26 Jan 2016

Reminiscing: it all started with a box.

Our children always put a lot of thought into the gifts that they give us. This Christmas one of our daughters created an album of photos taken during the celebration of our 50th wedding anniversary last year decorated with golden butterflies on each page.  (I love butterflies). The 14 year old grandson presented us with a CD that he had put together of this special occasion. We always say to them not to worry about giving us anything, but I think we all enjoy giving as much as receiving and exchanging gifts is a joyful experience.
Another one of the presents was a box which contained packets of seeds - a useful gift which also had special significance for us as it was a Sutton's Seed Company tin.   Although the company is now based in Paignton, Devon the business was founded in my home town of Reading in Berkshire, UK.  Reading was then a centre of agriculture and John Sutton was a corn and seed merchant there in the early 1800s. His son, Martin Hope-Sutton converted the business into an important, scientifically-based mail order business. Formerly situated on part of the Reading Abbey Gardens, the Royal Seed Establishment eventually covered a vast site with a public entrance in the old market place.


'The Red Brick Town' as Reading is called because many of the Victorian houses were built of locally manufactured bricks, greatly expanded in the 19th century due to the opening of the Kennet and Avon Canal in 1810 with links between Bristol in the west and London. Later in the century the Great Western Railway company built a line between the two cities and small business enterprises now became important industries in the town.  Reading was known as the town of the three Bs - biscuits (Huntley and Palmers Biscuits), the brewing of beer (Simond's Brewery) and bulbs (Sutton's Seeds), as well as bricks. They provided work and new accommodation for many families who moved from agricultural work or other trades to the new industries in town.
Some of my relatives moved into town from rural Hampshire and Berkshire, although most of them continued to live in the countryside.  I've traced my family on my father's side back through the generations to villages in Hampshire, west Berkshire and Wiltshire. Amongst the agricultural workers, traders and store owners there's a wool merchant who made good and was a benefactor of an educational trust for deserving scholars at Christ's Hospital School. That family line is well documented. A second cousin who is also interested in family history corresponds and sends updates about the Hampshire families. My father's grandfather, Thomas, was a stable lad/groom on the Duke of Wellington's country estate at Stratfield Saye in Hampshire, which I find fascinating as my late father loved horses and so do I. Later in life he married and moved into Reading and was a sawyer in the saw mill attached to Huntley and Palmers biscuit factory, which I have mentioned before when writing about my home town. Their life in town must have been very different from living in the countryside, but they continued to stay connected to family who lived in rural areas through Methodism which was an important part of their life.  My father, in fact, was a lay preacher and my mother and I would often accompany him when he went to take part in missions in out-of-town chapels.  He also had a good tenor voice.

my paternal great grands, Thomas and his wife, Mary
I digress. One of these days I would like to create a blog dedicated to family history. At the moment the writing and photos are inspired by random objects or triggered off by something I've read.

Below is a print of an early advertisement from one of my reference books dedicated to Reading and its surroundings which was published in the early 20th century by The Homeland Association for the Encouragement of Touring Great Britain.  One of the advertisements has an illustration of the original Sutton's Seeds establishment in the centre of the town before the trial grounds were moved to a new site east of Reading, which was then outside of the borough boundary.


an early catalogue cover

The grassed area is where the original trial ground was located and the old complex of buildings are out of shot and to the right in the above photo.


Around the corner in the Butter Market area (to the right of the above photo) was the entrance and shop, which I remember well.



As for my maternal side of the family, my grandparents, William and Lauretta, lived in Northumberland. By the time I was born in 1945 my grandfather had retired from the bakery business that the couple had built up after moving from the colliery town of Ashington, although his paternal family came from further north, Berwick-on-Tweed. Ashington had self-help and study groups such as the Workers' Educational Association (WEA). The Ashington group of painters is well known. My grandmother was a pit prop girl until she married. My grandfather worked and continued his training in the Co-operative Bakery after surviving as a messenger in the Bicycle Corp in WWI and, therefore, didn't follow his ancestors into mining.  Instead he eventually became a master baker. My grandparents knew the footballers, Jackie and Bobby Charlton, and the Charlton family who lived at the other side of town, but that's another digression.


