Tag Archives: Lavender

Henry Fowler, Last of the Lavender Growers

clip from Merton Memories photo, reference Mit_People_57-1, copyright London Borough of Merton.

Lavender grower who lived at Lavender House in Bond Road.

He had a stall at Covent Garden from 1882 to 1919, according to this article in the Hull Daily Mail of Monday 28 July 1919:-

Sweet Lavender.

Mr Henry Fowler, one of the largest dealers lavender in the country, who has large gardens at Mitcham, has retired from the Covent Garden stall which he has occupied for 37 years without a break. The first crop of lavender from Carshalton was cut on Saturday, and a few bunches were on sale in the streets.

After the First World War, the price of lavender had doubled, and was grown outside Mitcham, according to this article from 1920:

Mitcham Lavender Dearer.

The first cut of Mitcham lavender, which is ready for market a fortnight earlier this season, has been made by Mr Henry Fowler, of Lavender Nursery, Bond-road, Mitcham, known as the last of the growers. –

It is 1s 6d a bunch this season, which is more than double the pre-war price. The crop, though small, is in fine bloom. Most of it is grown just outside Mitcham, at Wallington and Carshalton.

From the West Sussex County Times – Saturday 17 July 1920.

In 1921 the price was five times that before the war, he said in this article from the Daily Herald of Monday 18 July 1921:

SWEET LAVENDER

Once Flourishing Trade Now Almost Extinct

For the first time in Mitcham’s history, the lavender season has opened without even a sprig of the sweet-smelling plant being on sale in the town.

“It doesn’t pay to handle it nowadays,” said Henry Fowler, well known at Covent Garden as “the last of the Mitcham lavender kings,” to DAILY HERALD representative, “although never do I remember such a figure it fetched in Garden yesterday — 20s. a bundle. Before the war I sold for 4s.!”

Mr. Fowler, who is 76, used to sell as much as 20 tons a season. All the “Mitcham lavender” (offshoots from the original Mitcham stock) is now grown at Carshalton, a neighbouring place, by a Beddington firm of market gardeners.

There are only about five acres left, but next year, Mr. Fowler said, there would be more grown. “And then I shall dabble in it again.”

Mitcham soil grows the finest lavender in the world, but the market gardeners say that other flowers and vegatables are more profitable. Moreover, all the land will soon commandeered for manufacturing purposes.

Distilling lavender is still a big trade in Mitcham, much of the plant coming from Hitchin, Worthing, and other places.

“It is the first time for 40 years I have never had lavender to sell,” were Mr. Fowler’s parting words.

A large lavender distillery was run by W.J. Bush & Co. Ltd.


Henry Fowler had been born around 1846 in Dunstable, Hertfordshire. When he was 35 he was a florist’s labourer according to the 1881 census, which shows him as living at number 6, Dixon’s Cottages (near the present day Gardeners Arms in London Road). In the 1911 census he is listed as a florist, aged 65, with his wife Anna 72, and daughter Nellie 39.

He died in 1925, as reported locally and in the West Sussex Gazette – Thursday 26 March 1925:

Mr. Henry Fowler, the “Lavender King,” hes died. For over 40 years he supplied Covent Garden market with big consignments of lavender. Since 1922 he had been out of the business.

Note that lavender is still grown in Carshalton.

News articles are from the British Newspaper Archives, which requires a subscription.

Peppermint in 1875

From The Canadian Pharmaceutical Journal, Volume IX, 1875-6, pages 127-130, a free Google ebook.

PEPPERMINT

The peppermint that clothes the fields and scents the lanes in the parishes of Mitcham and Carshalton, although an indigenous plant in England, is not supposed to have been generally used until the middle of the last century, and afterwards, upon the recommendation of the English herbalists, it was introduced into Germany,
where it has since been employed in medicine. The experience of one hundred years has not detracted from the acknowledged excellence of the qualities of the plant, but has completely established its hold upon the tastes of all classes of the population, both high and low. There is said to be nothing new under the sun, and this adage is confirmed by all our discoveries amid the buried and mouldering antiquities of the past. It is not, therefore, any subject for surprise that amongst the classical authors we should meet with references to the peppermint. That universal naturalist Pliny has not allowed this herb to escape his attention, for he mentions in one of his books that it is not possible for a stranger to pay a visit in the country to a husbandman and there to partake—as no doubt he often did himself whilst upon his botanizing excursions — of the frugal fare offered without discovering that all meats from one end to the other of the table were seasoned with mint. He also tells us of the uses to which this plant was put in the dairies, where, being placed in the milk, it prevented the same from curding or turning sour, and this quality might be easily tested at the present day. It appears that Ovid, who was another lover of nature and depictor of rural scenes, in his story of Baucis and Philemon mentions that the rustics perfumed or scoured their tables with this herb before they sat down to supper. In these lines he says :

Then rubbed it o’er with newly gathered mint,
A wholesome herb, that breathed a grateful scent.

