TRING GARDENS
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Charles Bridgeman’s design (c.1739) for Tring Park gardens, seat of William Gore
 

There are 20 acres of gardens all full of fine slopes, with a canal between and a Green House of eleven windows to front it; the House is in the midst of the Park which is full of easy hills covered with Beech and Oak trees, in which a canal of 110 feet broad is going to be made to front the House; and the Park has 300 head of deer, and the Gardens are so rich that there are always nine men and four boys to keep them”.


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To the  memory of


Fred Proctor
John Prior
Joseph Reeve



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TRING GARDENS
Then and Now

by
Wendy Austin

 


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AUTHOR’S NOTE


This is not just another book about gardening. A glance at the shelves of book shops, charity shops, or public libraries shows that no further volumes are needed. In any case, this author is totally unqualified to offer any shred of advice on the subject. If you wish to know when to prune your roses; how to prick out your seedlings; the best way to scarify your lawn; or whether or not to fumigate your greenhouse – please refer elsewhere.

I have simply attempted to outline the story of gardening in Tring and district from the late seventeenth century to the present day. It has to be said that the town is not especially known for any particular aspect of horticulture, but in spite of this Tring gardening has a varied history. This may be due to the fact that the very large private estates in the vicinity had beautiful gardens, parks, and walled areas. At the same time, allotment holders and cottage gardeners added to the scene. Two world wars spurred many to take up a spade or fork. In contrast, some individuals in Tring have pursued their specialist gardening passions. In attempting to squeeze three hundred years of history into one small book, it is inevitable that some aspects of gardening may have been left out, and if this is so I apologise.

My thanks go to the many people who have contributed information, photographs, and reminiscences, without which the book could not have been written. Special thanks go to Peggy Bainbridge, Michael Bass, Mervyn Bone, Alec Clements, Grace Duckworth, Roger Dye, Peter Fells, Jill Fowler, Joan Gregory, Martin Hicks, Angela Lloyd, Heather Pratt, Shirley Read, Ann Reed, Rodney Sims, Carol Willmore, the staff of the Dacorum Heritage Store, and the NatWest Bank.
                                                                    W.M.A.
                                                                    October 2006


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CHAPTER 1

The Early Years
 

What was Paradise? but a Garden,
an Orchard of Trees and Herbs, full of
pleasure, and nothing there but delights.

William Lawson, 1656


Before the seventeenth century about gardens in Tring.  Ordinary people were so busy struggling to make a living and to support their families that no time was left for leisurely pursuits.  Most local effort went into farming the land, and any other cultivation was solely for the purpose of growing vegetables.

Only the owners of large town houses or country estates could afford the luxury of a garden, and so it was in Tring, as the first reference to gardens of any sort is, unsurprisingly, those of Tring Park House.   The Manor of Tring had been bestowed by King Charles II on Henry Guy, one of his finance ministers.  Access to the Treasury funds was tempting, and it is said that Henry Guy appropriated money to build himself a splendid new house surrounded by parkland and beautiful gardens.  A visitor at the time described Henry’s gardens as “of unusual form and beauty”, but no other account survives.
 

Charles Bridgeman (1690-1738)
English garden designer

In 1702 the estate passed to Sir William Gore, and it was his son who commissioned the services of Charles Bridgeman, the leading landscape garden designer of the day.  Working in conjunction with the architect James Gibbs, Bridgeman created a fashionable Baroque layout, covering 300 acres of park, 20 of which were given over to gardens.  An engraving of 1739 shows all the design features, which included parterres, gravel gardens, a very large straight–sided canal, softly–moulded lawns, and a formal woodland with rides.  Beyond all this, terraced slopes and extensive avenues of trees led to an elaborate decorative building.  To the east of the house lay a bowling green, and an extensive walled kitchen garden.

Just how much of Bridgeman’s ideas were carried out is not known, but certainly enough for a guest at the time to observe admiringly:


There are 20 acres of gardens all full of fine slopes, with a canal between and a Green House of eleven windows to front it; the House is in the midst of the Park which is full of easy hills covered with Beech and Oak trees, in which a canal of 110 feet broad is going to be made to front the House; and the Park has 300 head of deer, and the Gardens are so rich that there are always nine men and four boys to keep them”.


Fashions change, and as the eighteenth century progressed the taste for formal layouts with geometric lines and straight vistas fell out of favour.  The demand was for less enclosed spaces with more views to the adjoining parkland.  Large areas of water were considered desirable, and streams and rivers were diverted or dammed to provide natural–looking lakes.  Sir Drummond Smith, the next owner of Tring Park, followed the trend and swept away much of the old design.  For some reason the 300–metre avenue, running north to south from the house, was allowed to remain and survives to this day, as do both the obelisk (Nell Gwyn’s Monument) and the portico of the summerhouse.

Britain’s increasing prosperity at this time meant that more local gentry and London merchants were able to acquire land and build large houses surrounded by gardens and parks.  In 1764, John Seare, the owner of The Grove at Tring, is known to have paid Nathaniel Richmond, then a leading market gardener, £31 for supplying plants from his London nursery.  Two years later, the property is shown on a map of Hertfordshire, but virtually nothing is known about this fine house or its surroundings for, by the beginning of the next century, all had disappeared.  Four other large country houses near Tring have gardens set in the natural landscape, with little formal planting.  These are the late–Georgian properties Stocks House at Aldbury, and Drayton Manor to the west of the town; and the Victorian houses Pendley Manor, and Champneys at Wigginton.


Stocks House, Aldbury, c.1903


When the successful novelist Mrs Humphry Ward and her husband moved into Stocks in 1892 she enthusiastically described the house and gardens to her father, but assured him “they are not grand in any way”.  However the account that followed describes a layout far from modest, as she says it had “old–walled and yew–hedged gardens, a small bit (i.e. 300 acres) of beautiful park, and an avenue of limes like a cathedral aisle”.  At a later date T. H. Mawson, a fashionable garden designer of the time, worked at Stocks, but many of his ideas were not implemented due to cost.  A cricket pitch was laid out for the use of the Wards’ son and his friends.


A late Victorian/Edwardian view of Pendley Manor


At Pendley some of the original planting is still to be seen, with beech–lined drives and specimen trees including sweet chestnut, Turkey oak, Atlas cedar, and Wellingtonia.  Likewise at Champneys many fine trees planted in the 1880s are now in the full glory of their maturity.  In the parks of both estates were tennis courts, croquet lawns, and cricket pitches.  In properties of this type, the walled kitchen gardens contained large areas under glass which included vineries and peach houses.  The kitchen garden at Drayton Manor enjoys a particularly beautiful situation, with a backdrop of beech woods on the Chiltern Hills.  Although now crossed by the A41, Tring Park still remains a enjoyable area in which to walk and appreciate the landscape features.  The grounds of both the hotel at Pendley Manor and the health spa at Champneys can be enjoyed by visiting guests.  The old walled garden at Champneys is given over to organic production of both vegetables and fruit for use in the kitchen.


Champneys near Tring (postcard)

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CHAPTER 2

The Horticultural Society
 

What a desolate place would be a world without
flowers!  It would be a face without a smile,
a feast without a welcome.

Clara Lucas Balfour, 1848


Tring Agricultural Association was formed in 1840 with aims of the ‘promotion of agriculture and horticulture and to reward industrious labourers’.  For nearly thirty years the Association carried out its stated objectives, and the event mainly involved landowners and farmers who gathered at the annual show on a site near Tring Station.  This was a regular date in the calendar of the district, and was always well supported and well run.


Tring Agricultural Association rules, c.1855


In 1868 an innovation was introduced when Dr Thomas Barnes, at that time living with his family in Tring Park mansion, sponsored a class for those in less affluent circumstances.  Prizes were offered for the neatest cottage and garden within three miles of the Market House, the rent of which did not exceed £7 per annum.  From this small beginning, the seed was sown (forgive the pun) for the foundation of Tring’s Horticultural Society.

As the years passed it was realised that the show would attract more visitors if a site nearer to the town centre could be found.  By the time Rothschilds arrived in 1874, the show had steadily grown in size and reputation, and it was then logical that it should be held on their land.  The following year, the Flower Show classes relocated to Dawe’s Park (an area south of Park Road), and fifteen years later the main Agricultural Show moved to the Park.  The Rothschild family’s benevolent attitude towards Tring was never more evident than on Show days, when everyone was allowed to wander at will through the Park; the gardens (see Chapter 4) were open to the public; and famous military bands provided entertainment.  Nothing is so redolent of the fin de siècle era as accounts written at the time when, of course, the sun always shone from a cloudless sky; ladies wore gigantic flowery hats, and twirled parasols; gentlemen sported blazers and boaters; all to the accompaniment of selections of music from The Merry Widow, Gilbert & Sullivan, and other period pieces.

In 1892 the Flower Show was renamed the Tring Horticultural & Cottage Garden Show, and by the turn of the century the new event was attracting around 500 people, who were rewarded by splendid displays of flowers and vegetables set out in large marquees decorated with ferns and palms from the conservatories of Tring Park and Pendley Manor.  As well as prizes for garden produce, classes included bread, pastry, cooked vegetables, and straw plait, and awards were presented for the best–kept allotments in Tring and the surrounding villages.


“COTTAGE GARDENS SHOW: the Committee of the Tring Working Men’s Club have just issued the preliminary notice of the annual show of flowers, fruit, and vegetables, &c.  This show has undoubtedly given a great impetus to cottage gardening in Tring, and is now quite an institution of the town.  In the matter of allotments Tring is singularly fortunate, as, owing to the liberality of lord Rothschild and Mr. J. G. Williams, any man who has the leisure and the inclination to cultivate a plot of ground can obtain the necessary land at a mere nominal rent.

Recognising the importance of an allotment to a working man, the Committee of the Club devote special attention to this particular form of gardening.  The allotments are grouped in six classes for the purposes of the competition, and three prizes are offered in each class.  In addition to these prizes, this year Mr. George Parrott, coachbuilder, offers a wheelbarrow as a champion prize for the best allotment entered for the competition.”

Bucks Herald, 18th April 1896


The annual Cottage Garden Show encouraged club members to cultivate allotments where, as plot-holders, they could acquire new knowledge and skills, derive a sense of achievement from growing their own seasonal produce, save on the household budget, and gain social interaction with a community of like-minded people.
 
