Fruit & flowers
There were market gardens growing fruit and flowers along the New Buckenham Turnpike (now the B1113) from early Victorian times. Norwich was 6 miles away or less; the markets in London, Birmingham and even Manchester could be reached by train from Swainsthorpe, Flordon, Hethersett and Wymondham stations. Bobbin's and Gray's nurseries are the last remnants of large businesses owned by the likes of Bobbin, Carver, Muskett and Church in Mulbarton, and 'pick-your-own' at Paddock Farm is a reminder that a number of farms in the area moved into fruit-growing for jam and other fruit-processing factories. Further south, Bracon Ash had thriving fruit and flower nurseries and even a vineyard....
(Above) Extract from Ordnance Survey map, 25 inches to 1 mile, published 1906, showing part of Hawkes Lane, Bracon Ash with buildings shaded with diagonal lines; glass-houses with xx lines. [Plot no 82, top left, has the old Village Hall beside the main road.]
The CHURCH dynasty
Kelly's Directories of 1892 and 1896 say of Bracon Ash: 'The
market gardens and forcing houses of Joseph Watts Church are on an extensive
scale and form a conspicuous object in the village....' Joseph Watts was one of a family of 'gardeners' of the same name. His grandfather, another Joseph Church (c.1769-1842), married Hannah Moore in Bracon Ash in 1803 and had 17 children baptised here between 1804 and 1824, father's occupation 'gardener'.
One daughter of Joseph & Hannah was Mary (bap. 1808) whose son William Church (born 1833) later became a prominent market gardener and florist (= flower grower) in Mulbarton. Mother and son were living with Mary's brother James in 1851.
This son of Joseph & Hannah, James (b. 1818), married Harriet Flood in Bracon Ash on 15th Oct. 1844. James is listed in 1861 as 'farmer of 46 acres' living in School House Lane (now Hawkes Lane). By 1869 and 1877 he is 'market gardener & farmer' (Kelly's Directory); 'Farmer 125 acres employing 6 men 3 boys' in 1871; 'widower, farmer & fruit grower of 140 acres employing 7 men & 3 boys'; son Joseph Church working with him in 1881; and by 1883 the fruit-growing business of James Church & Son is shared by James Church living at 'The Beeches' and Joseph Watts Church at 'The Vineyards'. By 1891 James had retired and his son Joseph was expanding the business. In the 1891 census, Joseph and his wife Bessie Helen (nee Gayford) are at the Vineyards with 5 children, a governess and a servant - they had a total of 10 children baptised in Bracon Ash between 1882 and 1900.
In her memoirs, Gladys Watling writes: 'Lodge Farm in Hawkes Lane was built by Mr. J. Church about 1900. He used to live at the Vineyards nearby but as his family grew larger he built Lodge Farm House.'
From 1892 until 1904 the Directories list Joseph Watts Church as 'landowner, fruit & flower grower' and comment on the scale of the market garden and the conspicuousness of his 'forcing houses'. He is listed on the Register of Electors as a 'freeholder & landowner' until at least 1906 and is also Chairman of the School Board for many years.
Again, Gladys Watling writes: '...he also went in for market gardening and built greenhouses and planted fruit trees. One greenhouse in particular was planted with vines and was supposed to be the largest in the Eastern Counties. Unfortunately it was more than he could cope with financially and he went bankrupt. At the sale the house and land passed into the hands of the Berney family and Mr. Ernest Morse took over the horticultural side.'
The vineyard - for table grapes - was such a feature of Bracon Ash that it featured on postcards! After Joseph Church sold up (there is no evidence of actual bankruptcy) William Stackyard who lived 'Near Vineries' describes himself as 'market
gardener & nursery foreman, grape growing' in the 1911 census and his son Percy Charles is 'nursery
labourer, grape growing' - both were working for Mr Morse. It was probably the war that finally killed off the grape-growing in Bracon Ash.
As for Joseph Watts Church - he emigrated to Canada in 1910 to visit a son farming in the Winnipeg area; he was working as a gardener in Vancouver in 1911. His wife Bessie emigrated in 1913 with two of their children (Marjorie & Norman) and joined him and their son Hubert in Westminster, BC. Joseph died in 1925 and is buried in Stavely, Alberta. Bessie returned to England and lived with her daughter Helen Kate (now Sanderson) in Birmingham until she died in 1940.