There are three different species—peppermint, spear mint or mintha mint, and pennyroyal, all cultivated in a similar manner. The mode of propagation is from young plants which spring from runners. Early in the spring, during the months of April and May, the plants are drawn and placed in rows, the space between varying
according to the custom of each grower from one foot to eighteen inches. One of the most experienced growers at Mitcham adopts the latter distance, which he finds more favorable to the strong and healthy growth of the plant. By placing them closer, although a larger number are contained upon an acre of land, the amount of produce is diminished by the crowding. The opportunity of showery weather should be taken to place the cuttings, each five or six inches in length, about half way into the earth. The first season they require to be constantly attended to during the weeding-time, and should receive six or more hoeings, which essential part of the
cultivation should be scrupulously attended to every succeeding year, otherwise the quality of the oil would be injured in the distilling process. In the months of October, November, and December the beds are trenched like asparagus, the earth being piled up between the trenches to the width of three or four feet and of sufficient depth to protect the roots during winter. The fields are ploughed
up and changed every five years, the first crop being generally the most abundant and the purest. The qualities of soil best suited are moist and loamy, and the effect produced by the soil is more striking in the case of peppermint than in any other plant. Two crops of peppermint standing side by side indicate when distilled considerable difference in the yield of oil; and the larger quantity is not
unfrequently obtained from that crop which presented the least promising appearance. It has been remarked by many growers both at Carshalton and Mitcham that peppermint plants raised at the latter place and laid out at the former, although an adjacent parish, yield a very different product when distilled, both in the aroma of the oil and the quantity obtained.

At Mitcham, which is the original seat of the cultivation, most growers supply large, but evidently insufficient, quantities of manure to their land; as the yield is continually diminishing others plant potatoes after peppermint, then renew the soil with manure and again plant peppermint. For some reasons, however, the productions is considerably reduced, although a walk of several miles
around the neighborhood, embracing Sutton, Bumstead, Wallington, and Beddington, will show that the peppermint and the lavender are peeping out in many places that were formerly occupied by ordinary agriculture. Within our knowledge persons have been obliged to give up their residence at Wallington, where, during certain months, the air has been found to be oppressive and unbearable in consequence of the perfume of the surrounding fields. The reverse has taken place at Mitcham, for, as we were informed, a large farm, consisting of more than a thousand acres, which was a few years ago laid out with lavender, peppermint, roses, camomile, etc.,
is now wholly employed for the production of the cereal crops, and the majority of growers, rather than incur the risk of this description of farming, prefer to lay out their land with culinary vegetables. The uncertainty of the seasons in England and the introduction of foreign produce are alleged as the causes of this change, but we should rather attribute it to some fault in the cultivation or else that
the earth has been exhausted of certain of its chemical properties. There is scarcely any prettier or more charming sight to be witnessed than an August morning or afternoon, when the sun is shining brightly upon the golden fields of wheat interspersed amongst the varied purple colors of the lavender, the sombre hues of the peppermint and the sparkling brilliancy of the white camomile flower.

Any person who wishes to satisfy his curiosity can easily do so by taking the rail to Wallington, Sutton, or Mitcham. At either place he cannot fail to be amply requited for the trouble and trifling expense incurred by such a short and accessible excursion from the metropolis.

The harvesting takes place during the months of July and August, according to the propitious character or otherwise of the season. The produce varies from four to six tons per acre, the average being five tons, but the amount of oil yielded bears no definite relation to the quantity of the plant. When the summer has proved
wet and cold, the plants, although bulky, have been known to produce only a small proportion of oil, and in other years, when the season has been warm and dry, the reverse has been the case, and small plants have yielded a double quantity of the oil. The spearmint produces about half as much as the peppermint, and it is therefore grown only in sufficient quantity to meet the actual demand, and in the absence of orders beforehand, the ground is otherwise appropriated. A native of this country, it may be seen growing wild in marshy places and around ponds. It has a strong aromatic odor, with a warm and slightly bitter taste, which is less pungent but more agreeable than that of peppermint.

The oil of spearmint, which is of a pale yellow or greenish color when fresh, becomes darker with age, and ultimately of a mahogany color, and is used for the same purpose as the peppermint. In the spring the young leaves and tops are used with salads, or mixed with certain dishes, such as peas, etc., or made to flavor soups. Pennyroyal is the least valuable of the three species of mint. This plant was formerly called “pudding grass,” from the old custom of using it in hog
puddings, also “run by the ground” and “lurk in the ditch,” from its creeping nature and preference for damp soils. How its name became converted is not known, but great quantities are said to have been brought to market from a common near London, called Mile’s End, in the time of Queen Elizabeth.