Obtaining fertiliser was not a problem for gardeners in the days of horse power, and many cottagers believed that great results could also be achieved by utilising the contents of the privy bucket.  They supported their argument by displaying excellent crops of vegetables.  Especially successful were tomatoes and cucumbers which had the added advantage of being self–set, as it was well known that pips from both plants pass undamaged through the human digestive system.  (Some did admit that application of this form of manure was not exactly pleasant, but many householders owned a special privy bucket which was designed with a long handle to avoid slopping the contents.)


Tring Flower Show day, 1904


On Horticultural Show days Rothschild hospitality was again generous, and visitors enjoyed a lavish tea under the trees, whilst listening to selections played by the Tring Brass Band.  This was followed by athletic sports, giving the younger people of the district an opportunity to show their prowess.  Their efforts were well rewarded as the prizes, often presented by Lady Rothschild in person, were substantial, and the winner could expect a useful or decorative item with his or her name engraved on an attached brass plate.  The prizes included canteens of cutlery, clocks, tables, cut glass, suitcases, and inkstands.


Richard Wright of Langden Street, with trophies won for athletics on
Flower Show day


When the first war broke out, most horticultural effort had to be concentrated on vegetable–growing, and flower shows in Tring became a fond memory.  But in 1924 an inaugural meeting was held in the Market Hall when a provisional committee of ten, chaired by John Bly, proposed an open meeting to try and resurrect the society.  It rose like a phoenix, and soon the shows of the pre–war years were again enjoyed.  In the second war, the Society continued in a limited way, encouraged by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries & Food.  Now–famous posters could be seen around the town, such as Dig for Victory and On the Kitchen Front.  People were encouraged to switch on their radios early each morning and listen to gardening tips.  Advice was along the lines of “Garden peas that have grown hard through lack of water or age can be put through a sieve and made into excellent soup; Stew plums with no sugar, pulp, store in hot clean bottles, and seal immediately; and Put down mothballs as a deterrent for keeping away cabbage–white butterflies”.

The post–war years saw a large increase in membership, and shows, now combined with fêtes, were held at different venues, including Home Farm, Osmington School, and Christchurch Meadow.  Lectures were arranged in winter months, together with an annual dinner and Harvest Supper.  Several high–spots occurred during this period, including the establishment of the popular Floral Art section, and the broadcast from Tring of an edition of the well–known radio programme Gardeners’ Question Time.  A panel of famous gardeners, chaired by radio personality Franklin Engelman, attracted a capacity audience of 250 at Mortimer Hill School.  Around this time, the Society also entered a team in the County Gardening Quiz held in different towns all over Hertfordshire.  Tring usually acquitted itself well; in 1968 it lost by only half a point in the semi–final.

As the years passed, all the villages around Tring founded their own horticultural societies and usually held one or more annual event, often combined with a fête.  Show days then were the highlight of the village calendar, and potential exhibits would be carefully nurtured and guarded.  Enormous trouble was taken to match in size and shape the number of vegetables stipulated for each class, and these were washed in a little milk and the tops trimmed with geometric precision.  Early the next morning the whole lot would be loaded carefully into a wheelbarrow and trundled down to the village hall.  No–one was much concerned that the prize money was small it was the award of a precious red certificate that really counted.

The Aldbury Allotment & Cottage Garden Association mounted their inaugural show in the Memorial Hall in August 1931.  The fates were not kind, and it transpired that this was decidedly not a good year to chose for the first–ever show.  A week before the planned event a terrific hailstorm damaged much of the produce prepared by hopeful exhibitors but, even so, 150 entries were on display.

Wilstone’s society was founded immediately after the war in 1946. The opening ceremony of the first show was performed by founder member Dennis Noble, the international baritone, who for some years made his home in the village. The 10th annual show and fête was opened by local celebrity, Dorian Williams, and a record 520 entries judged. On that occasion the weather was awful, with the wind howling over the loudspeakers. These adverse conditions inspired a Churchillian–type speech from Dorian, who commented “There is nothing more English than the allotments in an English village............ the constant fight against the weather to organise these little shows is characteristic of the national spirit of determination”. The 21st Show in 1967 was opened by actor Wilfrid Bramble of Steptoe & Son fame, and the 25th Show by Melvyn Hayes of It Ain’t Half Hot Mum.  But times change and, due to lack of support, the society was disbanded in 1986 when the funds were transferred to the village–hall appeal.  Other local villages have managed to keep their shows alive, and these include Wigginton Gardeners’ Association, Long Marston & Puttenham, and Aston Clinton Horticultural Societies.

In the mid–eighties Tring Horticultural Society was still flourishing with a membership of 645.  All events were well–supported and the Society added to its reputation by winning first prize at Tring Carnival for its float “Gardening through the Ages”.  However, as the the new millennium approached it was clear that the growing of vegetables and flowers for exhibition was not the popular pastime it had been.  Also, members were reluctant to give time to serve on the committee, so the decision had to be taken to wind up its affairs.  Its end came in 2000, much to the regret of many townsfolk who had always supported its shows.

Despite the demise of the Society, garden enthusiasts in the town can still pit their skills against each other.  Tring Town Councillors are asked to nominate attractive gardens in their wards, and the entries are judged by a local celebrity.  Challenge cups are awarded each year for Best Garden; for the best Small Garden (a cup presented by the late Trevor Marwood); and for best garden in Eight Acres.  The latter competition began in 1966 when the estate was newly–built, and the head of the firm of architects who designed the development donated a challenge cup.  The following year the town Council established a new competition for the best–kept garden by any tenant occupying a local authority property in Tring.  The first winner was Arthur Poulton of Woodland Close who had only lived in his house for two years and had inherited ‘a wilderness’ of a plot.  He impressed the judges with his split–level garden containing rockeries, greenhouse, garden pool with picturesque rustic bridge, trellises, and wishing–well.

In recent years a new commercial venture for a flower show has been tried in Tring at Pendley Manor.  This is held in the four–acre meadow at the rear of the hotel which is well prepared to receive the professional exhibits.  Flowers, plants, trees, cacti, alpines, and bonsai are among the displays on show, as well as stands selling water fountains, garden furniture, and arts and crafts.  The first event in 2003 was opened by television gardening personality, Charlie Dimmock, who was on hand to answer visitors’ questions on gardening problems.


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CHAPTER 3


MARKET GARDENS AND NURSERIES
 

Seedsmen reckon that their stock in trade
is not seeds at all – it’s optimism.

Geoff Hamilton (1936–1996)


In the mid–Victorian period several families named Marcham lived and worked at humdrum occupations in Tring.  One of the more enterprising was Joseph Marcham, whose job as a gardener led him to start a small business in Akeman Street.  By 1850 Joseph was able to describe himself in the local trade directory as a ‘gardener and seedsman’.  (In the early days Joseph’s only rival was an elderly lady, Anna Missenden, who traded in groceries and seeds in a small shop in Frogmore Street.)  Joseph’s business prospered and after a few years he relocated to Brook Street and established a nursery which he ran for over 40 years.  In November 1882 The Tring Telegraph carried the following notice:


Joseph Marcham begs to acknowledge his sincere thanks to the Gentry of Tring and Neighbourhood for their kind and liberal support for the last 42 years.  He begs to say that he has given up his Nursery Grounds to his nephew W. Rickett.  The Shop and Business will be carried on as usual at 63 Brook Street.


The Marcham expertise was passed on for two further generations, and Arthur Marcham was responsible in the Edwardian period for laying out many of the gardens of newly–built properties in Tring.  His son, Henry, received a good grounding in the trade at his grandfather’s nursery.  While still a young man, he spread his wings and secured a job as garden foreman to the Duke of Devonshire.  He then moved on to become rose–grower to Lord Northcliffe, and travelled further afield, engaging in important landscape work at Castle Konospicht in Bohemia.  Then he was appointed inspector of three gardens belonging to Baron Alphonse Rothschild in Vienna, where he held a very responsible position controlling a staff of 204.  During the first World War, he and his wife were classed by the Austrians as enemy aliens and spent weary years in separate internment camps.  After the war he returned to England and ran his own nursery at Carshalton, succumbing to heart disease at the age of 54.

At the beginning of the twentieth century there were two market gardens at opposite ends of the town.  On the eastern side Albert Westwood laid out a nursery on Mortimer Hill, very near the site of Joseph Marcham’s original premises.  He sold some of his produce at his florist’s shop at No.18 High Street.

Albert’s business was later taken over by Frank Westron, trading as a nurseryman, seedsman, florist, fruit grower, and retailer.  He was well qualified to describe himself as an all–round horticulturist, as he had been brought up with gardening in his blood.  Born in 1875 at Taplow Lodge on the Cliveden estate near the River Thames, Frank was the son of the head gardener.  He came to Tring in the 1920s and rapidly assimilated into the life of the town as a town councillor and church sidesman.  He died in 1960 and left a home–made will which, after his wife’s death, bequeathed a very generous sum to provide “a home for the old people of Tring who have resided there for years”.  Due to legal complications and other problems, it was over thirty years before fifteen bungalows were erected on a redundant site in Mortimer Hill owned by Tring Charities.  The development is named Westron Gardens in his memory.  When Frank retired, his business and shop were taken over by John Stewart, and the market garden area is now the site of Nursery Gardens.



Edward Hockney’s and John Stewart’s billheads


The other market garden was started by local builder, James Honour, in 1897 in Longfield Road at the western end of the town.  He erected some fine large greenhouses, and from then until the nursery was demolished, these were known locally as the ‘tomato houses’.  As the business grew the nursery diversified into other produce.  In the 1920s the business was acquired by the manager, Edward Hockney, and later it passed to his son, Ted junior.  To give a flavour of those times at Hockneys, reproduced below is a brief article that this author wrote for a Tring Local History Society newsletter:


A recent mention of the glasshouses in Longfield Road awakened some old memories of the time when Ted Hockney junior, employed me as a ‘worker’ during the school summer holidays.  I quote the word ‘worker’ as I cannot believe that a teenage girl who had never so much as removed a weed from the garden, could have contributed in any appreciable way to Ted’s business a budding Charlie Dimmock I was not.  Looking back, I suspect that he only gave me a job because he was a lifelong friend of my mother, who had been born a few doors away in Longfield Road.

