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The Plot Thickens

Hi, I’m Karen Meadows. Thank you for visiting The Plot Thickens.

I’m lucky enough to be the tenant of one of fifty large allotment gardens in the middle of the small and beautiful stone town of Stamford in England’s East Midlands. The gardens were first created by Brownlow Cecil, 4th Marquess of Exeter in the mid 1800s and their layout has remained virtually unchanged. Between the plots we have some 200 old apple trees, many of them rare varieties, and in 2017 Natural England awarded the gardens heritage orchard status.

Over the centuries at least 500 people have worked these plots. Follow our quest to discover who they were, what they grew, and what shenanigans they got up to. Be prepared for numerous diversions and musings along the way about gardening life here in our quiet (and occasionally not so quiet) little corner of Stamford.

If you haven’t discovered our website yet, do head over to Waterfurlong Orchard Gardens, where you will find a wealth of information about our gardens and gardeners, past and present.

And now for the small print...

The Plot Thickens is a non-commercial blog. All recommendations are based on personal preference and my own or our other gardeners’ own experience. Payments or free goods are not accepted in return for reviews of products and services. If an exception is made this will be clearly stated.

All words and images, unless otherwise credited, are my own. If you would like to copy text or images, I’d kindly ask that The Plot Thickens gets a positive mention and a link back to this blog.

Recent Posts

This Day In ... 1829


Rutland Terrace circa 1900

At least three of our Victorian Waterfurlong gardeners lived in beautiful nearby Rutland Terrace: solicitor and horticulturalist Thomas Laxton, printer and bookseller

Henry Johnson, and gentleman of leisure William Mitton.

Rutland Terrace was Stamford's first commercial property development outside the town walls. Most of the land on which it was built had been in use as a bowling green since at least 1712. In December 1828 the green and an adjoining paddock were bought for £550 from Peter Lafarge by local

veterinary surgeon John Cooper Wallis, in order to

construct elegant town-houses for Stamford's upper middle classes. Building of all 20 houses began in early 1829 and on August 28 seven at the east end were advertised to let.

In 1830 tenders were invited for the completion of the remaining houses. Work was finished by 1831, with the earlier houses having stuccoed façades and the later ones ashlared frontages.

Wealthier people welcomed the opportunity to move out of town into one of these 'elegant, picturesque, healthy and delightful' properties. Wallis decided to occupy one himself and had no difficulty letting the others,

but the project left him deep in debt. By 1831 Wallis had mortgaged the houses for a total of £6,000 and the fact the freeholds were soon sold off suggests he became bankrupt.

RUTLAND TERRACE, STAMFORD. To be LET, And may be entered upon at Michaelmas next, SEVEN genteel new HOUSES, situate on the site of the late Bowling-green in STAMFORD, and finished in the most modern style.

Two of the houses contain each kitchen, cellars, and conveniences, in the basement; a parlour and library on the ground floor; and a drawing-room 19 feet by 16, five bed-rooms, and water-closet, on the first and second floors; together with a parterre and iron-palisades in front, and small Garden at the back, having a communication with the open fields of Stamford, and commanding a most delightful view of Easton, Wothorpe, Burghley, and the great London road. The rent of each of the above two houses is 30 guineas per annum.

The other five are built uniformly with the above, but instead of having a kitchen underground, have the kitchen at the back of the parlour, leading into the yard; and the rent of each of these five houses is 25 guineas per annum.

All the apartments are fitted up with handsome and useful grates; the drawing-rooms have French windows (down to the ground) and iron balconies; and the houses are situated in All Saints' parish, the poor rates and other charges in which are very moderate.

For further particulars apply to Mr Wallis, Stamford, the proprietor.' Stamford Mercury 28 August 1829.(1)

The elegant and impressive façades contrasted with tiny back yards containing the 'usual offices' - sheds for storing wood and coal and in a few instances a stable with a trap door. These also served as a tradesman's entrance to the back door. A caustic townsman described the terrace as 'That row of houses with Queen Anne fronts and Mary Ann backs'.

Although popular with the upper middle classes, the development did nothing to alleviate Stamford's severe overcrowding. In 1851 more people were living in the four tiny Freeman's Cottages, just a stone's throw away, than in the whole of Rutland Terrace.

We know something of Victorian life in Rutland Terrace from Joseph Henry Philpot, whose father, Baptist preacher Joseph Charles Philpot, bought number 10 (later occupied by Henry and Sophia Johnson and today run by Lucy Roe as a fantastic B&B) when it first went up for sale:

'A long row of neat, new houses, separated from the paved

sidewalk by little gardens, and faced with a light, fawn-coloured free-stone, almost fresh from the stone-cutter's saw. [For my father] I believe it was almost a case of love

at first sight! It was called Rutland Terrace because it is almost within sight of that diminutive county ... Rutland Terrace faced the sun, was open to the winds, and standing as it did on a highway, saw farmers' gigs by the dozen, and horses, sheep and cattle by the score, driven past it to Friday market, while on Sunday mornings the town-dwellers chose its sidewalk for their favourite after-church promenade. On other days it could be as quiet as anyone could wish... Rutland Terrace stands high above the Welland Valley and enjoys an unimpeded view. Leaning over the balcony of the large first-floor room known as the Library at No 10 one could imagine that one was in the royal box of an enormous green amphitheatre.

No account ... would be complete without some mention of the Tinwell Road, which formerly led past Rutland Terrace straight into open country. Now it is lined with modern villas and its ancient peace has fled. But on nine days out of ten, as soon as his long morning's task was done, my father would put on his cloak and tall hat, issue from his front gate, turn to the right, and within less than a hundred yards would find the quiet that his soul required for silent meditation... The broad pathway on the right was raised some five feet above the dusty white road and commanded a wide view over the valley. There were four or five posts at one point to keep stray sheep and cattle off it, when driven in by the score to fair or market.

When my father came into possession of No 10, his first care was to build a wash-house in the back garden, and a little lean-to greenhouse with a large tank to collect the rainwater beneath it... [My mother] installed her own little propagating frame, kept at the right temperature by cheap, ingenious devices, and she grudged no trouble to make her seedlings thrive. The seven foot hollyhocks in the little front garden which one year were the envy of all our neighbours had cost her nothing but the price of a gallon or two of Colza oil. But the wash-house, with its ample supply of rain-water, brought still greater comfort to her thrifty soul, for with washing at home, both house and body linen seemed never to wear out. Every other Monday ... the washerwoman came and kept the maids busy carrying off the clothes to dry. Across the Backway, between a cornfield and a brickyard and chicken-run, was that oblong strip of land enclosed by loose stone walls, and entered by a heavy creaking gate, known as the 'drying ground'. Except on washing days we children had it to ourselves, to tend our little gardens, devise new little games and rifle the strawberry bed.'(3)


(1) The British Newspaper Archive © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. All Rights Reserved.

(2) Photograph of No 10 Rutland Terrace with grateful thanks to Lucy Roe © Copyright.

(3) The Seceders 1829 - 1869 , volumes I and II by J H Philpot, London, Farncombe, 1932.

Copyright © Karen Meadows 2018

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