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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

Roses Our Gardeners Once Grew - Part II

Rosa Dorothy Perkins - a favourite of Stamford nurseryman James Brown


Our most famous Victorian Waterfurlong gardener, Thomas Laxton, is still known for the peas, strawberries and apples he introduced, but one of his forgotten horticultural talents was rose-breeding. Born in 1830, Thomas grew up just over the road from Waterfurlong in fashionable new Rutland Terrace. His father, Thomas senior, was a tailor and property developer and a founding member of the Stamford and District Horticultural Society. It was probably Thomas senior who first acquired the Laxtons' Waterfurlong garden.

By the time Thomas junior had completed his indenture as a solicitor he was well and truly bitten by the horticultural bug and at the age of 27 he was elected Fellow of the Horticultural Society of London (the forerunner of the RHS). We know from a retrospective piece Thomas wrote for the American Gardener's Monthly magazine in 1880 that his interest in rose hybridisation began at the same point.

"My first attempt at cross-breeding the rose was in 1857, when, inter alia, I fertilized hybrid perpetual General Jacqueminot with the old white Damask Maiden's Blush. From this cross I obtained a very pretty light carmine variety, remarkably sweet and of good form, but not sufficiently large for a show rose... From this start, however, I derived sufficient encouragement to induce me to proceed, and in the seven years from 1858 to 1864 I fertilized, marked and recorded nearly five hundred blooms."(1)

Rosa Général Jacqueminot, used by Thomas Laxton in his first

hybridising experiment.

On 16 July 1869 the Gardener's Chronicle reported that Thomas Laxton had bred four new roses: Prince of Wales, Princess Louise, Annie Laxton (named after his eldest daughter) and Beauty of Stamford 'perpetual in nature, sweet and pretty, with a rose-pink centre and paler exterior; strongly recommended by Mr Laxton as an excellent garden rose to cut from, and free autumnal bloomer.'(2)

Six years later Thomas introduced rose Lady Isabel Cecil in honour of Isabella Cecil of Burghley House. The bush was described as ‘a small, neat, citron-tinted Tea Rose, becoming almost white – a pretty flower and nicely scented and one which may some day, when better established, prove useful.’ Whether it was ever marketed commercially is unclear, but you can read more about the woman who inspired it in my blog post 'A Rose For Lady Isabel'.

Lady Isabella Cecil (later Battie-Wrightson)

Thomas continued rose-breeding after his fall from grace, subsequent imprisonment, and move to Bedford. Some of his specimens were brought to market by the famous growers Messrs Paul & Son of Cheshunt, featured in Part I of this article, others by Charles Turner of the Royal Nurseries in Slough. Sadly, only two of Thomas's introductions seem to remain in existence, Princess of Wales(3) and Emily Laxton, the latter named after his second daughter. All the others, including Beauty of Stamford, have been lost on the compost heap of time.

Thomas Laxton's introduction, rosa Princess of Wales

Reflecting on his rose-breeding endeavours, Thomas commented: "My advice to all who desire to do so, is not to carry on their operations without the aid of glass wherever such means are available, for two of the great secrets of success in obtaining rose seed are ripe wood and a dry atmosphere, conditions not always attainable in England without the aid of glass and artificial heat, and undoubtedly much of my labor was thrown away for want of proper protection against the vicissitudes of our climate, and many valuable acquisitions may consequently have been lost."(1)


Thomas Laxton's drive and passion encouraged Colchester gardener Walter Easlea to apply for a job with him in 1870. Walter's son, Walter junior, was later to become one of England's finest rose-breeders.'It was seeing Laxton, a scholarly horticulturist and associate of Charles Darwin, crossing peas that first fired young Walter with the enthusiasm for hybridising.'(4)

Walter Easlea junior

After training with Thomas Laxton's friend William Paul in Hertfordshire, Walter junior established his celebrated Danecroft Rose Nursery at Leigh in Essex. There he went on to breed his finest rose, Easlea's Golden Rambler, which remains in commerce today. Golden Rambler's large, heavily-scented, creamy-yellow flowers with their boss of golden stamens proved an overnight sensation.

Easlea's Golden Rambler


Meanwhile, back in Stamford Richard Brown's sons William and James had been expanding the family's horticultural empire. In 1875 they sold their Ironmonger Street shop and moved to the more prominent location of 56 High Street(5). That same year they were able to take advantage of the Stamford Enclosure Act to buy twelve acres of additional nursery land off Tinwell Road, where Exeter Gardens now stands.

James had developed an early interest in rose cultivation, exhibiting a stunning specimen of Souvenir de la Malmaison at the King's Cliffe Horticultural Show when he was only fourteen. Souvenir de la Malmaison was a Bourbon rose with a nostalgic connection, bred in 1843 by Lyon nurseryman Jean Béluze in memory of the Empress Josephine's

Château de Malmaison, where she had tended her magnificent


Rosa Souvenir de la Malmaison

James Brown's son, Richard Chapman Brown, was to share his father's enthusiasm for the flower. Richard moved to Peterborough to head up Brown's Narrow-Bridge Street shop and Eastfield nursery grounds, both purchased from retired rose specialist John House. By 1897 Messrs W & J Brown was the leading nursery in Stamford, Peterborough, Grantham and Oundle and the firm's beautiful cut roses were especially popular on its stall on the London platform of Peterborough's North Station.

W & J Brown sold the fashionable new standard roses for 18 shillings a dozen but their best-sellers seem to have been the climber Maréchal Niel, and La France - the first modern tea rose. When the rambler Dorothy Perkins arrived from the USA in 1901 it became James Brown's personal favourite and he used its cascades of clear pink flowers to decorate the elegant centrepieces for which he was renowned. James won a coveted silver medal at the 1914 International Horticultural Show in London for an 'outstanding 100 foot display of roses in swags', and the firm was also awarded prizes for its lilacs, heliotropes and herbaceous plants.

