It’s the time of year to be planting bulbs to flower in the spring and so it’s appropriate that the first of our Autumn season of heritage talks on Tuesday 24th September is the History of bulb-growing in East Anglia. It could hardly be presented by anyone more knowledgeable and closely involved in its history than Johnny Walkers. (For further information about him, see the Programme page)
He might not, however, mention the village of West Deeping, so let’s not forget the contribution made to the area’s bulb-growing heritage by three commercial growers in the early 1900s.
Reverend John Carpenter, the rector of St Andrew’s Church between 1899 and 1918, wanted to provide employment for women and children and hit on the idea of letting out allotments in the ‘Six Acre’, one of the fields to the west of King Street. Apparently he grew bulbs for sale in the winter months and for their flowers in the spring and early summer. Selling bulbs by mail order was evidently quite common in 1902, and even with free carriage, was probably quite profitable. The rector advertised a range of bulbs and other plants in The London Monitor and local newspapers, but narcissi were obviously his speciality – a dozen bulbs of the highly prized ‘Horsfieldii’ daffodil, with white petals and a rich yellow trumpet, were priced at 1 shilling or 100 for 5 shillings. The more common Pheasant Eye, (narcissus poeticus) were 1s 6d for 100. The Rector was apparently famed for the flowers of double white narcissus, which were picked, bunched and dispatched all over the country.
In 1908, landowner and farmer John Benner, who lived in the three storey stone house on King Street (now number 30), was also advertising double white narcissus, pheasant eye and rugilobus (also known as narcissus bicolor). Seth Stevenson, listed as a florist in the 1911 census and as a ‘Flower and bulb grower’ in Kelly’s Directory for 1909 and 1913, lived in The Lane but used the field behind the cemetery, just south of the Six Acre.
The rector’s business was sold to farmer T. F. King, who presumably carried on the tradition of using the local labour force. In June 1920 the Stamford and Rutland News reported ‘Once more the annual harvest of flowers has been gathered in by Mr King and his flower pickers and recently Mr King invited all his employees to a tea-party held in the schoolroom at West Deeping. … After tea a social evening was passed. Songs were given by Mrs Laud, the Misses Bloodworth , D. Wright and E. Roden. Miss L King accompanied at the piano and also played for dancing. At 8 o’clock votes of thanks and applause were accorded the host and hostess and artistes and the party then broke up.’
Find out more about the general history of bulb-growing in the area from Johnny Walkers – as usual the Village Hall in King Street will be open from 7 pm for refreshments, and the illustrated talk will start at 7.30 pm. Everybody is welcome; £2.50 at the door.
Any further enquiries should be made to Harriet Gash (01780 740536)