The Story of Horticultural in Laindon and District

What is revealed from the of the papers of early days and the growth of the Laindon & District Horticultural Society

An examination of available material does not produce any evidence that the Laindon and District Horticultural Society existed prior to the 1939 date mentioned in Fed Taylors article. However, as early as 1934, contained in the “Laindon and Pitsea Recorder”, published on February 9th of that year, there is an article over the signature of a H. N. Hickman entitled “Garden Guild Notes”. The content of this article is such that the author recommends that brassicas should not be grown in the same location two years in succession and that root vegetables should not be grown in freshly-manured ground. No specific reference is made to any particular organisation in the article which remains couched in advisory terms throughout. The article’s author cannot be positively identified as a Laindon resident, although persons with the surname of Hickman were still resident in Claremont Road Laindon, Kimberley Road, Laindon and St. David’s Road Langdon Hills shortly after the end of World War II. 

The only other possible link with matters horticultural is an advertisement on another page of the same publication in which G. A. Baker, Nurseryman of High Road, Laindon tells us that he has a choice selection of vegetable seeds for spring sowing. He also informs us that he has a good supply of “mortege” in stock, should we still need to spray our fruit trees. Speaking from experience, it might seem that many of both the permanent and temporary residents of the area had apparently moved in because the availability of large tracts of land at a cheap price afforded them the opportunity to indulge a passion for gardening denied them elsewhere. For that reason it seems odd that so little appears in print that might be said to pander to that interest. 

Apart from a repetition in 1938 along similar lines of G.A. Baker’s advertisement detailed above and the fact that, in the same year, The Gables Nursery was in business on the Southend Arterial Road at its junction with Church Road, there is no great interest shown. Was this because so many “week-enders” found that so much of the short time they spent on their “plots” was taken up by the need to get the grass cut on the lawns that so many residents seemed to aspire to? Apart from those owners who put so much of their space over to the growing of fruit trees, a well-trimmed lawn did seem to be the most fashionable accessory to one’s residence, however humble that might be. Certainly Messrs Churchill-Johnson, Builder’s Merchant’s adverts made great play of the fact that they were agents for Qualcast Lawn Mowers. 

Apart from the examples above in the 1930s it is known that Alfred Cyster of Denbigh Road close to Laindon station had initially set up in the area early in the century as a nurseryman before moving into being a retail greengrocer and fruiterer in Laindon High Road and that “his” field was that on which his successor, Walter Townsend, opened up an alternative fruit and veg stall in the High Road after WW II. As is made quite plain by the recent actions of Walter’s son and grandson in Basildon Town Centre, a tradition was established and prevails which links these undertakings to plant propagation and all that this implies for the horticulturists of the area. The senior Townsend had deliberately moved, he once told me, to the area and taken over Liberty Hall with the express intent of advancing his own interests as a smallholder. 

What can be divined from these few facts plus the awareness that a firm like Cramphorns of Chelmsford, Miller, Corn, Seed and Cattle Cake Merchant also had a branch in Laindon High Road, is that many of the residents of district thought well beyond the mere hobby gardening stage and aspired to being smallholders themselves. What might just be lacking from this ambition was simply any need to belong to an organisation in which to share with others one’s expertise. This could well be a situation which only very special circumstances could change. Certainly, in Laindon, the smallholder ethic was well established as many people kept livestock, particularly poultry for their egg production, which is why Cramphorns and its counterpart, Simmonds, on the opposite of the High Road did well. In springtime, Cramphorns in particular, brought in plenty of seed potatoes to cater for local needs, it being considered that the heavy clay soil of the area lending itself to the crop. As I recall, potato growing was also recommended for recently cleared ground because the long neglected fields were riddled with twitch or couch grass and only the potato could survive against such competition. When, or if, the battle against weed infestation was won, the keener gardener who persisted went on to cultivate his or her favoured flower, most usually the rose in all its many forms and varieties. 

It was, however, the strange circumstances of WW II that, not surprisingly, altered these somewhat pedantry ambitions. Right from the very start of the war, there was massive Governmental propaganda under the title “Dig for Victory” directed at food production in the UK, so if the Laindon and District Horticultural Society does predate September 1939, then it certainly received a massive boost to its attempts to increase its membership from that date. By 1941, at the height of the German air force’s assault on London which resulted on many occasions in the Laindon district itself being bombed, reports in the local press reveal the extent of the Horticultural Society’s involvement in the on-going general efforts to: meet the Government’s requests: In the local paper (“The Laindon Recorder”) of 12th February it is reported by the Chairman of the Society, Mr. W. Cobb, supported by the President of the Society, Mrs. F Sired and the vice-chairman, Cllr. Pikesley, together with the secretary, Mr. P.W. Griggs, that at the Laindon and District Horticultural Society’s annual general meeting held in the British Legion Hall, the decision was made to resume monthly meetings, after a break of some months occasioned by the conditions created by the Battle of Britain during the last months of 1940. It was also reported that an executive committee had been set up composed of Messrs. Cobb, Griggs, Henbest, Hogg, Pearson, Pikesley and Mrs. Goldacre to run the Society’s affairs more or less continuously as long as the emergency situation prevailed. 

