History: Countess Tasker and Brentwood Horticultural Society

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Published:
12:00 19 April 2022



With the Easter season of eggs, bunnies and chocolate now in the rear-view mirror, Sylvia Kent, our Brentwood history columnist, takes a look at what’s next on our journey – the garden’s big boon.

The great boon of the garden has already taken off.

Many may have had fun mowing the lawn a bit and tidying up winter debris, but with the prospect of longer days and lighter evenings, our green-fingered fraternity emerged from their cozy homes and from the garden shed our gardening tools and wheelbarrows.

This time of year is traditionally considered the Easter start of our growth year. We sharpen our spades, pruners, hoes and mowers before we soften up to dig, weed, sow and plant smoothly.

When once, living next to the Hartswood Road housing estates in Brentwood, I realized that the great Easter gardening bonanza was about to begin, all I could see was a plethora of elbows digging enthusiastically in order to prepare their five-stem allotment space against a noisy background of hard-working modern battery-powered brushcutters and mowers before the big sowing sessions begin.

But, despite the difficulty of our Essex clay soil, keen gardeners and super gardeners all had something in common – a love of culture and a joy of the outdoors.

Brentwood, Hutton, Shenfield and surrounding villages have historically enjoyed a reputation for gardening expertise in national competitions.

The Brentwood Horticultural Society was started in the spring of 1872 by a wonderful lady – the Countess Tasker – who lived in the beautiful Middleton Hall in Taskers Lane (now Middleton Hall Lane). She took advantage of her vast land by inviting local residents to join her new club. which she named the Brentwood and District Gardeners and Allotment Society.

Countess Tasker shared her fascination with plants with her 17-year-old goddaughter, Ellen Willmott, who arrived at Great Warley in 1875.

Several books have been written about these two ladies, who first created their magnificent gardens at Middleton Hall, now Brentwood Preparatory School and later at the gardens of Warley Place, a venue that often attracted royalty.

In 1922, the local resident’s wife, Count Lescher, presented a trophy for the highest points in vegetable growing and other upper-class local luminaries awarded silver cups and ornate platters.

These were returned to society as perpetual trophies.

Well-known Brentwood philanthropist Percy Bayman was a wonderful supporter of the society, presenting the Professional Gardeners Challenge Cup, which was the pinnacle of Brentwood’s gardening prowess.

In 1949 the society changed its name to the Brentwood Horticultural Society.

Today, 150 years later, gardeners still love to ‘grow their own’ and meet and work together at one of eight manicured Brentwood Gardens spread across the city and organized by Brentwood Borough Council.

Certainly, a healthy and useful pastime.

To learn more about Brentwood’s past, Sylvia Kent’s book Brentwood in 50 Buildings, published by Amberley Publishing in Stroud, is available.

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