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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.

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This Day In ... 1892


Rock Terrace circa 1902

Female tenants seem to have been comparatively few and far between in the history of Waterfurlong. The earliest we have so far discovered is Mary Ann Weddell, who took over the family's plot in her own right when she was widowed in 1879.

Mary Ann Curtis was born into a farming family in 1817 at Norwell in Nottinghamshire. In July 1841 she met and

married Samuel Weddell, an entrepreneurial young London artist who had recently set up as a maltster and corn broker in nearby Newark-upon-Trent.

Sadly, their first two babies died and in 1845, shortly after the safe arrival of their third child Samuel junior, the couple moved to Stamford, where Samuel abandoned his former career and set up a small private boarding school in Broad Street. Mary Ann must have been run off her feet cooking and caring for the boarders whilst three more sons and four daughters arrived in quick succession. Samuel supplemented the family's income by offering drawing and oil-painting classes (ladies on Tuesday afternoons and gentlemen on Thursday evenings) and within a few years they were able to move out of the school premises and into No 6 Rock Terrace, which they purchased from a Miss Charlotte Twopenny. Although smart, the house was not particularly large and was pretty crowded with a governess and two other domestic servants squeezed into the modest servants' quarters.

Whether it was financial pressure or wanderlust we do not know, but in January 1853 Samuel closed down his school and set off for Australia on a money-making venture 'with a cargo of merchandise of various descriptions (principally boots and shoes), by disposing of which, it is said, he means to realise a handsome sum.'(1) Samuel was gone for more than a year, leaving Mary Ann with a baby, five other young children and no certainty she would ever see her husband again. But return he did,'sporting an immense beard and moustache'(1) and presumably in profit, for the family sold Rock Terrace and moved both home and newly reopened school to larger, more prestigious premises in Stamford High Street. At about that time, and possibly after reflecting on the perils of her husband's adventure, Mary Ann paid a subscription of £1.10s towards the town's new cemetery.

The lack of documentation of women's lives is always frustrating, so we know little of Mary Ann beyond some of the recorded highlights and tragedies she faced. Neither she nor Samuel features in the annals of Stamford's numerous church and civic committees and societies - perhaps Mary Ann shared Samuel's interest in more solitary artistic pursuits.

Our first record of the Weddells renting a Waterfurlong garden dates back to 1855 when one Hugh Fox was prosecuted for stealing their gooseberries. It will be interesting to try and discover whether Samuel and Mary Ann belonged to the popular Stamford and Neighbourhood Floral and

Horticultural Society but, if so, they did not exhibit, or at least not successfully. Nine years later an undetected

culprit stole peas and fruit from the Weddell garden and trampled over cabbages grown by their gardening neighbour, Mr Jones the local dental surgeon.

29 Austin Street

By 1867 Samuel was in a position to retire at the young age of 48. He sold the school and he and Mary Ann moved to 29 Austin Street, a large, comfortable property, where they were to live for the rest of their lives.

In 1872 tragedy struck when their thirteen year-old daughter Eliza died at boarding school in Leek, Staffordshire and the following year her older sister, 23 year-old Mary Ann, who had been working as a governess at a boarding school in Yorkshire, returned home and also died. It seems their daughters' deaths persuaded Mary Ann and Samuel to educate their youngest child locally and Mary Elizabeth (curiously all the Weddell girls' names were variants of Mary and Elizabeth) was enrolled at Stamford's Browne's School for Girls. Perhaps the family's sorrows were relieved a little in 1876 when Mary Ann and Samuel's first grandchild, Herbert Heaton Wilkins, arrived safely, although daughter Maria and her solicitor husband must have felt a long way away at their home in Chester.

One wonders whether there was tuberculosis in the family, for in February 1879 Samuel senior died at home aged 59. Mary Ann and her youngest daughter, Mary Elizabeth, remained in the family's Austin Street home 'living on private means' according to the 1881 census. Mary Elizabeth's musical talents were fostered by Mr Carnell, the organist at All Saints Church, and after passing her Cambridge University Higher Local Examination in music, Mary Elizabeth became the organist for St John's Church - a role that was later to be filled by Harry Sargent, father of the young Malcolm Sargent.

It is from newspaper reports of continuing garden thefts that we learn Mary Ann had taken over the Waterfurlong tenancy in her own right. In September 1882 fellow gardener PC Matthew Lightfoot apprehended Henry Wade and John Hewardine for scrumping Mary Ann's apples and in 1885 another large quantity of apples was stolen from her plot.

Although most of her surviving children were scattered - son Samuel managing an iron works in Retford, John a stationer in London, William a doctor in Sheffield and Arthur a pharmacist in Colchester, Mary Ann did have her oldest grandson Herbert living with her whilst he attended Stamford school. With twelve other surviving grandchildren, it is easy to imagine Mary Ann's home filled with young visitors, many of whom probably enjoyed playing in her Waterfurlong garden.

It must have been a bitter blow for Mary Ann when her 38 year-old son William died of pneumonia 'brought on by overwork in his medical practice'(1) in December 1889. She brought William's body home from Sheffield to be buried in Stamford cemetery alongside his father.

Three years later Mary Ann herself died on 14 October 1892. In 1894 daughter Mary Elizabeth, the only remaining Weddell in Stamford, left for London to marry Frederic Jones and the family's forty year tenancy of its Waterfurlong garden finally came to an end.


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

Copyright © Karen Meadows 2018

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