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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 Journal: 1854 - 1862


Aylesbury Old Bank - Tom Sandall's annotation showing his room

Tom Sandall was born 180 years ago today. In this extract from his journal he starts his banking career in Oxfordshire, celebrates the end of the Crimean War and proposes to his future wife, Connie Boémé.


In July 1854 my father again heard from Mr Cuerton that there was a vacancy at the Aylesbury Old Bank, so on the 11th of that month I again went and was accepted by Mr Hunt and put upon the staff there, living at the Bank House with whom I had a nice bed room to myself and boarded with the manager, except for supper which we clerks had together in what was called our Common Room and library.

The household consisted of Mr Cuerton, the manager, Mrs Cuerton and their only child Carrie, who was about 22 or 23 when I went to Aylesbury, Mr Glasson, accountant, Samuel Barnett, George Thomas, R Bell, J Williams, Ben Clarke, Chas Taylor, T Overton Robson, and myself. Mr Herbert Astley Paston Cooper came afterwards and eventually became a Director, as he had money and was the son of Sir Astley P Cooper. Mr Porter’s name was like his occupation, “Porter”, and I saw him still at his old work when I visited Aylesbury more than 40 years afterwards in 1896.

On 8 Aug 1854 I first went to Thame where a Scotchman A Garrioch was Manager and stayed a month. We used to take it in turns to be at Thame.

The 12 Sept 54 was Mr Cuerton’s birthday when we had a dance, Louisa & Georgina Senior of Broughton House, two Miss Hattons, Terrys, Lees &c being there.

At Aylesbury the customers used to give the staff Xmas money and when Mr Hunt divided it I came in for £2!! - a very nice Xmas box for me.


On 24 Jan 1855 Mr Austin H Layard the discoverer of the ruins of Ninevah lectured in the Town Hall at Aylesbury on “the Arabian Nights”, Mr Acton Tindall being the Chair. Mr Layard was MP for Aylesbury and it was interesting to see and hear such a famous man.

One of the many pleasing recollections of my life in Aylesbury was the Oxford Men’s Steeple Chase which was held on 28 March 1855 and which I went to see. I remember the water jump was very exciting as nearly all dropped short into the water.

In October I went again to Thame and made friends with the Fields, Jessie and Fanny Ponting, and Mr Barnett’s family at Towersey Rectory, James Barnett then an Oxford undergraduate and his sister Ellen.


On 17 Feb 1856 I was confirmed at St Mary’s Church, Aylesbury by the Bishop of Oxford, Dr Samuel Wilberforce, sometimes called ‘Soapy Sam”. Archdeacon Bickersteth then Vicar of St Mary’s gave me the necessary certificate, although as I had been at Thame for 2 months I was unable to attend any class in preparation and he was satisfied with my answers to a few questions at the one interview, and on Sunday 20th April 1856 I attended for Holy Communion with Mr & Mrs C at an early service for the first time.

The Very Rev Samuel Wilberforce (1805-1873) was a son of the politician William Wilberforce, a renowned orator and a strong opponent of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. He gained the soubriquet ‘Soapy Sam’ from Benjamin Disraeli who described his manner as ‘unctuous, oleaginous, saponaceous’.

I was at Thame On 26th March 1856 when Peace after the Crimean War was declared and the Thamesites indulged in a torch light procession with bands playing &c.

On the next day 27 March 1856 Carrie Cuerton was married to Mr William Henry Toomer of Twyford near Reading and I was invited over from Thame to be present. The company included the Misses Dusantoy of Basingstoke, Mr Sparks, 2 Terrys, 2 Hattons, Toomer, Mrs Lonsdale, Mrs Mitchell, 3 Toomers (brothers), Marcus Cuerton, the Archdeacon & Mrs Bickersteth. I escorted Mrs Mitchell to church. The wedding went off very well and we had a dance in the evening.

In the autumn I went for my holiday from Oxford to Bristol & so by steamer to Ilfracombe & Lynton, where I joined my father and mother at “Summit Castle”, Lynton, where we lodged and had a very good time.

Whilst at the Oxford Branch I lived in the Bank House - an old couple Mr & Mrs Ward living in the kitchen part and Mrs Ward cooking for me &c. Mr William Woodford was the Manager, a nice old gentleman he was and we had many nice trips together to Woodstock, Abingdon, Cumnor &c. He also let me off one day to go to Ascot Races where in the Royal Stand I saw the Prince of Oudh and other notables.

A very early photograph of the crowds at Royal Ascot taken in 1865.

Whilst in Oxford by the introduction of Mr Williams I got acquainted with John W Peason who was organist at St Pauls and lodged with Mr Phillips the cashier at the Oxford Old Bank (Parson’s) Also Mr William Burch who was at Spiers’ shop, the noted fancy shop - a lovely place for buying presents &c.

