Saturday, June 25, 2022

Eddie Wormington - Webb's Trial Grounds to Garden Centre

Reproduced with permission from “Memories of Wychbold” by Robin Skerratt

Webbs initially purchased 37 acres of land from George Jackson 22nd August 1922 to develop their new seed trial grounds.

“In 1935 Major Harcourt Webb took Alfred Wormington to Wychbold and introduced him to the present site at Henbrook which was then a gravel pit and a very stony field. It extended from Harold Davies’s cottage to Mr. Hallows detached house Glenfield opposite Swan Garage. This house and land to the road bridge was purchased much later and eventually housed Mr. and Mrs. Colley (June Barlow’s parents).

Major Webb told Alfred “W” that day, that he would move temporarily back to Astwood whilst a house was built for him on the site. He was to take charge and engage all the labour and proceed with developing the new trial grounds, reporting to the Garden Seeds Manager at Wordsley who was an Australian – Ossy Clark.

Webbs Anniversary postcard - the Robin Skerratt collection

Alfred “W” moved onto the site – activity everywhere, building greenhouses, potting sheds, heated and cold frames, boiler houses and then the chalet, originally as offices and a visitor centre. A water pumping station on the River Salwarpe was built by Braziers to irrigate the land. The present rock garden was previously a gravel pit and many builders lorries had to be winched out of the mire. Massive solid tyred trailers arrived in the night with large acetylene lamps burning, towed by the large tractors hauling Westmorland stone from the Lake District. Lumps as big as garden sheds were used to form the rock garden two thirds being buried underground

The preparation of the land was of prime importance. During the Autumn a squad would be taken to Dodderhill Common to bag leaf mould using massive hop sacks. The new Astwood Farm cattle truck was borrowed for the purpose of transporting the leaves to Wychbold. Alfred “W” had a few days tuition from the regular driver and proceeded to Worcester in the cattle truck and passed his driving test. Things were moving apace.

Many tons of turf were cut from good loam fields and stacked to rot down. Alfred “W” went round the country to large beef farms and purchased hundreds of tons of farm manure which was hauled onto the site and ploughed in over a couple of years. A sterilizing steam plant was built for the turf and the leaves before they were used in wooden seed trays into which seedlings were pricked out by a team of women led by Florence, Alfred’s wife, in the season. During the then severe winter months several employees would be transported to the Wordsley factory daily, to select seed potatoes and bag them or work in the seed packing department. In the summers from 1937 onwards the “front field” was a sea of blooms and colour, at weekends bus loads of people would be dropped outside the ground and would walk from neighbouring areas around the grounds to admire the fantastic blooms on this virgin soil.

The manager Ossy Clark would arrive on Saturday afternoons to view the progress. During the long hot summers a “stop me and buy one” tricycle stood outside the main gate. Eddie “W” was always on hand with his bike when Mr. Clark held out half-a-crown for ice creams “all round”.

When the greenhouses were complete it was necessary for the indoor foreman to be on site full time to manually stoke the two large coke burning boilers heating the greenhouses keeping an eye on temperature pressure gauges. So in 1938 Alfred, my father, moved to Upton Warren only the length of a plank across the brook from the trial grounds. The plan was to build manager’s and foreman’s houses on the opposite side of the A38 south of the sailing pool. However Mr. Hitler stopped all that and after the war permission was not granted for ribbon development on the main road. Webbs disposed of seed production and the need for a Trial Ground wasn’t necessary. So the brilliant idea of a garden centre was born, and the rest we know.

Alf Wormington shading the cold frames 1938

Alf Wormington shading the cold frame 1938

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