The Hockney family had always lived in the house adjoining the business, and Mrs Hockney was remembered by older Tring residents as a rather grand lady who habitually dressed in tasteful shades of violet and mauve.  The nursery became well established and was especially known for tomatoes, cucumbers, and the Hockneys’ prize crop carnations.  Tring people, mainly from the western side of the town, purchased the products direct by visiting a long, low shed where the tomatoes were weighed out from ‘Covent Garden’ style round baskets.  The smell inside this shed was familiar and welcoming, a mixture of warm baskets, earth, and firm ripe tomatoes.  Whilst still quite young, I was often sent round the corner to buy these, for those were the days when small children could safely run errands alone.

By the time I came to work at the nursery, Ted junior was a middle–aged bachelor, shy and kindly.  His sole companion was Bill, a mongrel dog of independent spirit, who daily took himself off for long walks crossing the main road, trotting through the Aylesbury Road allotments, and far into Stubbin’s Wood and beyond.

Until that time my only experience of glasshouses was limited to visits to Kew.  Ted’s were much smaller, but still vast enough to overawe me.  The work I was given was tedious, but not arduous.  It consisted of de–shooting growing tomato plants, pricking–out young lettuces, and for ever watering the cucumbers.  This latter was not pleasant, for cucumbers thrive best in extremely hot steamy conditions not good for my teenage experimental hairstyle.  Understandably, I was never allowed to set foot inside the precious carnation houses.

The four other employees treated me with amused tolerance and were always kind when we shared our tea–break in a cramped but cosy shed, although it seemed to me that sometimes they did not get along with each other.  The two men endlessly argued about football, whilst the two women seldom spoke to each other at all.

Every day without fail a welcome break came when Ted, who must have had a very sweet tooth, asked me to fetch a bag of cakes from Atkins, the Bakers in Western Road.  The selection was left to me and, anxious to do the right thing, I used to make enquiries along the lines of “Do you like doughnuts, Mr Hockney?”  Whatever variety I asked about, Ted always said he did.  With the cakes and buns stowed in the saddle–bag of my bike, I peddled back hurriedly.  I was concerned to keep my job, for my wise parents insisted that if I wanted any extra spending money (mainly for clothes pop groups had yet to be invented) I must earn it myself.  Occasionally, when I returned to deliver the cakes to the back door, I would find Ted being furiously berated by his housekeeper for some misdemeanour.  On one memorable occasion a row took place with the whole length of a greenhouse between them whilst, in the middle, I kept my head down and carried on with my de–shooting.

Ted is remembered for his fanatical interest in both hockey and car driving.  Fearless at each pursuit, he twice landed himself in hospital with serious injuries after accidents in his MG sports car, and could also claim the doubtful distinction of three speeding fines on the same day.

Alas, the characters and the nursery are now gone, and modern houses stand on the site, now Longfield Gardens.  The Hockney family’s house has changed hands several times, and the familiar ‘thump–thump’ of the artesian well alongside Donkey Lane is no longer heard.  Lorries from Tring Station collecting the round baskets of tomatoes and crates of carnations at exactly 3 p.m. every day have also ceased to trundle up and down Longfield Road.


 

John Batchelor,
founder of the Tinkers Lane Nursery

The early history of Batchelor’s nursery in Tinkers Lane, between Wigginton and Tring, is largely a story of one man’s enterprise and determination.  John Batchelor was born in 1904 in Heath End, and received a basic education at Hawridge village school.  He obtained a job at a large house in Berkhamsted, working as a gardener and chauffeur, and at the early age of 20 fell in love and married the cook (a wise choice).  As a wedding gift from their kind employer, the couple received half an acre of ground in Tinkers Lane, on which John resolved to start his own landscaping business and build a bungalow for his future family.

By 1925 both projects were well under way and, as John had no means of transport except his push bike, he hired a lorry to carry stone from the Cotswolds with which to build rockeries for his customers.  He also supplemented his income by keeping chickens, turkeys, pigs, and a cow.  The latter proved a particularly good source of revenue, as John was able to sell milk for use at nearby Champneys health spa, and in return collected their waste for use as pig–swill.  The nursery side of his business was established in 1932 when he bought three redundant greenhouses from the famous Lane’s of Berkhamsted for £5.  He added a further acre of ground to his existing holding, and began to specialise in rose growing.  He became so well–known in the district that he was asked to judge at many notable horticultural shows.  This activity was interrupted by the Second War when all production from market gardens was channelled into vegetable growing.  Later, three more acres and a wood were added, which included part of the historic Grimsditch.  The nursery continued to expand with most stock being grown on site from seeds, cuttings, and grafts.

John Batchelor was still working at the nursery well after his eightieth birthday, alongside his son, Tom, and three grandsons.  The total area now covers 12 acres.  Today, when ‘garden centres’ often combined with a DIY superstore seem to be the preferred choice of many, Batchelor’s nursery remains a traditional market garden where good plants may be purchased at sensible prices.  Seventy years after John first set up his enterprise, any local gardener can now say simply “I’m just popping up to Batchelor’s”, and everyone knows just what he or she means.

In the years immediately after the second war, a Swiss named Boudet acquired seven acres adjacent to Kiln Lane, Cholesbury, where he erected three greenhouses.  He built an adjoining bungalow where he lived with his wife and her pet hen.  His crops grew well, for Boudet maintained that there was no better manure than watered–down cowpats, which he collected from nearby Kiln Farm.  Thanks to this method, he was able to grow splendid Rhubarb plants to provide the main outdoor crop.

Another enterprise was that of Robert Hedges, who owned a greengrocery business in Miswell Lane, Tring.  In the mid–1930s he bought an adjacent site which included two small greenhouses and an old wooden shed with beams covered with nails, where rabbit skins were once hung to dry.  He added two larger glasshouses, one from The Bothy (see Chapter 4) and, with the addition of a propagating house and brick cold–frame, soon started to grow a variety of crops to stock the Hedges family shop (nowadays The Old Stables).  One of the original greenhouses was converted to a boiler house providing heat for the other houses and steam for sterilising the soil.  His nephew remembers that someone had often to rise at 3 a.m. in bitter winter weather to check that the boiler was functioning properly.




Miswell Lane Nurseries, 1960s


Robert’s nursery was a success, and he employed three full–time workers, assisted at busy times by members of his own family.  The crops included vegetables, salad plants, cucumbers, and tomatoes, as well a selection of pot and bedding plants, and cut flowers.  When a large piece of ground (now Cobbett’s Ride) opposite the existing business became available, the nursery gardens were expanded.  During the second world war chickens and a few pigs were also kept, their swill being prepared on the boiler in the old greenhouse.  Some older Tring residents still have good memories of Hedges’ produce being freshly picked in the morning, sold in the shop during the day, and on their supper tables the same evening.

Only one traditional nursery remains in the Tring area (Batchelor’s in Tinkers Lane), and one modern garden centre at Bulbourne has been established in recent years.  However, for those not fond of DIY in the garden, services of landscape designers are in demand.  Charles Hogarth, whose business is based within the old walled garden of the Tring Park estate, is a member of the Association of Professional Landscapers.  His work often features waterscapes and nightscapes, and has won several awards, including the APL Design and Build Commercial prize for the creation of a beautiful layout at Bedford Butterfly Park.

 
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CHAPTER 4

TRING PARK GARDENS – THE ROTHSCHILDS
 

A garden that one makes oneself becomes
associated with one’s personal history and
that of one’s friends, interwoven with one’s
tastes, preferences, and character.

Alfred Austin (1835–1913)


Tring Park Mansion, South Front, c.1900


Unlike many of his relatives, the first Lord Rothschild was not a passionate gardener, and practical matters relating to farming and agriculture held far more appeal for him.  However, in the 1880s when Tring Park Mansion was remodelled, substantial alterations to the gardens were also undertaken.  As the new landscape design matured, Nathaniel Rothschild did become more interested and in fact grew knowledgeable about the names and qualities of shrubs.  His wife is known not to have favoured too much formal planting, and at the south front of the house except for a few flowerbeds (sometimes displaying the Rothschild racing colours of blue and gold), the landscaping remained soft.  The lawn was extended and a new ha–ha constructed to allow an uninterrupted view to the wooded escarpment on the far side of the park.


Tring Park Mansion, North Front c.1900


The area known as ‘the pleasure gardens’ to the west and north of the house was extensively remodelled and replanted.  A description written at the time records that they featured a summer house and an Italian garden and fountain.  A sunken path, lined with flint, led to an under–pass which survives. This ran beneath the drive leading to the stables, and gave access to a winter tennis court; a topiary garden clipped into the shapes of tables, chairs, and chess pieces; a Dutch garden; an Elizabethan garden; and a number of other areas.  An account in the gardening press at the time says:
 

 “Each of these little gardens is complete in itself; once entered, the whole comes under the eye in an instant, but nothing is seen of the gardens beyond, for each of these separate designs is encircled by an irregular bank, planted with rare Conifers and shrubs, faced with flowering plants, Lilies, and Roses, and in all cases with as many annual or perennial sweet scented plants as possible”.


The account reads on to wax lyrical about all the chosen bedding, including purple Clematis, Begonias, Violas mixed with silver Pelargoniums, Cannas, Marguerites, white Nicotiana, and Sweet–peas.


Lily Pond and Turf Steps at Tring Park


That same year, a correspondent from The Gardeners’ Chronicle visited Tring Park, and in his article he comments with surprise on the modest entrance and approach to the estate.  But once beyond the stables area, matters obviously lived up to his expectation of a home appropriate for the richest man in the British Empire.  The following extracts give a good description of the gardens at that date:


“A broad new carriage drive leads to where a grand entrance to the house is evidently meditated, and on the right of this approach is a bank of evergreens.  It was planted only eighteen months since with large shrubs of Yew, Bay, Box, and Aucuba japonica ............. Passing round the house you will find a lawn, much enlarged recently, and clipped about by a very unlevel park, beautifully planted with clumps of Limes, animated by deer and shorthorns, and enclosed by masses of encircling Beech woods on the high ground which bounds the view.

........... Among the proofs of outlay, as well as of excellent taste, are the numerous costly shrubs around the house, including the bushes of Golden Yews grown from cuttings, as well as the much rarer seedlings.  I dare say thousands have been expended in shrubs lately ...... Numbers give only a mechanical idea of works of planting like those which Mr Hill (the head gardener) with his men and long hose has brought to such a successful issue; but it may please nurserymen, and make their mouths water, to repeat that 500 Golden Yews, costing a great sum, have been planted here, and 10,000 bulbs of Gladioli set in the shrubberies to enliven them. .......... I can only say that it (the garden) is filled with costly “things”, and in standing before the largest Japanese specimen, which is many times repeated in smaller sizes, one cannot help counting the cost.  It is the beautiful Retinospora obtusa nana aurea and is worth seven guineas.  The double Spanish Gorse is used as an edging of this grand clump of shrubs, and I observed several specimens of weeping Yew on stems one foot or more high, and then spreading horizontally ..............