Enter Ernest MORSE
Ernest Morse is listed as 'fruit & rose grower & horticulturalist, The Vineyards' in the commercial section of Kelly's Directories for 1908, 1912, 1922, but he never resided in Bracon Ash. As landowner he was eligible to vote in Bracon Ash, but in the Register of Electors for the 1920s and early '30s his 'abode' is Dell Side, Eaton. William Stackyard was his gardener (1912), and the resident at the Vineyards in 1911 is Charles Chambers 43, farm bailiff. Ernest was one of the three sons of David Morse, market gardener in Eaton, and all of them trained as nurserymen. By the time Joseph Church's business folded, Ernest would have been about 35 and probably looking for land for his own business. He took over fields in many areas within reach of Eaton - at St Faiths (north of the City), Bunwell and elsewhere as well as Bracon Ash. He became a very successful rose grower with a fragrant red rose named in his honour - and still available from Peter Beales (another flower business that started in nearby Swardeston, and later moved to Attleborough).
When Ernest Morse left, the land was bought by Mr Felstead, another market gardener who used the greenhouses to grow cucumber. Ted Moore remembers: 'When you went down the greenhouses the cucumbers would drape over your shoulders! There were no leaves on the cucumbers and when I asked "Why?", the man said "I don't grow anything you can't eat"!'
Arthur MIDDLETON, market gardener
Gladys Watling wrote, 'A market garden in the village street was owned by Mr. A. Middleton and my memory of his crop seems to be raspberries. The gathering of these was a source of employment for a lot of women and I think they enjoyed it, according to an old photograph. This in turn led to a good trade at our shop for straw hats at 1 shilling each which were originally for the men in the harvest fields. The raspberries were bought by a wholesale firm in Norwich who made jam. As a special inducement to the shopkeeper the labels were printed with the words 'Specially prepared for A.H. Watling'.'
In 1871, Arthur Middleton, gardener's assistant, was living with his grandparents Jeremiah Dawson (market gardener) and Mary Anne in The Street, Bracon Ash. Jeremiah had married first Rebecca Middleton in Brooke in 1827 and when she died he married her sister Mary Anne Middleton in Lakenham in 1834, who already had a son William Middleton (b.1820), who became a shoemaker, He married Alice Dalton and they lived in Poorhouse Lane, Bracon Ash. William's son Arthur (b.1854) seems to have taken over his grandfather's business - in 1881 he is 'Pork Butcher & Market Gardner (sic)' and continues to be listed as a market gardener through to the 1922 Kelly's Directory. Arthur married Lucy Chaplin and had 3 children before she died in 1884; he then married Harriet Gore in Leicestershire and had 3 more children. Two sons were working with their father in 1901. Arthur died 17 Dec 1934 aged 80, and Harriet died in 1938, aged 77. Their daughter Ethel Victoria married Mansell Victor Tungate of The Street, Bracon Ash, who grew strawberries and raspberries for sale on the land behind his house. This business continued right into the 1950s.
Post WW2 Market Gardening
Writing about his life at Hethel Camp in the early 1950s, Michael Coates remembers:
July almost the entire female population of the camp would become black currant
pickers. At Bracon Ash and at Swardeston [and Mulbarton], there were several fields of black
current bushes and when the fruit was ripe it needed picking quickly, hence the
need for an army of pickers.
My mother, plus several of her friends, would eagerly wait for the notices to be posted around the villages stating that pickers would be required in such and such a field on such and such a day. As soon as we children had been dispatched to school, my mother and her friends would then cycle to the appropriate field and spent the day picking black currants.
Each picker would put their fruit into large baskets or punnets and as each basket was filled it would be taken to a central collecting point in the field and the worker given a ticket in exchange for it. These tickets were then retained until all the crop had been picked and each worker then had to take their tickets to the farm where they would be exchanged for cash. If I recall correctly, each basket usually earned the picker 2/6d (12 ½ new pence). On occasions, probably when picking the crop became an emergency owing to inclement weather or some other problem, the rate per basket would be increased according to the desperation of the farmer's need to harvest the crop.
When my mother was engaged in this work we children, as soon as we were released from afternoon school, would cycle to the field and then work alongside her until evening. During that time we probably managed to fill only one basket but we would jealously guard our tickets to make sure we received the appropriate reward for our labours.
The black currants were destined for the jam factory at Westwick and if we ever bought blackcurrant jam we would wonder if we were eating currants we had picked ourselves.