Gardening history unearthed at mansion

THE bout of recent bad weather has led to an enlightening slice of the past being unearthed in the grounds of a Suffolk stately home.

Jonathan Schofield

THE bout of recent bad weather has led to an enlightening slice of the past being unearthed in the grounds of a Suffolk stately home.

When rain forced gardeners inside at Ickworth House, at Horringer, they decided to keep busy with a clear-out of their sheds and cupboards.

But when gardener Cath Mobbsopened the door of an old filing cabinet at the back of a gardener's shed and discovered a 19th century notebook the clean-up was brought to an abrupt halt.


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Written in meticulous detail on each page the astonished staff found a handwritten diary including records of the weather and every variety of fruit tree planted in the grounds from more than a century ago.

Ickworth's head gardener Sean Reid said it was the most fantastic find.

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“I really can't describe what it feels like to have stumbled across this piece of Ickworth's history,” said Mr Reid. “The notebook documents every variety of fruit tree that was planted, including over 200 varieties of local plum, pear and apple tree, with entries from 1898 from 1930. Some of them we knew used to be here, but others like the Ickworth gage and Ickworth plum we didn't even know existed.”

The notebook packed full of garden history is believed to be the work of one of the head gardeners employed at the end of the 1800s with contributions from several others who worked there.

“Any gardener would kill for this kind of information; it's amazing to think it's been sitting here all these years,” added Mr Reid.

Dorothy Cartwright a volunteer at the National Trust property near Bury St Edmunds is now painstakingly plotting the varieties listed onto an Ordnance Survey map of the gardens from the 1800s when the orchards were in their heyday.

Research has started to see if any of the heritage varieties mentioned in the notebook are still being grown in the UK today. It is hoped that many could be planted in the grounds next autumn, if trees can be sourced.

The notebook is also being analysed by Chris Calnan, Conservator for the East of England, who said it was clearly the work of more than one hand.

He added: “It really is quite a remarkable find and I think we're all excited about delving into the secrets and stories it will contain.”

Anyone who had relatives working at Ickworth House between 1898 and1930 or has memories of the house from that period has been asked to send details to RealLives@nationaltrust.org.uk.

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