An article about "nurserymen" from Jim South written in March 1977.
The Nursery industry grew out of the market gardening that supplied London via Covent Garden. The Lea Valley was "natural" for this development. Within easy reach by horse drawn vehicles travelling by night, with "chain" horses stationed at places like Stamford Hill.
The alluvial soil that served market gardens of fruit growers was also level and suited the constructors of early "Vine" type glass houses. Water was available, boring wells was like putting a pin into a plastic pipe and, for example, ballast pits filled up as soon as they were abandoned.
Transport was well served by rail, road and canal. The main road, following roughly the Roman Ermine St. was the only access to London from much of East Anglia. The railways were built during the 19th century and the Lea canal carried coal, coke and timber. When I left Goffs Oak some coke was still carried by barge up the Lea. Until 1940 a great deal of coke came over from Belgium via this route.
Under pressure of housing and industrial developments, the industry was pushed North along the Lea Valley and while governed by horse transport it tended to congregate around an area from Cheshunt to Edmonton. When I started work at W H Cull, the produce was still taken to market in horse drawn vans. The vans, solidly built to protect delicate ferns etc, were loaded during the day. The horses were brought in, hitched and and after trudging through the night were unloaded at Covent Garden in the early morning. The carmen were often found asleep and wrapped in sacks and horse blankets as the horse took the produce to the market. Open carts that carried fruit, cucumbers and such crops often returned with loads of hay or manure from the many stables which then existed in London.
Crops under glass in the early days tended to be in the "luxury" class except for the long established bedding trade. As an aside, in 1934 bedding sold for 9d to 1/6d per box! and could be bought at "knock out time ie the end of the season for 6d per box. This year
Providing glasshouse grapes went when improved transport brought foreign grapes to Covent Garden in bulk. Millfield Nursery where I worked till 1935 still had two houses of Muscatel grapes when I left. This Nursery was built by H B May, at one time a big name in the Nursery world. He built and ran three nurseries, Millfield, one in Willoughby Lane near the site of the first South Pottery in Dysons Lane, and his last at Chingford. Millfield was mainly designed for grape production originally. Each year gangs of women went from Vinery to Vinery "thinning the grapes" with scissors similar to hair scissors. The undersized and deformed grapes were cut out.
The house plant trade has come full circle, W A Cullis was entirely devoted to fern and palm growing in 1927. When I left nearly four years later geraniums were taking over as the demand for pot plants faded. Now house plants are "in" in a big way. Rochfords at Turnford have what is virtually a production line laid out to produce these. It has meant survival for such as them but not necessarily much satisfaction for "growers".
As to names of personalities:
Joseph Rochford and Morris were contemporaries. When both were in a small way of business, they agreed to attend market alternately selling each other’s produce, thus reducing the time they lost on their holding. Morris proved the better salesman, gave up growing and went on to build the George Morris of today.
J Rochford’s rise is well recorded.
H B May whom I have mentioned was so well regarded he is mentioned in a book on fern culture published, I think, in the early twenties.
Percy Stewart managed his Nursery at Willoughby Lane until he set up in partnership with Chapman. He was a friend of Uncle Charles (South) who used to call for him when I was driving Uncle around and using him as technical adviser" to grower customers with problems.
Hills ran a Nursery by Edmonton Green and later moved to Broxbourne, I believe..
The Pollards started and built up their business in the Cheshunt area as pioneers at forcing roses under glass. Later growing carnations and tomatoes under several acres of glass. Legend has it that the founder Pollard was a City merchant in the cigar trade. He had a gardener who mastered the art of forcing roses. Old Pollard wore a fresh rose in his buttonhole each day the year round. This caused such comment he saw the possibility of commercial exploitation and never looked back.
Jo Stanbrooke at Goffs Oak moved out of North London. King Bros of Church St Edmonton (High class bedding).
Knight of Montague Lane later, Hoe St, Enfield.
Ripleys of Waltham Cross had two Nurseries but being Tomato and Cucumber growers were not big customers for pots.
Fairhurst, Thrustles, Charlie May, Finchams both father and son, Morgans, Hansen, are some of the names I remember in the Goffs Oak, Cuffley area.
Stuart Lows had, at one time, time, heir principal Nursery At Bush Hill Park. Amongst other crops they grew orchids.
Written by Jim South, March 1977.