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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

Tom Sandall's Long-lost Journal

When I first began researching the history of Waterfurlong Gardens I stumbled across an 1892 Stamford Mercury report about a bunch of naughty schoolboys stealing lemonade from the summerhouse of one Mr T Sandall, bank manager. I then discovered a further reference to Thomas Sandall in an old biography of Sir Malcolm Sargent - and a reference not just to the man himself but to his handwritten journal. Where could this journal be? Did it even still exist? A year and several letters of enquiry later I found it right under my nose in Stamford Town Hall, leather-bound and seemingly unread since it was donated to the Phillips' Collection by Tom's daughter Sophie in the 1960s.

Full of anticipation that the journal might contain references to Tom Sandall's garden and clues to the identity of other Victorian Waterfurlong gardeners, Julia and I photographed the entire thing, complete with its multitude of newspaper clippings, and this winter I set about transcribing it. From the beautiful copperplate of the opening paragraphs that might appear a reasonably straightforward job, but from page three onwards Tom reverted to his 'everyday' handwriting and the enormity of the task began to sink in. I'm pleased to say that after much blood, sweat and tears I've completed all 250 pages and feel I know the Sandall family and friends nearly as well as my own!

Tom Sandall was born in 1839 in Rippingale near Bourne and grew up at 63 High Street, Stamford (in what is currently the Space NK store). His father, Robert, was a founding member of the Northamptonshire Banking Company and after attending Stamford Grammar School Tom followed in his footsteps as Manager of the Bank's Stamford branch. In 1881 Tom commissioned new premises a couple of doors down at what is now Lloyds Bank and he, his wife Connie, and children Eddy, Robby, Arthur, Sophie and Cecil lived in the attached Bank House. Although spacious and elegant, the Bank House had no garden and, as I discovered from a letter written many decades later by Sophie Sandall, the large walled Waterfurlong plot was the children's playground and paradise, with its two-storey summerhouse and mature trees for climbing.

After Connie died in 1904 Tom decided to retire and he and Sophie moved to Rusholme Lodge, the white house at the crossroads of Brazenose Lane and St Paul's Street. Rusholme Lodge had its own pretty garden and with age and infirmity creeping up on him, at the end of 1915 Tom Sandall passed his Waterfurlong plot over to fellow Stamford Town Council member (Valentine) George Stapleton.

You can read all about Tom Sandall and his family on our website and we will shortly be adding a link to his complete journal, fully indexed and with numerous references to events and people in Stamford between 1838 and Tom's eventual death in September 1922. If you have Stamfordian ancestors you may well discover snippets about them.

Although the transcription has been hard and tremendously time-consuming work, it has also

been an honour. Despite his typically Victorian avoidance of emotional subjects, it is clear both from what he writes and from other people's observations that Tom Sandall was a kind-hearted, generous and much loved father, colleague and friend. No-one could have appreciated Stamford more, researched it more thoroughly or tried harder to make it an even lovelier place to live and to visit.

Over the coming months I will be including excerpts from his journal on the blog and do hope you enjoy them. It was a strange feeling coming across one of Sophie Sandall's memories in a later newspaper article 'She recalled how, as he sat writing these volumes of his life her father would sometimes look up at her and say “I wonder if anyone will ever read all this?”'

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