William and Lauretta followed my family down to Reading after my mother came to study history, philosophy and logic, then commercial French and Spanish at Reading University. She was a very good mathematician and that was her profession in later life.
The Depression years gave folk the incentive to move to areas of the country where they could make a living just as my maternal grandfather x 2, Gilbert and his wife Mary Anne, had done when they moved from Cornwall to Cumbria before moving to Northumberland, the connection being mining. The fact that they had relatives in the southern counties and my mother's move might have influenced my grandparents to travel south with the younger children and make a new life in Reading.
As it happened, it proved to be a sad and traumatic time for my grandparents when one of their young sons was killed in a freak accident and by then my grandfather was not well.
Due to my grandfather's ill health my mother managed the Reading business after university. My father was managing a grocery shop next door and they met through mutual social circles.

my mother at the family bakery business

By the time I was born the second world war had just been declared at an end in Europe. My father was still over in Holland, France and then working his way up through Europe as a muleteer with his battalion of the 1st Mountain Regiment, RA.

I lived with my parents and grandparents in their newly-built house (below), which was almost opposite the new Sutton's trial ground and in an area that was still semi-rural and in the Wokingham Borough of Berkshire.



Later when I was married and after we came back from a time in Italy with our young family I went and worked at Sutton's making up orders.  it was an evening job and my husband looked after our children when he came home from work.  Although I had trained as secretary I embarked on a few years of study and then studied for a degree in education.





37 comments:

  1. So nice Linda, the story of your family and the Suttons is so interesting. Suttons seeds are also well known in our country and I that seed box is a real treasure. Looking forward to hear which seeds you are going to sow.

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    1. We have plenty of seed now and spoilt for choice! It will be interesting to try some new varieties of vegetable.

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  2. i really enjoyed your grandparents photos. i was born in 44 and my mothers parents owned a bakery to. here in Florida a few short miles from my home... I know some of our history, back 4 or 5 generations. i did not know there is a Reading over there, we have a Reading PA here in the North. i assume names after yours

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    1. It's interesting to look at old family photos. It's amazing to see how fashions in dress have changed through several generations!

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  3. Such an interesting post. Very thoughtful gifts, particularly with your link to Suttons seeds. Looking forward to seeing the seed selection.

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    1. Receiving a box containing packets of seeds means that we might try growing some new varieties of vegetable.

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  4. What a fascinating post. I am interested in genealogy and have spent time researching my family tree so love to read posts like this. I know Reading and the surrounding area fairly well as I grew up in Hampshire close to the Berkshire border and we used to shop in Reading sometimes. I remember the old Huntley and Palmer biscuit factory being pointed out to me when I was quite young. Your family have given you some really thoughtful presents, xx

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    1. I've been researching my family for quite a long time and have gone back a long way into the main branches of my family. My mother was the eldest child and kept written records. The internet, other interested family members and joining a group helped me in my research.

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  5. Yay, Northumberland!!!! What a fascinating history you have and to know it so well! I'd love to know more. By the way, those were wonderful presents they gave you!x

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    1. Yes, perfect gifts for both my husband with his gardening and me with my love of local history and the home town connection. Northumberland - how I would love to visit more often! The first years being brought up in a Northumbrian household had a great influence on me, although I love my father's southern counties roots too.

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  6. Such an interesting post, Linda, and I would love to have followed your digressions a bit further too. :) You have made some fascinating discoveries about your forbears. Like you I'm very interested in family history, though my ancestors came mainly from the industrial working-class, so I know what they did, but not which mill or company they worked for.

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    1. Genealogy is fascinating. My research has been quite straightforward because my mother kept such good records and many family photos. She was a very methodical person in every way! bI think I've got a general picture of my family now and will stop researching. I would like to have researched my husband's family, but that's difficult although I have some original documents that he brought with him to the UK when he settled here.

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  7. Isn't it wonderful how one thing can trigger lots of different memories and set you of on a thread of thoughts about your family. It is also wonderful to find out so much about your ancestors and you certainly have a lot of information about yours. It is intriguing to learn where they all come from and how they moved around for work and followed family to work at the same places. It has happened quite a lot in my family too. I have sadly negelected my family history blog, I must get back to writing some posts on there. I've enjoyed this post very much:)

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    1. I think it's the movement of people from one place to another that really interests me.
      I did look further at your family history blog and wish I knew how to add a new one dedicated to family history to my side bar as you have done. Otherwise I might add a new page underneath the header where I have my reading lists when I can get organised.

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    2. Once you have created a new blog for your family history you can add it to your sidebar - I chose an old photo I wanted and went to layout, add gadget, add image, added the photo and then did a link on it to the family history blog using its blogger address:)

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    3. Thank you for the advice, Rosie. That sounds quite easy. I might give that a go when I have some extra time. I hope you're enjoying your writing project.