The kitchen gardens are on the roadside near the town, and will soon be entirely shut in by walls, and enlarged from three to six acres.  The glasshouses are numerous, and the management unsurpassed.  Five houses are devoted to Orchids, and two entirely to Carnations, one of them to the favourite Malmaison.  The foliage plants, Crotons, Caladiums, Alocasias, Dracænas and others were superb, and the varieties of Begonia and Coleus looked charmingly bright.  I believe that a London firm decorates the London house so far as pot plants are concerned; but the cut flowers are sent from Tring, and two houses of Adiantum ceneatum are required for the growth of Fern foliage by the bushel.

There are five vineries where the Muscat of Alexandria Grapes, of five years’ growth, are as good as can be, and the adjoining Black Hamburgs too having this year the largest berries yet produced here.  In the Fig-house the first crop was just over, and the second coming in ............. The Orchard-house is simple and comparatively inexpensive.  It consists of 135 yards of wall, enclosed by glass, having hot-water pipes to keep the temperature above freezing, and making all the wall fruit – Apricots, Peaches, Pears, and Plums – perfectly secure.


The article goes on at great length in the same vein, and also makes mention of ‘the cottage’, the home of the unmarried gardeners.  This was replaced in 1905 by The Bothy, a fine new building where the boys were well-cared for by a housekeeper.  It survived for almost one hundred years, until demolished to make way for a supermarket.


The Bothy c.1905


By the time of Lord Rothschild’s grandson, matters were beginning to change.  By that date, death duties and the effect of a devastating world war had taken their toll.  A description written by Bob Poland, recently appointed as Greenhouse Foreman at Tring Park, gives some idea of how things were.

Arriving at his new job one Saturday evening in November 1934, he was stunned when the head gardener called for him at The Bothy at 9 a.m. the next morning.  He was instructed to start cutting fresh flowers ready to be sent to the Rothschild houses in London and Cambridge.  On enquiring when they were wanted, he was told to leave them in water overnight, but to be up at 3 a.m. the following day “as the van calls at 6.20 a.m.” and only two men would be available to help.  Bob Poland’s new empire was larger than anything he had experienced before, and he describes the glasshouses with 18 miles of piping and boilers consuming 30 tons of coke each week, all shovelled by hand.  These glasshouses were not as they had been in their heyday, and Bob recounts they “were in an awful state with every known greenhouse pest – thrips, mealy bug, red spider, and millions of ants”.  In an attempt to rid the gardens of pests, he persuaded the head gardener to pay the men so much each for the tails of rats, mice, moles, and for Queen wasps.

Once the major problems had been dealt with, Bob came to enjoy his job as his duties were varied.  When the family was in residence, his responsibilities included supplying and arranging all the floral decorations in the house.  Busying himself in the flower room on the ground floor of the mansion, Bob provided the sumptuous arrangements that were changed twice a week, and those in the dining room once a day, or sometimes twice.  At the festive season a huge 30 ft. Christmas tree stood in the centre of the staircase well, and hundreds of flowering pot plants were used to decorate wherever space permitted.

In the second world war not much time or effort could be spared for gardening, and the grounds of Tring Park became neglected and overgrown.  During the conflict the staff from the Rothschild bank in the City of London moved into the house, and the stables were used by the Home Guard, the ARP, and the Red Cross.  Shortly before the war, the 3rd Lord Rothschild had offered Tring Park house, grounds, park, and woodlands as a gift to the British Museum of Natural History.  The committee appointed to consider this did not accept it.  The mansion later became the Arts Educational School; part of the ‘pleasure gardens’ was dedicated as the Memorial Gardens (see Chapter 12); The Bothy was used to house engineering staff from the Royal Mint Refinery in Brook Street; and the route of the A41 bypass sliced through the park.  Like many similar estates all over the country, the golden days were over and nothing was ever the same again – sic transit gloria.


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CHAPTER 5

HEAD GARDENERS
 

A Gardener’s Work is never at an end;
it begins with the Year, and continues to the next.

John Evelyn (1620-1706)


For many years, the pretty Regency house with Gothic-style windows, was the home of successive head gardeners on the Tring Park estate.  It enjoyed an open aspect and was not shielded from the London Road until much later, when high brick walls were built to enclose the entire kitchen garden.  During the early Victorian period the various occupants included William Brown, William Ivory, and James Smith, who also ran a seed merchant’s shop in the High Street.  The privilege of living in the Garden House did not come easily because, on any large country estate, the head gardener was a figure of immense importance, whose knowledge of gardening matters, control of men, and organisational skills were expected to be all-embracing.  But in 1877 this did not prevent the Rothschild family appointing to the post a youthful 27-year old Gloucestershire man, Edwin Hill.


The Garden House c.1905


For the next 27 years Edwin reorganised and maintained the grounds around the Mansion.  As his experience grew, he became recognised as a well-respected member of his profession, and was rewarded by being elected to the committee of the Royal Horticultural Society.  He also laid out the gardens of the newly-built Louisa Cottages in Park Road, and those of the Isolation Hospital on the road to Little Tring.  He acted as Secretary of the Cottage Garden Society (see Chapter 2), an organisation close to Lady Rothschild’s heart, and was expected to arrange the athletic sports on show day.  Edwin died at the early age of 54 and his obituary appeared in the Gardener’s Chronicle magazine.

Edwin was succeeded by his assistant of eight years, Arthur Dye, who came to Tring Park with the very best credentials.  Born in Norfolk, he started his career in the Royal Gardens at Sandringham and later moved to Royal Lodge, Windsor.  When he arrived to take up his new position, Arthur and his wife were tenants in one of the Louisa Cottages but, after Edwin Hill’s untimely death, they moved to the Garden House within the walls of the kitchen garden.  Living in this splendid house had, at times, certain disadvantages.  On spring nights when the apple-blossom was in flower, a bell sometimes sounded a warning that the outside temperature had fallen below freezing point: Arthur then had to leave his warm bed to ensure that fires were lit in the orchards.  (Propped up in his bedroom was a shotgun, which he used to despatch any unwelcome Glis Glis who trespassed into the loft space.)


Arthur Dye, head gardener at Tring Park, with his family


His new responsibilities included the welfare of the unmarried gardeners living at The Bothy (see Chapter 4).  Liaison with other senior staff members such as the chef and butler were also part of the job.  One very special task each year was a visit to Buckingham Palace, bearing Lord Rothschild’s gift of flowers to decorate Queen Mary’s breakfast table.  Arthur remained head gardener for forty years, and on his retirement moved to a Rothschild property, Woodlands, in Chesham Road, Wigginton.  There he enjoyed 25 years tending his own large garden where he waged a constant war against Wigginton’s rabbit population.

In the summer months it was the practice for owners of large houses to open their gardens to the less privileged local folk of the district.  These events were greeted with mixed feelings by head gardeners.  Their natural pride and pleasure in compliments, were weighed against possible hazards to their precious plants.  At Tring Park during the annual Agricultural and Flower Shows, ‘Freedom of the Park Day’ meant all could wander around the grounds and gardens, but some very necessary preparatory work had to be done.  The park was home to a variety of exotic creatures belonging to Walter, eccentric zoologist son of Lord Rothschild.  Throughout the year kangeroos, emus, and other animals roamed freely, but of course had to be kept under control on the great day.  Beforehand, an army of gardeners’ boys were deployed to clean up the park, in a thoughtful attempt to preserve the Sunday-best boots and clothes of the visitors.

It was also the case that head gardeners did not always appreciate the largesse shown by their employers towards the general populace, especially when children were involved.  One hot summer, the owner of Stocks House at Aldbury, the writer Mrs Humphry Ward, a typical example of a Victorian lady bountiful, had the idea of opening her kitchen garden and allowing the village children to visit her strawberry beds.  In spite of the disapproving eye of her head gardener, Daniel Keen, they took full advantage of the kind offer.  His apprehensions were realised and he was obliged to send the children packing for trampling his plants.  Mary Ward must have listened to his woeful description of the episode, as the following year a better idea was suggested.  The village children were invited to a strawberry tea with cream, laid out on long tables on the lawn of Stocks House.

Daniel had already been at Stocks for fifteen years before the arrival of the Wards in 1892, and he lived long enough to gather the branches of wild cherry that decked his mistress’s grave in 1920.  In summer he often worked for fifteen hours a day, and his simple answer to his employer’s protestations was that he could not bear to see his plants die for lack of watering.  He grew to know exactly what would most please Mary Ward, and at Christmas-time filled the house with hyacinths, narcissus, and banks of azalea.  He also achieved wonders in the walled kitchen garden, as large amounts of produce were sent from Tring Station to the charitable settlement for children that Mary Ward had founded in London.  During the war Mary and her daughter between them devised a scheme of “war economies” which was implemented vigorously.  Timber was felled, potatoes grown, jam was made, and garden fruit shared with the villagers of Aldbury.  As all the gardeners were serving in the army, the family helped Daniel by planting out bedding and seedlings, and even the butler was recruited to cut the lawns.

Daniel Keen was not alone in his devotion beyond the call of duty, as gardeners in charge of extensive grounds surrounding large country houses often seemed to love these gardens as much as their own modest plots.  The same feeling was brought to Drayton Manor by Thomas Bateman, who tended the gardens until well past his eightieth birthday.  Tom, who had been in the employ of Miss Alice Rothschild at Eythrope Park, came to Drayton on the extreme western edge of Tring in the mid-1930s.  With his wife and young daughter, he settled in the lodge house at the entrance to the drive in Aylesbury Road.  He was proud of his place of work, and with great enthusiasm set about organising the lovely gardens, which had far-reaching views towards the Chiltern escarpment.

The second world war changed everything when Tom left to serve in the army, and Drayton was converted to a hospital for wounded soldiers.  However, the grounds continued to be enjoyed, as every summer fêtes were held with a variety of activities designed to help cheer up both the convalescent soldiers and the residents of Tring.  (These carried on for a few years afterwards, and in the early fifties Godfrey Wynn, the celebrated broadcaster, performed the opening ceremony.)  After the war, the house stood empty for two years before becoming a school for blind children.  While it was unoccupied Tom kept an eye on the premises, and on more than one occasion he glimpsed the resident ghost that all old houses claim.  This took the form of a Grey Lady flitting through the upstairs rooms.  When the house reverted to a private residence in 1957, the Batemans left the lodge to live nearby.  Tom continued to look after the gardens, and remained until his wife’s ill-health forced him to retire.  The Batemans loved Drayton Manor so much that their daughters thought it fitting that their ashes be buried in the Manor gardens.

