While redeveloping its site, Ipswich seed company makes an intriguing wartime discovery

1914 cat

1914 cat - Credit: Archant

During cupboard clear-outs, staff at Thompson & Morgan recently came across a rare vintage archive of Thompson & Morgan seed catalogues, including those that were printed during the First World War.

Thompson & Morgan, which is one of the UK’s largest mail order seed and plant companies, was founded back in 1855 in a small garden behind a baker’s shop in Ipswich, by a young William Thompson with a passion for botany.

His speciality was growing rare and unusual plants whose seeds were sent from countries all over the world, and he is believed to have established a friendship with Charles Darwin.

During a clear-out of some of the cupboards as part of a major development to its Poplar Lane site, staff made the unexpected discovery.

“The seeds catalogues we discovered from 1914 and 1918 are particularly poignant,” said the company’s communications office, Sonia Mermagen.

1918 veg section

1918 veg section - Credit: Archant

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“The 1914 catalogue was a bound hard-cover catalogue, while the 1918 catalogue is very slim compared to the other war years’ catalogues – the page says that due to government restrictions, they are publishing their complete catalogue. We’re not sure exactly why this would have been.

“If any readers had relations who worked for Thompson & Morgan during the First World War, we’d be interested in hearing from them.”

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Thompson & Morgan was in premises on London Road before moving to its Poplar Lane site in the early 70s.

“We’ve just found a couple of boxes of very old papers and information relating to the early years of the company and will be going through it and archiving it when we can,” explained Ms Mermagen. “There are some documents relating to the sale of land and all sorts of personal notebooks of various horticulturalists over the years.

1918 Cat

1918 Cat - Credit: Archant

“There is even an estate agent ‘brochure’ dating from 1919 for a substantial manor house in the Ipswich area, which we’re wondering if Ipswich Museum might be interested in.”

Thompson & Morgan is currently recruiting for a number of roles, and is in the process of “ongoing developments which mainly involve extra storage and care facilities for plants, in line with growth plans,” according to Ms Mermagen.

Thompson & Morgan was taken over by multichannel retailer BVG Group last March, and filed accounts for 14 months to 31 August 2017 showing sales of £39m, with a loss of £1.52m.

The company launched new National Trust and Mr Men seed ranges this spring.

Thompson & Morgan 2019 seed catologue. Picture: Thompson & Morgan

Thompson & Morgan 2019 seed catologue. Picture: Thompson & Morgan - Credit: Archant

BVG Group chief executive Iain Burgess said: “T&M is delivering record figures and has been a great investment. We are investing and expanding at a rapid rate.”

Novelties of 1918

Novelties of 1918 - Credit: Archant

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