With Brown's nursery grounds so near by, it is likely that Dorothy Perkins, Maréchal Niel and La France graced several Waterfurlong gardens during the Edwardian era.

Rosa Maréchal Niel

In 1917 Richard Chapman Brown tragically died of cancer at the age of 42. Despite grief at the loss of all three of his children, James Brown's commitment to 'business as usual' continued. He never retired, working and staging exhibits right until his death in 1931 at the age of 83, when he was eulogised as 'Stamford's oldest tradesman' and one of Europe's premier rose experts.

With no family members left to pick up the reins, all the nursery stock and greenhouses were sold off and the firm’s Stamford seed store was bought out by its manager who continued to trade under the banner ‘Brown’s’ for another half century through to 1985. Many Stamfordians still remember the High Street shop with affection and nostalgia.


Between 1885 and 1911 some of our gardeners bought their rose bushes from a supplier even closer than Brown's. Young Herbert Brooks Packer had arrived in Stamford from Staffordshire when his father Matthew accepted the position of tutor for the Literary and Scientific Association - an establishment for young working men's education attached to the Stamford Institution. Matthew Packer had a particular interest in horticulture and put on a special class in Agricultural Chemistry.

His father's expertise presumably stood Herbert in good stead when he decided to set up a rose and carnation nursery. He managed to rent a three acre plot from the Burghley estate across what are now Waterfurlong Plots 38 and 39 and the field to their north. Herbert also needed a retail outlet closer to the town centre and initially set up a small shop in St Peter's Hill. In December 1896 he advertised in the Stamford Mercury:

ROSES (bush), the finest Plants money can buy, viz: Gloire Lyonnaise, A K Williams, Mrs Laing, La France, Duke of Connaught, Merveille de Lyon, Fisher Holmes, Baroness Rothschild &c. 4/6 dozen, 30/- 100.

H B PACKER, St Peter's-hill, Stamford.(6)

Herbert Packer's advertisements and show exhibits reveal a strong interest in roses from Lyon, particularly those bred by the influential Jean-Baptiste Guillot. Given the Packer family's academic background and comparative affluence, it is perfectly possible Herbert travelled to France to buy his stock.

Guillot introduction - rosa La France

Around the turn of the century Herbert married his wife Alice and set up home and a new shop at 22 All Saints Street. He also took out a lease on additional nursery land off Tinwell Road. Perhaps it was mounting financial pressures that led Herbert into an unsuccessful business partnership with a Mr Carey in 1908; three years later the Waterfurlong nursery was auctioned off 'with goodwill and all business connections - a speedy sale required.' The site was described as having a southerly aspect and good, deep soil. Herbert and Alice left Stamford and only re-emerge in the records in 1939, when we find them living in Flintshire, with Herbert still working as an employed gardener at the age of 73.

Ordnance survey maps of the 1930s continue to show the nursery in existence and more research is needed into its history after Herbert Packer's departure.

1938 ordnance survey map, showing the Waterfurlong nursery


Inevitably, the war years brought change both to Waterfurlong and to its roses. As the town's supply of garden labourers dried up, many of the more affluent tenants relinquished their plots. The coming of the motor car made it easier for those with the means who hankered after large gardens to move out to surrounding villages. Waterfurlong's era of gentleman horticulturalists had passed.

Rents dropped, tennis courts were dug up, elaborate summerhouses and hothouses fell into disrepair and new tenants used their plots as ordinary allotments for growing kitchen produce, keeping hens and pigs and, in some cases, to start small builder's or haulage businesses. Few of our post-war gardeners were in a position to order rare rose bushes by the dozen, but many continued to nurture the beautiful ramblers they had inherited and introduced small beds of hybrid teas and floribundas, the soil surrounding the bushes hoed bare in the fashion of the day to show off the blooms and keep pests and diseases at bay.


One family managed to maintain its Waterfurlong links through thick and thin. Greengrocer Charles Evans took on his plot during the 1880s and in 1907 his daughter Emma married successful market gardener Morley Goddard, a newcomer to the town who had grown up on a large dairy farm in Devon. Morley and Emma moved into the Clock House at the end of Scotgate and eventually expanded their business with son Charles to include a thriving nursery off Tinwell Road and a florist's shop in the High Street.

Morley and Emma Goddard on their wedding day in 1907. Emma's parents, Waterfurlong gardeners Eliza and Charles Evans, are Ist and 2nd left.

Two hugely popular rose varieties stocked by Goddards must have featured in many post-war Waterfurlong gardens: Home Sweet Home and Peace - both named to welcome in a new era.

Rosa Peace

The Peace rose was developed by French horticulturalist François Meilland in the 1930s. When Meilland foresaw the German invasion of France, he sent cuttings to friends in Italy, Turkey, Germany, and the United States to protect the new rose. It is said that it was sent to the US on the last plane before the German invasion. It was propagated by the Conard Pyle Co in Pennsylvania and introduced commercially on 29 April 1945 on the day Berlin fell to the Allies. Peace is believed by many to be the finest hybrid tea rose ever raised and more than one hundred million bushes have been sold.



(2) Kind courtesy of the Biodiversity Heritage Library​

(3)Not to be confused with the more recent Harkness introduction of the same name

(5)At the time of writing occupied by the Jack Wills store

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

Copyright © Karen Meadows 2019

Photographs the author's own, out of copyright or sourced via Pinterest and unattributed.

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