Fairseat Nurseries

For more than fifty years Fairseat was home to an alpine plant nursery that was awarded medals at the Chelsea Flower Show on a regular basis. The site of the old nursery is about 300 metres from the A227 along Crabtree Close (bridlepath MR 216) that runs from the A227 to Fairseat village.The nursery was set up in 1923 by two partners, Guy St. Clair Feilden and George Crouch, and closed in the late 1970s/ early 1980s.

The Old Mill Garden, St Columb, Cornwall
Guy Feiden’s nursery in Cornwall in the early 1900s, it is now a hotel. Image courtesy of Fairseat Archive

Guy Fielden, was born in Cheltenham in 1885 and came from a very privileged background. His grandmother was a descendent of the Lords of Sinclair in Scotland and his grandfather was a wealthy gentleman vicar in Rolleston on Dove in the Peak District. As a young man he had travelled the world plant hunting and was particularly knowledgeable about alpine rock plants. He had a nursery called The Old Mill Garden in Tregoose, near Newquay, Cornwall. Working for him was Stan Chapman who was brought up in nearby St. Columb Major. The nursery was moved to Exeter before finally reaching Fairseat.

Guy Feilden formed a partnership with George Crouch and moved the nursery to Fairseat in 1923 as the area was more suitable (colder) for growing alpines. The freehold of the Fairseat site of about 7 acres was purchased two years later from Christian Anthon Christianson. It is thought that it was already a commercial nursery.

George Crouch was born in Sussex in 1889 and lived in Fairseat from 1924. He had a bungalow built in the nursery grounds in the late 1920s or early 1930s and lived there until his death in 1957 aged 68.This is the bungalow where the author of this article, John Deacon, has lived since 1971. George was a Stansted Parish Councillor for many years, was a lay preacher and was one of the managers of the primary school.  Also joining them were Fred Hills, a young man who lived locally in Fairseat, and Stan Chapman who moved with the nursery from Cornwall.

There were three long greenhouses heated by a coke fire which needed attention seven days a week. They grew a large selection of rock and border plants which were sold on site and, for a large part, via mail order dispatched from Fairseat Post Office. Tomatoes were also grown and sold in the post office. During the war vegetables were grown.

The nursery showed at Chelsea (winning many Banksian medals (the highest being Silver Gilt) and also at the Maidstone show. In 1930 they planted the ‘Scented Garden’ and rockery parts of Selfridges roof gardens in Oxford Street, London. They also planned for new or refurbished gardens and worked in local gardens (Court Lodge and Ightham Palace) which could mean travelling by bus with the tools.

Three of the Fairseat Nursery catalogues (1930, 1960 and 1975) are held in the Fairseat Archive and of particular interest is the flowing prose of Guy Feilden and the quirky inset drawings. An extract of the 1930 plant catalogue can be viewed here.

Guy Feilden lived in various parts of the country including in a London hotel with his wife – but not locally to Fairseat. He died in South Kensington in 1976 aged 91.  Some of Guy Feilden’s whimsical observations over the years are captured for posterity and available to view here.

Stan Chapman and Fred Hills spent all their working lives at the nursery. Stan Chapman was very involved in the two villages Fairseat and Stansted, he played cricket for Stansted, he sang in the choir and rang the bells at Stansted church. He looked after the coke fire in the church and was a special constable during the war. He was a member of the Morris dancers and a keen member of the horticultural society. He was active in the building of Stansted cricket pavilion/village hall and Fairseat village hall. Fred Hills was a keen member of the horticultural society, was a member of the Culverstone Silver Band, played football for Meopham, and cricket for Stansted and Holywell Park.

Fred and Stan both lived in adjacent bungalows in Vigo Road, Fred’s son Bob still lives in one of them (Brighthill) and until recently Stan’s son Richard lived in the other (Woodview).

Photographs of Stan Chapman, Fred Hills, and a memorial plaque, are shown below.

The nursery ceased trading in the late 1970s / early 1980s and was sold to Mr J Sadler from Culverstone. On his death it was bought by Danny Chamberlain and continued to run as a nursery for some years. The area of the nursery is now leased to a small zoo and various other businesses.

Stan Chapman

Stan Chapman in his early days at the Nurseries
Image courtesy of Colin and Richard Chapman

Fred Hills

Fred Hills as a young man in Fairseat
Image courtesy of Bob Hills

Memorial Plaque

Plaque to Fred Hills and Stan Chapman
Image courtesy of Kate Charlwood – stanstedandfairseat.blogspot.com

Nursery Rubber Stamps

The illustrations in the 1930 catalogue were produced by custom-made rubber stamps which still exist and the figures they made are reproduced in full in the section below. The descriptions by the artist who devised the illustrations should amuse!