Spiers was at 102-103 High Street, Oxford. The Revd W. Tuckwell, in his Reminiscences of Oxford says: “In 1835 the house of Wood, the apothecary, at the entrance to Skimmery Hall Lane [Oriel Street], was translated into Spiers’, now itself extinct, but for nearly sixty years inseparable from Oxford life, better served and more artistic in its merchandise than any shop in England. Its display of papier mâché and of ceramic ware, surrounding a beautiful cardboard model of the Martyrs’ Memorial, was one of the features in the 1851 Exhibition.”


In 1857 Mr Z D Hunt of Aylesbury opened an office of the Bucks and Oxon Bank in All Hallows Chambers for stationery &c, a mad prank and no good. And Barnett & I were sent to London and slept in Mr Hunt’s house in Cleveland Square. This was not a bad arrangement for us but Mr Hunt we heard afterwards speculated very much on the Stock Exchange and got into difficulties with the result that the London office was closed – Barnett, Clarke, Taylor and myself were told by Mr Bartlett who came to Aylesbury and took the reins that our services were no longer required – the Oxford Branch was closed at the same time.

Whilst I was in London, viz on 17 Nov 1857, my grandmother Ann Sharp died aged 86 and was buried at Baston where her husband’s remains were lying.


Before the notice of Mr Bartlett had expired I received an appointment from Mr J W Gilbart, the first manager of the first Joint Stock Bank, The London and Westminster Bank, to a clerkship in that Bank and on 2 August 1858 went to London lodging with my cousin Tom Sandall who was then living at Somerford Grove, Stoke Newington, but afterwards removed to 3 Richmond Terrace, Queen’s Road, Dalston. Mr E Simpson “Scotchman” at the L&WB, with whom I have kept up a slight correspondence ever since, was my working companion and I also found at the Custom Office two old schoolfellows from Stamford, Henry Clapton and Alf Kitchener. Kitchener and his brother-in-law E B Newmouth used to come with Simpson and play cards &c when I was at Dalston as they lived not far off. I used also to visit the Lounds at Maida Vale who were always glad to see me. They were my only relatives in London except Cousin Tom and I cannot say where our connection came in but think my Aunt Tom Sandall of Rippingale was a cousin of the Lounds.


In 1859 when Louis Napoleon Bonaparte made some threatening speeches towards England the volunteers were first formed and I was sworn in a member of the Tower Hamlets Corps and drilled twice a week in the Albion Hall at Dalston. I never however donned the uniform as I left London early in 1860 and did not join either of the Northampton Corps.

Whilst at the London and Westminster Bank I for two years acted as Assistant Secretary during the holiday season when the Secretary and Assistant Secretary both had a month’s leave. Mr Fairland was Secretary and Mr Shipp Assistant Secretary. The latter succeeded Mr Fairland, and I possibly might have become Secretary (a good position) had I remained with that Bank.


In February 1860 however I heard there was an opening at Northampton as Ledger Clerk as Arthur Terry was leaving and as my mother was suffering from cancer I felt I should like to be at home so left London and went to Northampton in the service of the Northamptonshire Banking Co, of which my father was then the General Manager.

My mother died two months after my going to Northampton. She died on 9th April 1860 aged 52 and was buried at the Northampton Cemetery, Billing Road.

In the autumn of this year I went with my father and Willie for my first trip into Wales. We went to Aberystwyth via Shrewsbury and then by coach down the valley of the Wye from its source on Plynlimon Mountain by Rhadyr, Builth and Hay to Ross & Chepstow, Tintern Abbey &c.

Aberystwyth in the 1860s


The next year we went to Ireland from Dublin for an Excursion 3 days in Wicklow County, Vale of Avoca &c and then to the south west, Cork & the Lakes of Killarney &c.


In 1862 my father married his second wife, Mrs Hatfield widow of the late Edward Hatfield, surgeon of Stamford, a very nice lady with whom we all got on well. This rendered a change in our holiday arrangements necessary as I could not very well accompany my father on his honeymoon trip and I arranged to go with Alick Boémé to Scotland. We went to Edinburgh, Glasgow, the Trossachs, Caledonian coach to Inverness back by coach through the Pass of Killiecrankie to Stirling &c.

As I had had a little talk with Constance Boémé as to the desirability of uniting our future lives for better or worse &c I bought a ring in Edinburgh which I afterwards gave to her, asking her to wear it as a pledge that a wedding ring should follow when circumstances rendered it prudent. As the sequel will show we were content to wait 6 years.

Constance (Connie) was the sister of Thomas's banking colleague and friend Alexander (Alick) Boémé. Their father, Martin, was manager of the Northamptonshire Union Bank.


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