Because of the gravity of the food provision in the UK generally with rationing, the committee inaugurated a scheme for the sale of seeds, seed potatoes and fertiliser to its members. The treasurer, Mr. A.C. Henbest, announced that the Society had £20 in hand. A report in the same paper of 12th March 1941 it was stated that an audience of 40 members of the Horticultural Society heard a lecture by Mr. D. Ewing, principal of the Institute of Agriculture at Writtle supported by Mr. F. W. Schemmor of the Institute on growing potatoes with all their diseases, varieties and suitable fertilisers. On the 2nd April 1941, a letter appeared in the “Recorder” from F, J. Cobb, of “Northway”, Lee Chapel Lane, Langdon Hills, Chairman of Laindon and District Horticultural Society saying “may I beg space to call the attention to the showing of a special colour film “A Gardener Goes to War” at the Radion Cinema on the following Sunday together with a lecture by Mr. A.C. Baird” He goes on to say that if anybody needed an allotment to cultivate them they should apply to him for a speedy result. In a report on 9th April, the same paper reports that the aforesaid film and lecture had been attended by more than 150 people.

In the same issue Messrs Carey Bros Builders Merchants of Laindon High Road, who previously had only been advertising their building materials each week, added “Gardening Tools and Garden Lime” to their advert and continue to do so for all future issues of the paper. On the 7th May, Townsend and Son of Cyster’s Nursery, High Road, Laindon advertise that they have tomato and bedding plants for sale. 

The “Recorder” of 3rd September 1941 carried the following report:-“At the British Legion Hall the first Horticultural Show under the auspices of the Legion Horticultural Section was held on Thursday, the secretary being Mr. Bert Grimley. Mr Cobb and Cllr. Pikesley were invited to act as judges for this part of the show. The results were 1. Mrs Tubb, 2. Mr. Lambert 3. Mr. B. Grimley, 4. Mr. E Gobell. The three last named were presented with Certificates of Merit for their fruit and vegetables exhibits. Mrs. V M Shaw was also awarded a Certificate of Merit for a floral decoration representing the victory sign in the Legion’s colours and, together with Mrs. Harding was Highly Commended for an exhibition of jams. Pickles and pastries. Messrs. Cobb, Pikesley, Lynch, Sykes, Butler, Steer, Moss, Baker and Clifford also sent exhibits of fruit and vegetables not for exhibition. After the judging, the produce was sold and realised £8 for the benefit of Earl Haig’s Poppy AppealFund. Mr Grigg, Secretary of Laindon Horticultural Society acted as auctioneer. Refreshments were provided, the catering being in the hands of Mr A Lynch.” 

The “Recorder” of 17th of September 1941 reports that the Laindon and District Horticultural Society held a meeting at “The Hut Club” (Langdon Hills). In the chair was F J Cobb and the other officers, Mrs Sired (President) J Pikesley (Vice-chair), J W Griggs, (Secretary), A Henbest (Treasurer) and W Pearson (Supply Secretary) all attended. Competitions held and won included a 48 inch diameter pumpkin grown by A Vorley of Rayleigh and a one and a half pound potato grown by Mr Lambert. Cllr Pikesley spoke about the supply of sewer sludge from Barleylands as a substitute for farm manure and reported on a visit that had been made to the Institute of Agriculture. W Pearson advised on obtaining supplies of lime for use as a soil dressing. 

The “Recorder” edition of 5th November 1941 reports on a Billericay Urban District Council (BUDC) meeting that reveals that the BUDC had purchased a rotary hoe (presumably a Howard’s mechanical, motorised, machine as manufactured by Rotary Hoes Ltd at their East Horndon works) which was being made available for hire by ratepayers and others including persons living outside the BUDC area. The Council’s surveyor was instructed to adjudicate on any dispute that might arise over making the machine available to “outsiders”. At the same meeting the Clerk to the Council was told to purchase 15 tons of garden lime for distribution. Cllr Pikesley was reported as having indicated that the Laindon and District Horticultural Society, being run by only one or two people, wanted to prioritise the distribution of lime to its members but such a condition should not be imposed, but that it should go to all who needed it. 

In the “Recorder” of 12th November the following letter appears under the heading “The Member Denies It!” “Sir. In your issue of November 5, I am reported as having said that the Laindon and District Horticultural Society was run by one or two people. I made no such statement at the Council meeting on October 25 and I should be glad if you would be good enough to publish this disclaimer as it is grossly unfair to me. I rely on your sense of fairness to publish in your next issue. As vice Chairman of the Society, I have always given the Society and its members all the help and the benefit of years of experience. Yours faithfully James E Pikesley “The Outlook”, Green Lane, Lee Chapel, Laindon”.

In the “Recorder” issue of 19th November 1941 there is an item about the Society of Friends (Quakers) that was running a scheme to provide the unemployed, pensioners and “other needy folk” with allotments and that anybody interested should apply to the Honorary Secretary Mr. T W Griggs at 1, Kings Road, Laindon on the following Sunday between 11am and 1pm only. No further press reports have been traced.

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  • My late father’s papers state my grandfather, Herbert Ernest Bragg (1857-1936) was Secretary of the Laindon, Langdon Hills,and District, Amateur Horticultural Society for some time. He recalls how he enjoyed the Flower Shows held on August Bank Holiday alternately at The Crown Meadow and the Laindon Hotel grounds. The family lived at Hope Cottage, Langdon Hills.

    By Vivienne Salmon (22/10/2012)
  • TOne local trader who was invaluable pre-war to the local nurserymen was a Mr Gibbs, haulier, who would in the late afternoons visit the local nurserymen and collect their produce which had to arrive at Covent Garden market in the very early hours of the morning and would return with empty basketwork containers supplied by the wholesalers. He was also known on occasions to bring back greengocery for some of the local shops. In the winter he would continue his runs , but with flowers, usually chrysanthemums, grown locally to supply the demand of city dwellers.

    By William Diment (17/10/2011)

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