural and industrial uses, such as cereals, oil plants, pigment plants, weeds and so on.

After 1907, the Botanic Garden published an index of seeds. The first edition had 1745 different types of seeds, and this index was exchanged with botanical gardens around the world. By 1908, the index had grown to 2522 different seeds, and 8800 bags of seeds were sent to interested partners.

Phytopathologist Professor Kunín, described the Garden in 1920 as follows:

The Botanic Garden belonging to the High School of Agriculture in Tábor is the largest botanic garden in Czechoslovakia. Its area, of 2.7 ha, is surrounded by a steel fence, and a wide border of ornamental trees, bushes and herbs.

The garden has three parts. Next to the building is the most important section, of plants which are agriculturally and industrially interesting. In small plots 50 cm square, there are over 2000 species of plants, including grasses, sedges, legumes, vegetables, plants producing essential oils, plants for producing fibre, grains, weeds, cereals, herbs and poisonous plants, a vineyard, a hop-garden, etc.

In the next part, the so-called “natural formations” are separated by two paths. Between these is a wide belt of bulb plants, especially from the Mediterranean, and a collection of bent-grasses. Organised grass system edges the whole garden along the lower fence.

In the layout, rocks from our mountains alternate with meadows, deciduous woods, conifers and mixed forests. The stream that springs in “Mount Krkonoše” passes through a peat bog, until it reaches a small lake with water and coastal flora, before passing under the bridge to Lake Jordán.

In the distance, around small ruins, there are earlycolonising plants. On a sandy area grow appropriate herbs, and on the opposite side of the small lake are rocks covered by flowers from our central massif. A rock garden, built of soil and rock from our mountains, contains alpine plants. Beyond is a collection of conifers, with herbs growing in their shade. The rest of the garden is taken up with green-houses and hotbeds.

Because of its large variety of natural conditions, the garden also has 350 kinds of mushrooms — a notable number considering its position, almost in the middle of the city.

In year 2000, the Czech Ministry of Culture declared the garden, and the school building, to be a cultural monument (historic landmark). Today the Tábor Botanic Garden is being renovated, and we look forward to its next 140

Industrial Exhibitions

The history of Industrial Exhibitions goes back to the 18th century. The first, on Martin's Field in France, was designed to celebrate the French Republic. Its purpose was to display the best of French products, and to stimulate competition by displaying the very best product in each category. At the same time, an effort was made to include the greatest possible range of products. The result of such a wide perspective was to force a division of the exhibition into sections.

The phenomenon of “national exhibitions”, sometimes called “national expositions”, spread rapidly, first to England, then to other European countries. Sir Henry Cole, inspired by his visit to the Paris Exposition in 1849, passed the idea to Albert, husband of Queen Victoria. The Crystal Palace, planned by Josef Paxton and built in Hyde Park within three months in 1854, was a gigantic exhibition space. The French response was rapid; and in 1855, Paris, the largest continental city, opened her gates to the world. During the period 1873 to 1902, world expositions spread to other European cities, and to other continents. The Austro-Hungarian Empire was a European power capable of a world presentation, in the style of England and France. Unfortunately, the 1873 Exposition was marred by the crash of the Vienna Bourse. The Exposition site in Vienna became the Prater amusement park.

The first overseas Exhibition took place in Philadelphia in1876, in celebration of 100 years of independence of the United States of America. The World Exposition of1878 in Paris introduced the novelty of inviting other countries to build their own pavilions, in the Avenue of Nations. The Eiffel tower is a monument to the technical competence of the French School of Engineering, at the Paris Exposition of 1889.

World expositions reflected contemporary trends in social development. The 19th century was infatuated by technology, and the advance of the industrial revolution. Today, exhibitions continue under the name of “Expo”. Usually, an Expo will be structured around a core theme; for example, the theme of Expo 2005, in Aichi, Japan, was “Nature’s Wisdom”.

Industrial exhibitions were not only organised on a “world” and “national” scale; there were regional exhibitions as well. These included the exhibitions in Tabor in 1964, 1886, 1902 and 1929. Konstrukce Eifelovy věže, autor fotografie neznámý, 1878 Eiffel tower construction, photographer unknown, 1878


Industrial Exhibition in Tabor, 1929

The fourth Industrial Exhibition in Tabor in 1929 followed the 1864 Industrial Exhibition, the 1886 Regional Craft and Industry Exhibition, and the 1902 South Bohemian Agricultural, Industrial and Folk Exhibition.

It opened on the 23rd May 1929, and combined the South Bohemian Exhibition with an exhibition of Czechoslovak Warfare, organised by the Ministry of Defence. It contained several sections, with a number of exhibits placed all over the town. Conferences, celebrations, and cultural events accompanied the exhibition, and many significant persons attended, including President Masaryk, who visited on the 30th of May, 1929.

The main exhibition site was on the bank of Jordán lake, on the site of today's stadium and swimming baths, and included artwork by Tabor sculptor J. V. Dušek. The exhibition space manifested the spirit of new functionalist aesthetics, which became popular in the 1920’s. Its characteristics were freedom from ostentation and ornament, substituting pure geometric shapes. The authors of the architectural plan were architects Jan Chomutovský and Prof. Dr Theodor Petřík, of Tábor, professor of Agricultural Engineering at the Czech Technical University in Prague (ČVUT).