At the end of the Victorian era, when the Williams family of Pendley Manor departed in August to shoot grouse in Scotland, the gardens were opened to the public on several occasions.  The head gardeners (Henry Amos, followed by Frederick Gerrish) always received great compliments on the appearance of their gardens, but kept an eagle eye on proceedings.  As the tennis courts, bowling green, and croquet lawn were also open for the use of all, they were wise to do so.  Around the 1920s the position of head gardener was held by Thomas Westcott, whose son Douglas was for many years the star fast bowler of Tring Cricket Club.

In the centre of Tring once stood a large house, Frogmore, which took its name from the street in which it was situated.  It was the home of Thomas Butcher, owner of the town’s private bank, established in what later became the NatWest building in the High Street in the 1830s.  Thomas at first lived over the premises enjoying the large garden area behind, but when his son inherited the estate Thomas took advantage of the natural springs at the bottom of Frogmore Street to include several water features in Frogmore’s overall garden layout.


OS map of Tring (1877-79)
Frogmore is shaded red, the Parish Church green, and the springs blue


At the turn of the century the head gardener was Joseph Reeve, a local man who had been born in the now-vanished hamlet of Lower Dunsley (once diagonally opposite the Robin Hood).  He was also responsible for overseeing the maintenance of the large garden at the rear of Butcher’s Bank in the High Street.  Joseph lived with his family in one of a pair of pretty cottages opposite The Black Horse.  He was expected to supply choice examples of fruit from the orchard, and vegetables from the kitchen garden to exhibit in the local horticultural show (see Chapter 2).  Along with other head gardeners in the area, he enjoyed considerable success.  However, their names never appeared on the winner’s certificate or challenge cup, for it was always their employers who received the credit.  In any case, all Joseph Reeve’s efforts were swept away in 1956 when Frogmore, the grounds, the water gardens, the gardener’s cottage, and 18 acres of land were sold for redevelopment.


Joseph Reeve, head gardener at Frogmore, with prize-winning apples


In an account of January 1902 we learn that less-exalted gardeners were eager to learn from these acknowledged experts.  One cold evening a large and attentive audience gathered in the Boys’ School at Tring to hear one of a series of lectures arranged by the local Technical Instruction Committee.  The speaker, Hedley Warren, head gardener to Lady de Rothschild of Aston Clinton House, took ‘Cottage Gardening’ as his theme.  Hedley did not talk about subjects we now associate with olde-worlde gardens such as pretty hollyhocks and delphiniums, but concentrated on the all-important practicalities of soil, manures, and garden pests.  He was helped in his task by Frank Grace who operated a magic lantern which illuminated diagrams on to a suspended white sheet.

Before the age of Women’s Lib, the gentlemen of Tring Park Cricket Club proved what an enlightened group they were.  For the first time in the 120-year history of the Club, a female groundswoman was appointed, with complete responsibility for the total four-acre area.  Mrs Elsie Gooch had been trained at Suttons (famous seed merchants), and later was appointed gardener to F. J. Rodwell who owned Tring Hill Café (renamed The Crow’s Nest).  Her new duties included preparation of the pitches; care and maintenance of the table; re-turfing the ends after each game; and planting and tending the flower beds in front of the pavilion.  At the end of the first season, members expressed themselves well satisfied with their new groundswoman, and from then on Elsie, sitting on her motor-mower, became a familiar sight to passers-by in Station Road.


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CHAPTER 6

TRING RAILWAY STATION GARDEN
 

And in my flower-beds, I think,
Smile the carnation and the pink;
And down the borders, well I know,
The poppy and the pansy blow.

Rupert Brooke (1887-1915)


Tring Station flowerbeds


Gardens have been a feature of British railway stations for more than a century.  In past times these displayed anything from a few milk churns full of geraniums to an intricate French knot garden.  Railway companies encouraged their staff to create and maintain station gardens by offering prizes for the best examples.  All could participate the station-master, porters, ticket clerks, and signalmen.  The judges often used track-inspection carriages (nicknamed ‘glass coaches’) to travel the length of the line, viewing exhibits.  In the summer months, rail passengers made special train journeys just to admire and appreciate the efforts of the station staff.

In 1910, the heyday of the golden age of travel by steam, the London & Northwestern Railway Company announced that a sum of money would be allocated for the purpose of making stations more attractive.  Many station-masters in the district welcomed the offer and adopted the scheme with enthusiasm.  Not only was this an appeal to their Edwardian pride, but cash prizes were to be provided by the recently formed L&N.W.R. Southern Division Horticultural Society, as well as an award for the best platform in the district.

At Tring, station-master Bradley set to work with a will.  This was no mean task, as the three platforms at his station totalled about a mile in length.  He drew up a design, and an appeal went forth to the principal residents of the area for trees, shrubs, plants and everything else necessary to complete his ideas.  Mr Bradley was not short of willing helpers, as eleven of his staff were keen gardeners and they planned to enter exhibits of their own at the the railway company’s summer show at Pinner.  An account of the time relates “they all placed their services ungrudgingly at the disposal of the station-master, and worked with hearty good will to carry out his plans”.

Some trees and shrubs were planted in the ground, while others stood in large tubs.  Hanging baskets were suspended from the platform canopies; stands of flowering plants were placed in suitable spots; and fern rockeries were erected in several hitherto bare corners.  Unsightly banks were filled with trees and plants, and on the centre platform a large grotto, made of Leighton sandstone, was covered with plants in bloom.

The area in front of the station-master’s own house was included in the judging, and planted out with some nicely-arranged flower beds.  Berkhamsted, Cheddington, and Boxmoor were other local stations entered for the competition, but it is not recorded who won in 1910.  Whatever the outcome, the station gardens at Tring were planted, maintained, and enjoyed for many years afterwards.

 


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CHAPTER 7

HERBS AND WILD PLANTS
 

Lavender hanged up in houses, it doth
very well attemper the aire, coole and make
fresh the place to the delight and comfort
of such as are therein.

John Gerard, 1597


It may be surprising to read that the sometimes not-so-fragrant air of Victorian Tring was once scented with aromatic herbs.  What was considered ‘the most fertile field in Tring’, an area bordering the ancient stream in Brook Street, was given over to the growing of herbs for use in scent and other products.  Around 1830 an enterprising gentleman named Henry Narraway opened a small factory, or lavender mill, in a dilapidated property adjoining a mud-walled cottage which was the original place of worship for New Mill Baptists.  As well as the field in Brook Street, he grew lavender on Tring Hill at a site close to the right-hand turn to Drayton Beauchamp. This area was especially suitable for this plant, for lavender can thrive on a thin chalk soil providing it enjoys sunlight for several hours each day.


Lavender mill off Brook Street, New Mill


Other herbs grow well in these conditions, and some years later at Pendley Beeches a natural bed of Belladonna was exploited for commercial reasons.  This poisonous alkaloid plant produces atropine, a mildly anti-spasmodic drug extensively used in pre-medication.  The bed at Pendley was harvested and replanted, and was reported to produce a leaf and root of better quality than the imported Balkan variety.  During World War I, the benefactor from this activity was the Red Cross Society in Tring.  The same Belladonna bed at Pendley was re-discovered in the second war and again harvested for use by military doctors.

Another, unnamed, Tring entrepreneur hit upon the discovery that Hollands gin was good for the treatment of lumbago and rheumatism, ailments then difficult to relieve.  His researches led to the fact that it was the addition of the juniper berry to gin which produced the effect, eliminating acids from the blood through the kidneys.  He assiduously collected large quantities of these berries from the Halton hills with the idea of producing a patent remedy, but found that the supply was limited, even if he searched all the slopes of the Chilterns.  To acquire sufficient quantities of berries meant dense cultivation of the juniper plant, and also a considerable outlay of capital.  Apparently the would-be inventor then found that his idea was not entirely original, as in fact sixpenny-bottles of Oil of Juniper were easily obtainable from any Boots’ chemist shop.

Gathering wild plants was an important and useful activity during the first world war.  In 1917 the headmaster of Tring School was asked to arrange the collection by pupils of horse chestnuts.  (It is likely to suppose that the boys kept the choicest conkers for themselves).  The active ingredient of the horse chestnut is aescin, long known to relieve a variety of unpleasant conditions, including vein problems, inflammation caused by arthritis and swellings, and fevers.

The following autumn the local Food Control Committee extended the request to include blackberries, and again the headmaster was appointed as agent and organiser.  Parties of children were despatched to the hedgerows of Tring, their efforts totalling 190 lbs. which all went for jam-making.  J.G. Williams of Pendley Manor encouraged the children’s efforts by offering a silver trophy to be awarded to the local school contributing the largest amount.  W. J. Rodwell of Tring Brewery acquired 12,000 redundant wooden butter boxes for transporting the blackberries, and engaged women and girls to carry out the necessary sorting and repair work.

Herb gathering was again very necessary in World War II when the herbalists of Britain could no longer obtain their supplies from the Continent.  The wife of a Tring doctor, Mrs O’Keefe, and Lady Craufurd of Aldbury organised the collection of wild plants for medicinal purposes.  Children were eager to help, and glad to supplement their meagre pocket-money by the two-pence or three-farthings a pound that the dealers paid.  Ladies from local Women’s Institutes also helped with the collection, and the results of their efforts were taken in half-hundredweight sacks to a mill, or furnace, at Dunstable.  Below are a few examples of the plants that the Government requested:


Yarrow (tonic)
Shepherd’s Purse (anti-scorbutic, stimulant, diuretic)
Camomile (carminative, sedative)
Burdock (blood purifier)
Pilewort (self-explanatory)
Digitalis (heart medicine)
Ragwort (cough medicine)
Elder Flower (diuretic)
Coltsfoot (cough medicine)
Belladonna (narcotic, diuretic, sedative)
Poppy petals (cough medicine)


This last plant was financially the most worthwhile as the petals fetched one shilling a pound. But as it took 200 petals to make up one ounce, the money was not earned easily.