The peppermint plant is generally cut about the latter part of August, and placed in small cocks like those of hay, which are allowed to stand in the fields some days before being taken in for distillation. At the beginning of the present century there were no stills at Mitcham, and the herb was sold fresh. Since then many of these buildings have been erected both at Mitcham and Wallington, where the smoke from the chimneys may be seen during the harvest season. Messrs. Piesse & Lubin, the celebrated perfumers, of Bond Street, have a distillery upon the high road to Mitcham, where the process may be witnessed upon an introduction to the firm. The whole apparatus is exceedingly simple. It consists of a boiler for
raising steam, a still made of wood for receiving the charges of peppermint, a cooler for cooling the oil, and a receiver into which it flows. The plants are packed into the wooden still and trampled down with the feet. When a full charge is thus ready, the lid of the still is put on and steam admitted at the bottom by a pipe from the boiler. When the peppermint is heated to about 212 degrees Fahrenheit the essential oil passes over with the steam into a worm, which is placed in a cooler, and as it condenses into oil and water, it then passes out of the worm into a converted receiver, where the oil as it floats on the surface is lifted out with dippers, is then placed in tin cans, and becomes ready for sale. The refuse mint taken from the still is placed in piles, dried, and then makes tolorable fodder for
sheep.

The consumption in this country, as may be supposed, is very considerable, for as many as 12,000 lbs. of the oil are imported from abroad. The quality of the English grown is, however, so superior that a large export likewise takes place. At the great French Exhibition of Industry, held in Paris in 1855, which might be regarded as a crucial test, in competition with such excellent perfumers as the French manufacturers are known to be, the oil prepared in this country was considered the best then exhibited.

There has lately been a new kind of crystallized peppermint oil introduced from Japan, but it is not known at present from which plant this oil is obtained ; but it is not greatly inferior in point of fragrance to the best Mitcham oil, and were a demand first to arise in this country from the confectioners and others, there is little doubt that it could be supplied at a lower price.

1902 photos of lavender harvest

The lavender harvest. From photographs taken at Mitcham, Surrey, during the latter part of August.

Source: The Sketch – Wednesday 10 September 1902 from the British Newspaper Archive (subscription required)

Cutters at work. This lavender is growing on four-year-old roots.

Cutters at work. This lavender is growing on four-year-old roots.

In the track of the reapers

In the track of the reapers

Collecting and placing the lavender in mats

Collecting and placing the lavender in mats

Pegging up the mats full of lavender

Pegging up the mats full of lavender

Carrying the mats of lavender to the waggon

Carrying the mats of lavender to the waggon

Loading the waggon with lavender for the distillery, where the essential oil is extracted

Loading the waggon with lavender for the distillery, where the essential oil is extracted

Mrs G.E. Armfield

From the Mitcham Advertiser, 28th November, 1947

Lavender Days Recalled

DEATH OF MRS. G. E. ARMFIELD

The funeral took place at Mitcham of Mrs. Gertrude Elizabeth Armfield, aged 82, formerly a prominent resident of Mitcham, who died at Dartford.

She was a daughter of one of the best known Lords of the Manor of Mitcham, Mr. James Bridger, celebrated in Victorian times as a lavender grower and the owner of one of the “physic gardens” by which the village of Mitcham aided the medical faculty of those days. His farm spread from behind the “Swan” public house in London Road to Tooting Junction.

Lavender Avenue and Lavender Grove on the Borough Council housing estate keep the public in mind of the rural glories and industries of the past.

The late County Councillor J. D. Drewett wrote in “Old Mitcham”: “Mitcham lavender and peppermint oils had a world-wide reputation. The largest was at Messrs. Bridger’s, next to the Swan Inn, which remained in operation till the revolution in cultivation occurred in Mitcham. Smaller distilleries were at Tamworth Farm, at Beddington Corner and Sutton . . . The Manor House (near the ‘Swan’) occupied by Mr. Bridger stood well back from the road, and was always redolent of peppermint and lavender essences emanating from the still-rooms actually inside the house. It was the stopping place for coaches to Epsom races and horses were changed there.”

LOVE AND LAVENDER

Opposite the Manor House was “The Chestnuts”, the residence of the Armfield family, one of the many well-to-do families that found pleasure in living in the Mitcham of half a century and more ago. “The Chestnuts,” now a block of flats at the corner of Locks Lane, was then a mansion of Georgian type completely isolated in its own extensive grounds, and Locks Lane, a real lane, bounded the southern side of the grounds. Graham Road and all about there was a part of the estate.

Miss Bridger and Mr. Frederick Armfield fell in love and soon after their marriage they left this district. In June, 1908. Mr. Armfield died at the age of 47. He was buried in Mitcham Parish churchyard.

GIFT TO PARISH CHURCH

In 1937 Mrs. Armfield visited Mitcham to present to the vicar (then the Rev. C. Aubrey Finch) a silver communion cup and paten for use in the church. It was inscribed, “In memory of the Bridger and Armfield families, June, 1937.” Both families were ardent supporters of the Parish Church. Mr. Bridger was one of the wardens for many years. The funeral service for Mrs. Armfield was conducted by the Rev. G. Lubbock, Vicar of Mitcham.

The Chestnuts is at what became known as Renshaws Corner.


In the Index of Wills and Administrations of 26th March 1947, she left £1,905 9s. 2d. to Dorothy Kathleen Atlee, spinster. In 2015 values, this amount is around £75,000.

Source: Ancestry