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In The Lavender Fields Of Surrey

June 30, 2019
by the gentle author

I cannot imagine a more relaxing way to enjoy a sunny English summer afternoon than a walk through a field of lavender. Observe the subtle tones of blue, extending like a mist to the horizon and rippling like the surface of the sea as the wind passes over. Inhale the pungent fragrance carried on the breeze. Delight in the orange butterflies dancing over the plants. Spot the pheasants scuttling away and – if you are as lucky as I was – encounter a red fox stalking the game birds through the forest of lavender. What an astonishing colour contrast his glossy russet pelt made as he disappeared into the haze of blue and green plants.

Lavender has been grown on the Surrey Downs for centuries and sold in summer upon the streets of the capital by itinerant traders. The aromatic properties and medicinal applications of lavender have always been appreciated, with each year’s new crop signalling the arrival of summer in London.

The lavender growing tradition in Surrey is kept alive by Mayfield Lavender in Banstead where visitors may stroll through fields of different varieties and then enjoy lavender ice cream or a cream tea with a lavender scone afterwards, before returning home laden with lavender pillows, soap, honey and oil.

Let me confess, I had given up on lavender – it had become the smell most redolent of sanitary cleaning products. But now I have learnt to distinguish between the different varieties and found a preference for a delicately-fragranced English lavender by the name of Folgate, I have rediscovered it again. My entire house is scented with it and the soporific qualities are evident. At the end of that sunny afternoon, when I returned from my excursion to the lavender fields of Surrey, I sat down in my armchair and did not awake again until supper time.

‘Six bunches a penny, sweet lavender!’ is the cry that invites in the street the purchasers of this cheap and pleasant perfume. A considerable quantity of the shrub is sold to the middling-classes of the inhabitants, who are fond of placing lavender among their linen  – the scent of which conquers that of the soap used in washing. – William Craig Marshall’s Itinerant Traders, 1804

‘Delight in the orange butterflies dancing over the plants…’

Thomas Rowlandson’s  Characteristic Series of the Lower Orders, 1820

‘Six Bunches a-Penny, Sweet Lavender – Six Bunches a-Penny, Sweet Blooming Lavender’ from Luke Clennell’s London Melodies, 1812

‘Spot the pheasants scuttling away…’

From Aunt Busy Bee’s New London Cries


Card issued with Grenadier Cigarettes in 1902

WWI veteran selling lavender bags by Julius Mendes Price, 1919

Yardley issued Old English Lavender talcum powder tins from 1913 incorporating Francis Wheatley’s flower seller of 1792

Archive images courtesy © Bishopsgate Institute

Mayfield Lavender Farm, 1 Carshalton Rd, Banstead SM7 3JA

You may also like to read about

Alan Shipp, Hyacinth Grower

CLICK TO BUY A SIGNED COPY OF THE GENTLE AUTHOR’S CRIES OF LONDON FOR £20

14 Responses leave one →
  1. Virginia Heaven permalink
    June 30, 2019

    Thank you. The images are stunning; I can almost smell the fields.

  2. Jill Wilson permalink
    June 30, 2019

    I sometimes drive past these lavender fields on my way home and they are an incredible sight at this time of year (and much easier on the eye than fields of bright yellow oil seed rape!)

    We have always grown lavender in our garden and it is one of those smells which evokes ‘home’ – along with the January smell of cooking marmalade…

  3. June 30, 2019

    Love the stuff! It is true that a lot of the shrub was sold to the middling-classes of the inhabitants, who were fond of placing lavender among their linen, the scent of which conquered that of the soap used in washing.

    But not just throughout the 19th century and pre-WW1. In the 1950s, our grandmothers used to give us girls sachets of lavender to put in their underwear drawers. Not because of remaining soap but to prevent that vague, sweaty smell that hung around clothing.

  4. Connie Unangst permalink
    June 30, 2019

    Lovely pictures. Interesting article. Once again, another enjoyable article. Thanks.