Stinging nettles were also on the list, but it seems that Wilstone W.I. members were the only ones to agree to this rather unpleasant work. This was a pity as the plant could be put to three different uses - as a diuretic and astringent; in animal feeds; and, importantly, as a green dye for use by the Army in camouflage sacking. The watery ditches around the Wilstone area were a good source of Meadowsweet, which was used as a remedy for children’s diarrhoea. The plant that the ladies most enjoyed gathering was Sweet Marjoram, used as a tonic or a stimulant, and it was said that nothing was more pleasant than searching out this fragrant herb on a hot summer’s day.

Some families gathered wild plants for their own use, and these included the dandelion. This plant had long been known as a general stimulant to the system, and was useful as both the leaves and roots can be used. It was taken as a general tonic in either an infusion or an extraction, and also fresh leaves could be added to salads. Autumn brought rich pickings and whole families went on expeditions to the woods and hedgerows to gather blackberries, rose hips, crab apples, and mushrooms. Hazelnuts were another treat, and to take a basket and ‘to go nutting’ was a seasonal ritual.


Gathering dandelions off Icknield Way


During and after the second war, long before the dangers were realised, smoking was both a comforting and fashionable habit. In the late 1940s some hopeful town residents, (although admitting Tring was not exactly the Deep South) attempted to cultivate tobacco plants in their back gardens.  Much attention was lavished on the crop, and buds and side shoots were nipped off to encourage leaf growth, a task that was not especially pleasant as the leaves were gummy, and stained the fingers brown.  Nevertheless they persevered, and one gardener from Longfield Road reported that the leaves on his plants had reached a creditable 20 inches in length.  In a Beaconsfield Road garden another enthusiastic grower really ‘went to town’ and gave over a good section of his entire plot to the cultivation of 50 tobacco plants.  The leaves were duly picked and hung up to dry and cure, and when ready, this local tobacco supposedly boasted a ‘Havana flavour’ and was particularly good for use in a pipe.

When viewing the shelves of present-day health food shops, it seems that since Victorian times the wheel has turned full circle.  In those days, self-help using herbal remedies was often the only resort for treating ailments.  There is now a marked trend towards the same thinking, and many prefer to use natural plant extracts rather than prescribed drugs.  In the mid-nineteenth century in Akeman Street in Tring, William Sexton traded as a herbalist, selling his products in a small shop.  Many of his remedies, albeit in very different packaging, may have been little different from those to be found in Harmony today.


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CHAPTER 8

ORCHARDS
 

Beneath these fruit-tree boughs that shed
Their snow-white blossoms on my head,
With brightest sunshine round me spread
Of spring’s unclouded weather,
In this sequestered nook how sweet
To sit upon my orchard seat!

William Wordsworth (1770-1850)


Tring has never been an area particularly noted for commercial fruit growing, but reference to local old maps shows that the gardens of every farm, sizeable house, and even some cottages supported an area of orchard.  In neighbouring villages fruit was cultivated on a larger scale.  At Aston Clinton and Pitstone apples and stone fruits grew well.  The speciality of the area was a natural seedling plum known as the Aylesbury Prune, a variety especially suited to soils of mixed clay and chalk.  (In many of these orchards another local delicacy, the Aylesbury Duck, could be seen foraging under the trees.)  Fruit from the orchards at Pitstone was taken to Cheddington Railway Station, and in the season it was by no means exceptional for ten to fifteen tons to be despatched on any one day.  A fruit farm at Buckland Common also provided some jobs at picking time, and the village supported a small cider factory which employed 13 workers.  However the little sour apples necessary for this product were not grown on site, but arrived by rail at Tring Station, there to be loaded on to a steam wagon and taken up the hill.




The cider factory at Buckland Common hidden among the trees
Pallett & Co.’s billhead


Every large country estate had its own fruit orchard, as well as kitchen gardens and glasshouses which contained fresh produce for the owners, their guests, and servants.  The orchard of the Tring Park estate was situated in an area behind Silk Mill House, on a piece of ground once part of the mill pond which supplied the huge waterwheel that drove the machinery in the mill.  When water power was later supplemented by a steam engine, the lake was partially filled in and fruit trees planted.  Despite guarded by a high brick wall, the orchard proved an irresistible temptation to local lads who were always alert for ‘scrumping’ possibilities.  (Some orchard owners sited their beehives among the apple trees, not just for the purpose of pollinating, but to act as a deterrent).  By the middle of the twentieth century the fruit trees at the Silk Mill were past their useful life.

Another area known as Dunsley Orchard was sited off the London Road near the cricket ground.  This was probably one of the oldest fruit-growing areas in the town, as it can be seen defined as an orchard on an estate map of 1719.  In 1938, the 1.3 acre site was offered for sale during the dispersal of the Tring Park properties.  Nearby at The Bothy, the home of the unmarried gardeners on the estate, a small orchard of pyramid apple trees was planted in front of the house, and these were never allowed to get beyond ten feet high.

W. J. Rodwell, who in Tring founded the soft-drinks company that still bears his name, died in 1958, aged 90.  He was a versatile man who in his youth had undertaken every task on his father’s farm.  Later he studied land surveying, and learned the process of straw plaiting (his father was a wholesaler of straw).  He was also widely known for his skill as a horticulturist and fruit grower, and owned nearly 40 acres of orchard land in Aston Clinton, where he cultivated apples and stone fruits, including the Aylesbury Prune.  Towards the end of World War I when food supplies were scarce, William Rodwell was able to help in an active way.  In 1917 he supplied over 200 tons of fruit to the Government for drying and preserving, for which the Ministry of Food requisitioned thousands of hampers.  Problems arose when these were reclaimed by their owners, and William’s business acumen then came to the fore.  He promptly acquired 50,000 rectangular baskets which had been the standard container for carrying howitzer shells.  Stripped of their internal fittings, these proved an ideal way to transport the fruit.  In a central depot at the Old Maltings in New Mill as many as 3,400 baskets were packed and despatched in one day.  The centre provided welcome employment for over one hundred mostly home workers, women, and young people.

The year 1917 must have been excellent for its yield of apples.  It is recorded that in September a man from Tring carried a sack full of fruit to the outlying villages hoping to sell the contents.  Alas, he could not find a single buyer and, rather than carry his heavy load back, he dumped it in the road and said to the villagers “help yourselves” which, of course, they did.

The story of the last working orchard in Tring is interesting.  After the horrors and hardships of World War I ‘Homes Fit for Heroes’ was a common phrase heard for many years afterwards.  First uttered by David Lloyd George when campaigning during the ‘Khaki Election’ of 1918, like many Government promises it did not entirely live up to expectations.  An Act of 1919 gave local authorities the task of helping to secure improvements in working-class housing, as well as land on which to run small-holdings.  The owners of the Tring Park estate offered Dunsley Farm to Herts. County Council for this latter use, a gift which was accepted gratefully.  The Council however requested that the farm land fronting Station Road might be reserved for better-class housing, and this eventually proved to be the case.

A Tring-born man, Walter Wilkins, became the tenant of the farmhouse, and another ex-serviceman also benefitted from the new scheme.  Andrew Jeacock, from Warwickshire, was fortunate to be granted an area of four acres off Cow Lane.  A timber-framed and elm-weatherboard bungalow and barn were constructed on the site, and apple and plum trees were planted.  Andrew combined this work with his job as gardener to Miss Williams at Hawkwell in Station Road, and as Green Ranger at Tring Bowls Club.  Until 1959 he lived at Dunsley Bungalow, when his life ended tragically at age 75.  Although suffering from advanced Parkinson’s Disease, Andrew continued to potter on his small-holding.  One bright August morning he busied himself in the orchard, burning some dry grass.  There, he stumbled over an anthill and fell into the fire.

During the following years the bungalow had several different occupants including one tenant who tapped the existing well to lay on piped water to the orchard.  Others used the property as the base for a kennel business.

In 2003 came the threat of redevelopment when the Dunsley Action Group was formed to fight proposed building plans.  Martin Hicks is an ecologist who for 18 years has lived at Dunsley Bungalow, and holds the farm tenancy for two acres.  He has maintained much of the original orchard, which yields up to 3,500 lbs of apples and plums.  Martin was instrumental in starting Tring’s Own brand of apple juice, supplied in green bottles which contain the juice from the organically-grown apples at Dunsley, as well as from an orchard in Cheddington.

To members of Tring Environmental Forum the threat of demolition of the bungalow and the construction of thirteen dwellings on the site in Cow Lane was a call to action.  Their efforts were not helped by Herts County Council’s decision to commission an independent ecological report contesting the Wildlife Status of the area.  In 2004 English Heritage Inspectors visited the site in Cow Lane.  In the report, one of the inspectors wrote “It is a rare, well documented, almost unaltered example of a home fit for heroes, and still within the managed holding.”  They decided that the whole site, including the 1920s bungalow, piggery, and cart shed, had sufficient historical interest to warrant Grade II listing.Misteltoe
 

Mistletoe in the Cato family garden, 1898

Until the second world war, an orchard of mixed fruit trees extended for a considerable distance close to the Icknield Way, in an area known as Dundale.  This was part of the pleasure gardens of the Tring Park estate, and natural springs were dammed to form a sizeable lake which was stocked with brown trout and waterfowl.  In the centre of thick woodland, a large lodge house was erected for the use of Lord Rothschild’s fishing parties.  In 1950, to save it from development, the woodland part of Dundale was bought for £4,000 by Joseph Eggleton.  For many years he maintained it as his own private wildlife park.  Later, the area became overgrown, the lake clogged, and the house dilapidated.  Modern housing now covers part of the site, but the remaining lake and woodland have been preserved within a Conservation area.

Apple trees are often the preferred host of the Mistletoe plant, and this used to provide a welcome seasonal supplement to owners of orchards.  An evergreen plant which mainly relies on propagation by birds, Mistletoe may have taken its name from the Missel Thrush.  Its appearance is random, and it is a plant that is extremely difficult to cultivate by deliberate methods.  Although semi-parasitic and gaining nutrients from its host tree, it causes little damage and its appearance is generally welcomed by fruit growers.  A remarkable mass of Mistletoe in a garden in Tring was featured in 1898 in The Strand magazine, with a photograph of the proud Cato family, including their dog.


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CHAPTER 9

ALLOTMENT GARDENS
 

The work of a garden bears visible fruits
in a world where most of our labours seem
suspiciously meaningless.