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  8. What fascinating history. When we visited England the last time we took the train from London to Reading where we met friends that had also grown up in Reading, but now live in New Zealand. We had a wonderful adventure for 5 days with them traveling throughout the Cotswold's. But I do remember the Reading train station well. Family history can be so interesting to recall.

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    1. I haven't been into the Reading railway station for years and only photographed the station square a while back. It's a busy one and I understand it's been drastically modernised.

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  9. So interesting, both your family history and the links to Suttons. I find genealogy fascinating and it's a perfect winter hobby when we're stuck indoors. The photo of your great grandparents is lovely. I didn't have any photos of my great grandparents but I was lucky enough to be contacted by someone researching their family tree who is a distant relation and she not only gave me a photo of my great grandparents but one of my great great grandparents too.

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    1. There's something special about holding an old photo in your hands. Somehow it seems to directly connect you to that family member who lived in the past. You must treasure the photos you were given. My husband only has a very small photo of his father who died when he was young. We got it enlarged to give to other members of his family. They didn't go in for taking many photos except on special occasions. Now it's easy to take too many and I wonder if they'll survive being stored on an internet file?

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  10. Thank you for sharing a little bit about you family history. It's so wonderful to be able to trace back our family. It turns our ancestors into real people doesn't it? I am thinking I need get myself a little map of England so I can see where where all these places are. My mother's family came over from there in our early colonial era. Love the seed tin. It will be fun to see what grows in your garden this year.

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    1. It would be a good idea to take a look at a map of England. I do that to see where my blog friends live.

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  11. Thank you for this beautiful post, Linda! Fascinating memories and lovely photos, the black-and-white ones are always especially charming. Oh, it would be lovely to have a home town famous for seeds and bulbs. :) The seed box is indeed very pretty.

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    1. I'm glad you found this post about my family history interesting. I enjoy reading about how other people have traced back through past generations myself. Life has changed so much over the years.

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  12. What a wonderful post! I love reading about people's family history. What wonderful presents too :)

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    1. Thank you for visiting my blog and leaving a comment, Nikki-ann. Wishing you all the best.

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  13. What a wonderful gift! So good to read your memories of Reading and some of the history too! xx

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    1. I'm glad you enjoyed reading about my gift and the connection with my home town and family, Amy.

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  14. Lovely box and filled with nostalgic memories, it seems! So interesting to see the photos and hear the family history. I have so few photos of my ancestors, but I have written down the oral history for future generations. It is lovely that you can trace your family roots so far and actually go to see where they lived and worked. Here in the States, we can only go back so far....my ancestors came from England, Ireland and Scotland, just 2-3 generations ago. Thank you for sharing, it was an interesting post. Our grandparents had such hardworking lives. x Karen

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    1. Hello Karen. It's good to record what we know of our family history if we have some information. Our ancestors lives were very different and hard, in the main. Travelling to make a life in another country needed a lot of courage and determination. Thank you for your visit and have a good day.

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  15. I loved reading the history of you and your family.
    Reading has changed so much over the years. It's great to have a trip down memory lane. Have a great day :)

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    1. Thank you for dropping by PP. I'm glad this post brought back memories of Reading. Enjoy your day too :)

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  16. Thank you so much for sharing...I loved reading about your family and seeing some of your old family pictures. I have quite a few old photos of my family as my Nana gave me my Great Grandma's photo albums before she passed....The family has been in the village I still reside in for many years...maybe I will scan a few and share them some time.

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    1. Hello Tanya. Good to hear from you. The photo album of old photos your Grandma passed on is precious. Fascinating that your family has lived in the same village for years and you're still there too. That's not so usual these days and you'll have noticed changes and know a lot of history of the village. It would be good to scan them and maybe share them on your blog. All the best, Tanya.

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  17. I love discovering more about my family history too, you do come across unexpected shared interests and passions, it must be in the genes! How fascinating your family history is, so rich and diverse!Fascinating to hear about Sutton seeds origins too! I loved the pictures, how lucky you are to have them! You do have a lovely, thoughtful family. xxx

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    1. I'm thankful that I had a lot of information before I started my family history research. Discovering more from census records one can learn a lot about social history as well as one's own family. I think it's a satisfying interest.


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  18. Wonderful! I love how that box tied into your family!

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