  5. June 30, 2019

    How lovely! You might like this, from a few years ago … https://bit.ly/1IcfHgz

  6. Pauline Taylor permalink
    June 30, 2019

    Lovely, lovely lavender, mine, on the approach to my front door, is magnificent this year and is always touched as I pass by. I agree that the smell of lavender as it is growing is completely different to the scent of most commercial products, even the nicest ones, but I always have a bottle of lavender oil and hand cream which I use regularly, lavender is very relaxing and helpful with the migraine too, I couldn’t be without it. When in Provence we always go to the lavender museum and shop there but I have never seen the fields of lavender in Surrey before although it is also grown in Norfolk I believe. I am now sitting beside my open garden door listening to the birds singing and looking at a lavender plant which grows there, summer has arrived at last. And wow, what a treat to see a fox in a field of lavender, you were fortunate indeed.

  7. Helen Breen permalink
    June 30, 2019

    Greetings from Boston,

    GA, what a lovely excursion to the lavender fields of Surrey. They certainly hold their own with the lavender fields of Provence. Growing up, we treasured Yardley lavender products. Memories…

  8. June 30, 2019

    I grew up in Norfolk with the ubiquitous presence of Norfolk Lavender products and did not know about the fields of Surrey. Yes, the smell of lavender certainly does say ‘home’.

    Your vivid description of color, fox and butterflies is marvelous. Thank you for this lovely window on what you saw, GA.

  9. Marguerite permalink
    July 1, 2019

    Thanks for the wonderful images, as much as for the words.
    I live in Tasmania, Australia and have a great fondness for lavender which I have planted down one side of a winding path. I love its scent as I walk by, its hardiness, its colours, its attraction of bees and also its usefulness for scent amongst my clothes (as well as in my cooking).

  10. richard permalink
    July 1, 2019

    Your favourite is Folgate?
    I sense a bias there! :)

  11. mlaiuppa permalink
    July 2, 2019

    Delicious.

    I have developed an absolute craving for culinary lavender. I had some Lavender Lemonade on a trip to Yosemite National Forrest in California and have tried to duplicate it ever since. Failing I developed my own version. A few teaspoons of lavender syrup and a can or two of lemon flavored seltzer water. Just perfect on a warm day.

    I read recently that England is having it’s own super-bloom of sorts. Some fields outside of Birmingham are enjoying a beautiful display of red poppies. Apparently, for some reason not given, the fields had been plowed under in 2013. But this year the poppies are back and the fields are a riot of color. Just glorious. They are probably spent now as the article I read said they only bloom for a few weeks. But oh, those weeks.

    Looking at these fields and fields of lavender I can only imagine the heady smell from walking through them. Lucky butterflies. Lucky fox. Even luckier pheasants.

    Oh, so fortunate gentle author.

  12. Vivienne permalink
    July 2, 2019

    Thank you so much for this wonderful post, dear Gentle Author.

    One day I will visit Surrey, on my way to Provence.

    Lavender is my favorite flower and perfume. I love Guerlain’s Jicky.

  13. Marcia Howard permalink
    July 3, 2019

    Thank you for a wonderful memory. We moved from London in 1959, out to Mitcham on the borders of Surrey when my father got a new job there, so at age 11 I started at my new senior school in Mitcham. Our new address was no. 1 Lavender Grove (which was off Lavender Avenue). I was enchanted by our new address. My father told me that Mitcham had been famous for both its Lavender fields and Watercress beds – besides other things! There’s still a bit of watercress in the River Wandle, but delighted to know Lavender fields are not far away still. I’ve been promising myself a visit to Mayfield lavender fields since I first heard of them a few years back. The headmistress of my new senior school lived in Banstead, although she has now long gone, so when I finally manage that visit, it will be a sort of pilgrimage too.

  14. M D West permalink
    July 5, 2019

    Some history of various types of mint in that area, too https://mitchamhistorynotes.com/2017/02/17/peppermint-in-1875/

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