Our (alleged) artist

We feel our inset pictures may require a word of explanation. The fact is we thought that this year we would like to brighten our pages with a few sketches illustrating garden scenes and operations. So we approached an eminent modern artist, who we were (un)fortunate to find seated in his open-air studio surrounded by his pictures. On hearing our proposal he rose, picked up his hat, removed the pennies therefrom, counted them, remarked that art was going to the dogs, and that he could do with one. (Not a dog as it turned out. One of its hairs). Subsequently he graciously accepted our commission coupled with ”Something on account, old boy.” He has since said, in reply to heated questions, that the soul psyche of an artist can only interpret things as they appear to its inner vision, and that his mission is to express the inexpressible. Looking at some of his efforts we almost think he has succeeded.

Please write clearly

Our packing staff, not to mention ourselves often have difficulty in deciphering names and addresses which are unfamiliar. We should esteem it a great boon if customers would write these clearly. The rest of the order does not matter. We guarantee to decode plant names in any kind of script, but illegible names and addresses do occasionally cause us to spend time in cogitation which ought to be spent in packing plants.

Whilst soft thy love note

Amaryllis Belladonna – 3 for 2/- “Whilst soft thy love note fills the air, Young Amaryllis, thou art fair.“
Virgil – Eclogue 1

The Gentlewomen of France do paint their faces

Anchusa opal – 3 for 2/- “The Gentlewomen of France do paint their faces with these roots as it is said – Gerarde

Enormous blooms

Poppy Anemone De Caen St Brigid – 1/9d per dozen. Enormous blooms – mixed colours. “The Anemones, or Winde-flowers, are so full of variety, so dainty, so pleasant and so delightsome flowers, that the sight of them doth enforce an earnest, longing desire in the mind of anyone to be a possessoure of some of them, at the least”. – John Parkinson’s Paradisus 1629.

Sailors don’t care

Arenaria 6d Balearica prefers to be where it is not too hot; the other varieties, like sailors, don’t care.

In the manufacture of their liqueur

Artemisia (Artemis – one of the names of Diana) 6d. A most lovely race of white, dwarf, silvery tuffets of aromatic foliage, quite ferny and beautiful. They are used by the monks in the manufacture of the delicious and wholesome liqueurs. A few leaves bruised and nibbled will bring back vigour to the most weary. “

A moist position

Calceolaria (calculus, a slipper). Slipper wort. Polyrhizza (many running roots) 6d. Innumerable little round toed yellow slippers. For a moist position.

You get a lot for 6d.

Cerastium (keras, a horn, from the shape of the seed vessel). Snow in Summer. Tormentosum (wooly with matted down). The rampageous one himself; guaranteed to smother everything within reach in about a year, but invaluable for covering large or unsightly places, and attractive in or out of bloom. You get a lot for 6d. South Europe 1648.

The juice is given to little dogs.

Daisy monstrosa (enormous). 1/6d a dozen. “The juice, given to little dogs, with milke, keeps them from growing great”. Gerarde

A German botanist.

Funkia (after H. Funk, a German botanist) Japan 1790. 9d

A rare hybrid from Bulgaria

Geum (from geyo, I stimulate; the roots of some of the species having the same properties as Peruvian bark (quinine). Avens. Borisii ( named after King Boris). A rare hybrid from Bulgaria; large flowers of very very brilliant orange scarlet. 1/6d

The more difficult places

Hypericum. The Yperikon of Dioscorides. The well-known and useful Saint John’s Wort or Rose of Sharon. Evergreen foliage large yellow flowers. Covers waste and semi shady places and is all together indispensable in the more difficult places of the garden. 5/6d per dozen.

A boy with a bull’s eye.

Mentha pulegium. Pulegium is supposed to refer to the idea that it drove away fleas ‘publices’. Penny Royal. This mint is one to have for walls or crazy paving. it likes being trodden on, and is as powerfully aromatic as a boy with a bullseye.

Tax demand - “Everybody knows it”

A very showy family

Phlox – a very showy family and indispensable for the Rock garden. 8d.

Apt to be temperamental

Primula (lit. “the little firstling” from being one of the earliest plants to flower).
Chionantha (snow flowered) – A magnificent snow-white primula, but like beauties in other spheres, apt to be temperamental. 1/-

Water is not necessary

Senecio (from senex, an old man). Clivorum (of the slopes). It grows well in moist positions, but water is not necessary, as any ordinary border suits it. A magnificent thing. 1/-

Avoid excessive moisture

Verbena (from the Celtic Ferfain.) In dealing with these the wise gardener will avoid excessive moisture, otherwise they are easy. 9d

Native of Connemara

Menziesia (after J. Menzies, surgeon and naturalist to the exploring expedition under Vancouver.) Polifolia – (St. Dabeocs Heath). It resembles a very large flowered Bell Heather. A beautiful native of Connemara. 1/-

Author: John Deacon
Editors: Dick Hogbin, Tony Piper
Contributors: N/A
Acknowledgements: N/A
Last Updated: 27 September 2023