Pam Brown, b.1928


Tring Charities, established in the seventeenth century, provided benefits to the 'deserving poor' of Tring and its Rural Parishes.  This was achieved in various ways, including land for allotments on which people could grow vegetables in their spare time (although quite what spare time was available in those days of long working hours and prohibited work on Sundays is hard to imagine).  The records show that poor folk put their efforts into cultivation of root vegetables, usually turnips, as these were more filling and had the added advantage that they could be stored during the winter months.

The General Inclosure Acts of 1804 and 1881 altered the original holdings in Tring and district, and by the end of the Victorian period Tring Charities allotment gardens included land at Mortimer Hill, and Harry’s Ash Allotments.  These were in addition to areas at New Mill, at Bunstrux, and near Tring Station.  A site in Tring Park off Hastoe Lane was cultivated as allotment gardens by tenants of Louisa Cottages almshouses.  All the villages in the Tring area had plots for rent, owned either by the respective parish, charity trustees, or benevolent private landowners.

Before World War I, an account in the local paper states that allotment holders sometimes flouted the rules.  Complaints were voiced that areas intended only for the cultivation of vegetables were littered with sheds, pigsties and nondescript buildings, and that some plots were not even well tended.  Afterwards the situation changed markedly, when men returning from military service needed to feed their large families.  An Act of 1922 defined Allotment Gardens as small plots (not exceeding 40 poles in length), owned sometimes by private individuals but usually by local authorities.  These had to be wholly or mainly cultivated by the tenant for production of vegetables and/or fruit crops.

Even before the 1922 Act was passed, it was apparent that the number of allotments in Tring was insufficient.  As was often the way with local difficulties, an appeal was made by the Council to Lord Rothschild asking for the release of some land at the western end of the town.  After negotiation, four acres in Duckmore Lane were relinquished by a local farmer.  It was no surprise that the fifty-eight plots were taken up immediately for, although the rent was 5s.0d. a year, the Rothschild estate issued all allotment holders with a voucher for 7s.6d., exchangeable for beef at Christmas.  The only stipulation set to growers by Lord Rothschild was that a root of rhubarb should be planted on each allotment, some of which are still there to this day.  (Why his lordship was fixated on this particular plant is not known, but he may have been aware that rhubarb was well-known for one particular medical property.)

Three years later it was decided to form an Allotment Protection Society, and Frank Brown, a senior partner in the firm W. Brown & Co. (later Brown & Merry) accepted the Presidency.  Rules were tightened, and holders were served notice to quit if they did not maintain their plots in good condition.  In that year it was decided to change the name from Tring Allotment & Gardeners’ Protection Association to Tring Horticultural & Allotment Holders’ Society (it was said the old name was unwieldy, although the new name did not exactly trip off the tongue!)  In those days when money was tight, potatoes were an important item for any family.  The Society obtained seed potatoes at an advantageous price and sold these to members at Butcher’s Farm in Frogmore Street.  As well as King Edward and varieties still familiar, these included long-forgotten names such as Great Scot, Sharpes Express, Eclipse, Majestic, Catriona, and Dargill Early.

The young folk of the town were also encouraged to join in, and William Rodwell offered a piece of land for use by the Tring troop of Boy Scouts.  It is amazing to read now that eighty scouts eagerly took up plots in order to compete for their proficiency badges in gardening, with the remainder of the ground being used as a general troop plot.  This activity was viewed as sufficiently important for Arthur Dye, head gardener to Lord Rothschild, to inspect the site and award additional prizes.

Seventy years on, the situation is now very different and, with a huge choice of vegetables from all round the world available in supermarkets, far fewer people are interested in cultivating an allotment.  Many of Tring’s old allotments are covered with houses, but some plots do remain.  Tring Charities still own and manage 23 allotments at Mortimer Hill, and also at Potash Lane, Long Marston, which is partly owned with the Church.  The Hastoe Lane plots continue to be cultivated, and Tring Town Council own and manage a small site at Bulbourne, and a larger one at Duckmore Lane (part of which has been planted with the Millennium Wood, an initiative launched to benefit the town and to support the Iain Rennie Hospice at Home.  Over 1,000 saplings were planted, and are growing well).

An Allotments Committee now oversee improvements to the area, and a group of enthusiasts run the Allotments Association, offering suggestions, obtaining seeds at discounted prices, and exchanging ideas and help.


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CHAPTER 10

PLANTS FROM ABROAD
 

Different flowers look good
to different people

Chinese proverb


Some gardeners have found that a chance encounter with one particular species of plant captures their imagination, and they then often become ‘hooked’ for life.  This has proven to be the case for several Tring gardeners who specialised in the cultivation of exotic plants from far-away places.

When Christopher Parslow of Hastoe was incapacitated following injury sustained during his army service in the Great War, he was unable to work or undertake any heavy gardening.  An iron brace supported his injured leg, and Chris spent many hours sitting down, often in his greenhouse, enjoying his large collection of cacti.  He must have been pleased when his young nephew, Leslie, showed signs of inheriting his interest.  Having built up a cacti collection of his own, Les could not bear to be parted from some specimens that even accompanied him when he served with the RAF.  Naturally, the cacti were not left behind when he lived in London, and later in a flat in Tring.  By the time Les and his family settled in a house in Meadow Road, the collection contained hundreds of different varieties.  He became an enthusiastic member of the local branch of the National Cactus Society and as his knowledge grew he exhibited and won prizes at County level, as well as at local shows.  He was recognised as an authority on the subject, and in demand for talks and slide shows.
 

Leslie Parslow with his cacti

When Rodney Sims married in the early 1960s, he joined Tring Horticultural Society to obtain some tips to apply in his new garden at Nathaniel Walk.  At a meeting where Les Parslow was giving a demonstration on lithops (small wonders of Nature which are often called ‘Living Stones’), Rodney caught the cactus bug.  He and Les became friends and travelled together to meetings and shows.  Later he held many offices on the committees of both the Tring Horticultural Society and the Berkhamsted branch of what is now named the British Cactus & Succulent Society.  His collection numbers hundreds of examples of every imaginable type, and fills a large greenhouse, several cold frames, and outside racks for the varieties which withstand frost.  Rodney’s finest achievement was in 2004 when he won first prize at the National show with his 30-year old Aloe Pearsonii a native of South Africa.  This beautiful plant has cascading red-green leaves and an orange flower in summer.

Those knowing nothing of cacti often quote “cacti thrive on neglect” and “they only flower every seven years”.  Both statements are quite untrue.  The best results are obtained from a good open compost mixture, watering in the summer months, and never allowing the plant to stand in stagnant water.  If they are well tended in this way, most should flower every year.  (However much attention is lavished, none should expect gratitude from their cactus plants, and should keep a pair of tweezers handy to extract spines from their fingers.)  Cacti are an amazingly versatile genus, some growing in the hottest deserts whilst others survive under snow for much of their lives.  As with succulents, which vary in size from the giant Baobab Tree to tiny plants only millimetres in height, cacti can be slender, fat, droopy, or bushy.  It is a not a hobby for the impatient, as some species take thirty years or more to mature.

When Les Parslow died, his huge collection was dispersed, some specimens going to members of the Horticultural Society, and others to Little Heath Nursery at Potten End.  The annual presentation of the Parslow Cup at the local branch of the British Cactus & Succulent Society ensures that his name is remembered in the cacti world.  At the end of the nineteenth century those who undertook the serious study of natural history were expected to have good knowledge of botany.  Walter Rothschild, his brother Charles, and Karl Jordan (his curator at Tring Museum), all became deeply interested in this branch of science.  Collecting expeditions to different parts of the world enabled them to bring back exotic species which they tried, with varying success, to propagate in England.  Karl Jordan’s large garden at his home in Aylesbury Road, Tring, was filled with specimens gathered on his travels to Europe and North Africa.

Whenever Walter Rothschild was abroad he sent back copious lists of plants he had seen.  As time went on, his main interest centred on the tricky science of orchid-growing.  He was definitely not a ‘hands-on’ gardener, but used the facilities of the Tring Park estate (see Chapter 4) to support his hobby.  The huge run of glasshouses and an army of gardeners ensured that his planting experiments could be put into practice without difficulty.  He kept meticulous notes of his collection, and became so knowledgeable that the Royal Horticultural Society awarded him the Victorian Medal of Honour.  Altogether fourteen species and sub-species of plants were named after him, including five orchids.  Among these were the Anthurium Rothschildianum, and the glorious Vanda Rothchildiana.  This is now rare in the wild, and in 1993 featured on an English postage stamp.


Vanda Rothschildiana, named in honour of Walter Rothschild


It is certain that Walter Rothschild could not have achieved his success without the expertise of Arthur Dye, the head gardener at Tring Park (see Chapter 5).  Arthur’s skill was acknowledged when in 1906 he was appointed to the prestigious Orchids Committee of the RHS, where he served for thirty years.  During the Edwardian period, many medals were awarded by the Society for specimens grown at Tring, these usually being presented to Walter, as it was then the custom to give the owner credit for cultivation.  However, two were won by Arthur Dye in his own right the Silver Lindley Medal for a specimen he had tended for thirty years, and the Silver-gilt Lindley Medal for Gloriosa Rothschildiana, in recognition of his distinction in introducing this plant to horticulture.  Also known as the Flame Lily, this magnificent red and gold climber is now grown in many parts of the world, particularly in botanical gardens.  Arthur was assisted in his work by Robert Warrior, a young Yorkshireman recruited by Walter for his specialist knowledge of orchid-growing.  When he married a local girl, Robert gave up his gardening career in favour of running her father’s bakery business in Akeman Street.


RHS medals awarded for plants cultivated by Arthur Dye


In 1907 Walter Rothschild was again honoured by the RHS with the award of a Silver Banksian Medal for an especially fine specimen of the Australian Giant Lily, Doryanthis Excelsa.  Rarely seen in England, this spectacular exhibit was over ten feet in height, and bore a splendid flower.  Other exotic plants were also grown under glass at Tring Park, and one house was devoted entirely to the Amaryllis collection.  In another house were the Croton, Caladium, Alocasias, Dracænas, as well as varieties of the Coleus.

Charles Rothschild, like his brother, had a passion for orchids.  When he established his own home, Aston Wold in Northamptonshire, he chose some of the rarer species from the 2,000 at Tring to take to his hothouses: he also appointed a head gardener trained by Arthur Dye.  This enabled him to present to his father on his 70th birthday a pure white Cattleya, which at the time was considered a miracle.  On a later collecting trip to Lake Victoria, Charles brought home the corms and seeds of the blue Water Lily.  To cultivate these, he built a special greenhouse at Aston Wold where they grew to an enormous size, and it was these flowers that were strewn on Walter Rothschild’s coffin on its final journey from Tring to Willesden Jewish Cemetery.