Bad weather dogged the exhibition from the beginning. The long winter had delayed the building work, and the first days were marred by heavy rain. Even so, up to 20 000 people visited on some days. A severe storm on the 4th of July caused panic among the visitors, tore electric cables, damaged pavilions and caused damage worth one million crowns. The exhibition was briefly interrupted, but reopened in less than a week, with pavilions reroofed, and new displays set up.

The exhibition continued to be a great success, and was prolonged until the end of August 1929.


Contemporary texts

Gate of Victory

We look with joy and excitement to the day which will be remembered in our history, when beyond Bechyne Gate, in magnificent natural scenery, the call will sound: “I declare this Exhibition open”. This day approaches fast. Our exhibition will be noted by the entire nation. After many years, South Bohemia, led by Tabor, will show before the public its development, its progress. It has also another aim, to prove itself true to its roots in Czech soil, its Czech honesty, which underpins its national and economic development. How will it be received by its stern judges?

It is said that exhibitions are outmoded, uninteresting. We have been aware of this public opinion even before planning the Exhibition. It is not true of our South Bohemian region. The people of our land are not bored by cultural experiences. Enlightenment is proceeding here, as in all lands containing natural riches. Fatigue of the spirit is not known. We are optimistic; we look to the future; we seek to add to our lives, not to discard. We have great expectations of our Exhibition. We have brought together all that are worthy of notice. Results of agriculture, industry and crafts, showing the individuality of our region. Our cultural achievements, as well as our cultural history. We present our homeland in its true, quiet, thoughtful mien, resisting waves of internationalism and loss of individuality. We examined all ideas of men and women with passion for the enterprise, and realised the best of them as far as the unfavourable environment allowed.

Now, when the curtain is about to rise, we ask ourselves? Have we, with best intentions, still omitted something crucial? The results of our best efforts will be seen in a few days. We are rapidly approaching days of celebration. At their centre will be the Exhibition, their setting Tabor. We anticipate a time of joy, excitement, and extraordinary effort. We are sure Tabor will prove equal to the task. All levels of our society know how to behave towards the multitudes of foreigners that will visit our town. Our foremost citizens will represent us with ease and panache. Our ladies will provide flawless hospitality.

And so we approach this time with heads held high. Some nervousness is understandable, but considering the skill and honest effort expended in preparation, we need not fear. We enter the Exhibition by a

Gate of Victory.

— Tábor, July 30, 1902

“Keep building, keep searching;
Question often, strive to improve.
Do not reject the old;
Joyfully embrace the new!”

6th exhibition of Šechtl and Voseček Museum of Photography:
“Historical photographs celebrating 140 years of the School of Agriculture in Tábor”

We present 89 photographs by Šechtl & Voseček Studios, from 1876 to the 1950s. The photographs were originally taken by Ignác Šechtl (till 1911), Josef Šechtl (till 1950), and Josef and Marie Šechtlová, and have been reproduced digitally from original negatives, or redeveloped by traditional wet laboratory process.

The exhibition is spread over two floors. Within the coffee shop are photographs of students of the Agricultural School; on the ground floor are photographs of School buildings, the Botanical Garden, and local events associated with agriculture; in the passageway are photographs illustrating agricultural work; and in the basement are pictures of the Industrial Exhibitions in Tabor in 1884, 1902, 1920 and 1929, and of the Tábor Agricultural Research Station.

The exhibition has been prepared by many people. We especially acknowledge:

Mr Jiří Bumerl
provided much insight from his long career as a teacher at the school
Mrs Jindřiška Bumerlová and Mrs Iva Petrová
helped to clarify Czech texts, and provided texts about the Botanic Garden, and school buildings, that our presentation is based on.
Mr Stanislav Devera, Mrs Deverová and Mr František Dobeš
explained many details about agricultural work
Mr Jan Hubička
prepared digital reproductions for the exhibition; wrote Czech captions and posters; and co-worked on choosing the photographs
Eva Hubičková
prepared texts about industrial exhibitions; framed most of the photographs; and prepared some photographic prints
Mr Jiří Kohout
provided information about monuments in front of the school, improved dating of photographs, and listed the different names the school has had over the last 140 years
Mrs Marie Šechtlová and Mrs Marie Michaela Šechtlová
co-worked on choosing the photographs; writing of captions, invitation card and posters; and organized the work on the exhibition
Škrla family
provided home for exhibition
Mrs Eleanor Schlee and Mr John Titchener
translated texts to English
Mr Jakub Troják
designed typography for invitation cards, captions and posters
Mr Tomáš Zahradníček
reviewed much of the text prepared for the exhibition, and clarified especially texts relating to Czech politicians

We are very grateful to everyone who helped to realize this exhibition. All the work was done completely voluntarily without any financial compensation. We also gratefully acknowledge the support we have received from the Town of Tábor and South Bohemian Region. This exhibition will run from its opening on June 20th 2006, until the end of October 2006.