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|
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|
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.
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.