Another enthusiastic grower of foreign plants was Jan Stevens, a distinguished literary critic.  A native of South Africa, he was sent to England to be educated after his mother drowned.  In the 1950s he bought Chapel End Farm at Wilstone, together with the adjoining Church Field.  The beautiful house, parts of which date to Tudor times, had a large conservatory where Jan grew exotic plants, many from abroad.  His London connections and dealings with Kew Gardens ensured that the opening ceremony of the village annual horticultural show was usually performed by interesting personalities including, in 1954, the actor Donald Sinden.

As the twentieth century progressed, opportunities for individuals to pursue unusual gardening passions dwindled, and vast hothouses in private gardens have become a thing of the past.  But most of us are fascinated by foreign plants and, as an afterthought, how many of us at some time in our lives have planted an orange or lemon pip in a flowerpot to see if it will take root and grow into a little tree?


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CHAPTER 11

SCHOOL GARDENS
 

For, long ago, the truth to say,
He has grown up and gone away
And it is but a child of air
That lingers in the garden there.

Robert Louis Stevenson
(1850-1894)


During World War I certain compulsory measures, strongly supported by the Prime Minister, were introduced to help the war effort.  It was apparent then that national food shortages would continue for some time after the conflict was over, and so it was considered essential that schools should maintain their own garden areas.  As early as 1914 the County Schools’ Gardening Instructor had arrived in Tring to urge the Headmaster to include gardening on the timetable.

A fertile plot near the centre of the town could not be found and, despite spasmodic attempts to locate a suitable area, it was not until four years later that the subject of Gardening was introduced at Tring School.  The project had inauspicious beginnings, for in the first week one boy was rushed to hospital with a fork through his foot.

This gardening plot was sold for building land, but a second site was found off Dundale Road.  County Advisers continued to pay regular visits offering advice on the growing of potatoes and other vegetables.  Mr Dawe, the Instructor, took each class for half a day every week but seemed to find his duties taxing, as the school log-book records that sometimes Mr Dawe was too tired to turn up.  He was succeeded by Ernest Gilbert who, until joining the army in 1916, had been head gardener at Champneys.

Matters then settled down and gardening became very much an accepted part of the school curriculum, and it remained an important subject for forty years.  The next headmaster took a particular interest in gardening activities, and appointed the school caretaker, Ted Brittain, as garden instructor.  In his book, thoroughness was everything, and any pupil who upset him by being ‘too smart’ was always given the hard task of double-digging.  However, Ted’s efforts paid off, and the School entered a display of vegetables at the Watford & Home Counties Horticultural Society, which was judged good enough to be awarded the Lady Salisbury Challenge Shield.

Some villages also had school gardens, and those at Wigginton were in Hemp Lane.  Visits from inspectors were a regular occurrence, and advice was given on pruning and setting plants.  The oldest children had their own little areas to look after, and competition for the best kept plot was keen.  Training was given in the care of tools, which had to be cleaned after use, smeared with oil, and hung up in their correct place.  A thermometer and rain-gauge hung outside, and one pupil was assigned to record the readings.



The importance of the School garden was again realised in the second war, when gardening periods on the timetable were doubled during the potato harvest.  The School made its own contribution throughout the period of the Dig for Victory campaign.  In the summer holiday of 1942 it was suggested that the school should remain open for pupils who wanted to tend the garden, but it is not recorded whether any were sufficiently interested.  During the London blitz, children evacuated to Tring were encouraged by their teachers to grow vegetables on special allotment areas allocated by the Council.  Things did not always go well for them, as the local paper reports that thefts of produce often occurred during the night.

By this time, the School garden was located on a plot in the grounds of Hawkwell House in Station Road, but a new teacher of Rural Science decided to improve the children’s knowledge of gardening.  Soon his enthusiasm led the young horticulturists to develop a viable small holding at Mortimer Hill.  The vegetables and fruit grown were sold cheaply to pupils.

As the years went by, teaching demands changed and as time could not be found to maintain the fruit trees and bushes, the area eventually disappeared beneath asphalt to become the school’s tennis courts.

In modern times various gardens have been created at Tring schools, but these days the purpose is not for economic reasons, but directed at learning and play.  A good example is at Grove Road Primary School where the children have been encouraged to help to keep the garden area tidy by clearing weeds and leaves.  Pupils no longer have to undertake double-digging under the stern eye of a garden instructor, but instead plant hundreds of bulbs and various types of herbs.


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CHAPTER 12

MEMORIAL GARDENS
 

There’s Rosemary, that’s for remembrance;
Pray you, love, remember:
And there is Pansies, that’s for thoughts.

William Shakespeare



Tring Memorial Gardens


In March 1947 a questionnaire was circulated in the town to canvass opinion about how best to honour Tring’s war dead.  The outcome was 107 votes for a sports centre, 67 for improvements to the Victoria Hall, and 180 for a public garden with a paddling pool.  Possibly the absence of a definite project led to a disappointing and rather shameful response to the accompanying appeal for funds.  The Council decided that the paltry sum collected of £20 6s.2d. could only finance the addition of names of the fallen to be added to the existing memorial in front of the parish church.

Disquiet over this outcome led Tring to wake up, and three months later a public meeting was held and a committee of twelve members elected to launch a firm appeal with the target of raising £5,000.  The stated objective of the scheme was to provide a fitting memorial (other than a monument) to those who had fallen in World War II, as well as a thanksgiving for those who had returned home safely.

Considerable interest was taken in this new appeal fund, and a well-known Tring shopkeeper came up with a novel idea to start the ball rolling.  He suggested that businessmen should give £1 for every year they had been trading in the town.  On this basis, his own welcome contribution amounted to £25, and others soon followed his example.  The committee again invited suggestions as to the form the memorial should take.  Among the ideas put forward was a swimming pool, but the Council considered the running costs would be too great.  Eventually, and after much debate, it was decided to create a Garden of Remembrance in the old water garden of the Tring Park estate.

This area had been created in the 1890s when several properties in the Lower High Street were demolished.  These included Rose Cottage, once the home of a Tring solicitor, and the Green Man, an early-Victorian pub.  A large irregular-shaped lake was dug out and planted with different species of water-lily, and the whole surrounded by abundant picturesque planting.  The entire garden was hidden from view from the main road by a high brick wall and a thick screen of trees and shrubs.

After the second world war, the lake and its surroundings presented a sorry sight.  For years, the area had suffered almost total neglect and had become overgrown, dark, and depressing.  Any idea that the water garden could revert to its former glory was clearly impossible, for it was realised that the number of gardeners required for its maintenance would never again be available in the modern world.  Instead it was thought that clearance of the area, resurfacing the lake bed, and some simple replanting would offer an acceptable and pleasing aspect as a public open space.

Even so, nothing happened swiftly.  Three years passed before the legal process of transferring the site to Council ownership was settled, and thereafter work proceeded slowly.  It was another three years before the garden was formally opened in June 1953, an event planned to coincide with the Coronation of Elizabeth II.  Over 200 people were present at the unveiling ceremony and dedication service conducted by the Reverend Lowdell, Vicar of Tring.

The garden was enjoyed for some years before it fell victim to mindless vandalism, but when Mrs Westron, widow of nurseryman Frank Westron (see Chapter 3) died in 1971 she bequeathed £50 to be spent on the Memorial Garden.  The Council then decided to use this sum towards repairing the damage.

Today the lake looks very different from how it was in the time of the Rothschilds.  All the vegetation surrounding the perimeter has been cleared, allowing an uninterrupted view of the magnificent Wellingtonia that towers over the northern end.  In recent years some alterations have taken place, following criticism that the approach to the gardens was dark and uninviting.  The Council then organised contractors to thin trees and shrubs bordering the entrance pathway, allowing more daylight through to provide a welcoming aspect.  In 2001 the lake had to be drained and the fish evacuated when it was necessary to investigate the cause of serious water seepage.  A bad crack in the concrete base was discovered, repaired, and four carp returned to the water following their sojourn at a nearby fish farm.

Members of the Tring branch of the British Legion attended a reopening ceremony, and presented a plaque listing the names of those men from the town killed in World War II.  This is mounted on the brick gate-pillar at the entrance to the garden.
 

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From CRAIGCROOK CASTLE
by Gerald Massey
(‘The Tring Poet’ 1828-1905)


The breath of Dawn brought God’s good-morning kiss
To bud and leaf and flower, and human hearts
That like pond-lilies open heavenward eyes.
Sweet Lilies-of-the-Valley, tremulous fair,
Peep through their curtains clasped with diamond dew.
The Pansies, pretty little puritans,
Come peering up with merry eyes to see,
And arch Laburnum droops her budding gold
From emerald fingers, with such taking grace.
The Lilac is alight with all her stars:
Wall-flowers in fragrance burn themselves away
With the sweet season of her precious pyre;
Pure passionate aromas of the Rose,
And purple perfume of the Hyacinth,
Come like a colour thro’ the golden day.
A summer soul is in the Limes; they stand
Low murmuring honeyed things that wing forth bees;
Their busy whisperings done, the Poplars hush!
And toss their locks in frolic wantonness.
Deep after deep the generous heart of Spring,
Full of glad days, hath opened into bloom,
Ripe with all sweetness.


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SOURCES:


Tring Horticultural Society archives
Dacorum Heritage Store
Bucks Herald archives
Berkhamsted Gazette archives
Gardens of West Hertfordshire, Tom Williamson, 2000
The Gardeners’ Chronicle, July 1885
Country Life, September 1993
The Rothschild Gardens, Miriam Rothschild, 1996
Dear Lord Rothschild, Miriam Rothschild, 1983
Royal Horticultural Society records
Notes written by the late Bob Poland
The Life of Mrs Humphry Ward, Janet Trevelyan, 1923
That Tring Air, Arthur Macdonald, 1940
History of Tring, Sheila Richards, 1974
The History of Tring School, Clifford L. Watkins, 1993
Country Women at War, Ruth Lady Craufurd, 1971
A Wiggo Man, Danny Hearn, 1986
Kelly’s Trade Directories, 1856 to 1936
Chamber’s Encyclopædia


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Tring Garden Open Day, 1998


 

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