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The Lavender Fields Of Surrey

June 8, 2021
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

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Alan Shipp, Hyacinth Grower


16 Responses leave one →
  1. B Smith permalink
    June 8, 2021

    One might call your freedom to partake a particular lavender aroma The Liberty Of Snortin’ Folgate.

    I’ll get my coat…..

  2. June 8, 2021

    Believe it or not, I have the smell of lavender in my nose while looking at the blog entry…

    Love & Peace

  3. June 8, 2021

    The power of word-of-mouth from a trusted source: I have ordered some Lavendula ‘Folgate’ by 7am!

  4. Mike McGonigle permalink
    June 8, 2021

    Lovely article to start a sunny day in Norfolk! Just up the road from me are the Norfolk Lavender Fields – which were nearly lost a few years ago.

    I was brought up in the 1960s with the smell of Lavender emanating from my grandmother’s drawers! As I got to my teens, Lavender was firmly imprinted on my brain as an old-fashioned smell, not unpleasant but not particularly sort after! Now when I smell lavender everything has changed – memories of my wonderful grandmother, Florence Emily Jarvis (born 1885) – who was from Silvertown – flood back. Lavender to me is now a modern fragrance – full of therapeutic qualities. I even have lavender either side of my front path and this wonderful scent now follows me into the house.

  5. Pippa Hyde permalink
    June 8, 2021

    Mayfield is indeed a wonderful place to visit, it is one of my annual pleasures. For those planning to go avoid weekends when it can be very busy. I recommend the jams and marmalades they sell there.

  6. paul loften permalink
    June 8, 2021

    Beautiful photos and colours which raise your spirits . However the actual sellers could be described as providers of a public service. I should imagine that a casual stroll in London then would involve the sudden greeting of a powerful bouquet which could seriously disturb the hardiest of modern men and women

  7. Cherub permalink
    June 8, 2021

    Lavender is powerful and has so many uses. We recently had ants coming under our front door and into our apartment, as did our neighbour. I sprayed and wiped 1 part lavender essential oil mixed with 10 parts plus water outside our front doors and voila, no more ants (far better than using something that would kill them off).

    I drink camomile and lavender tea when I can’t sleep and lavender smelling tealights neutralise all of the BBQ smells that drift in through my French doors in summer. When I walk near the Rhein I can’t resist rubbing my fingers on it when I pass any.

    Another favourite smell of mines at this time of year is Barlauch – wild garlic. It’s quite heady on warm days and best of all you can pick it for free and use it in savoury recipes.

  8. Helen H permalink
    June 8, 2021

    And long may these gorgeous places last! As a teenager I fell in love with Yardley Lavender soap, it smelt so fresh and clean (Lavender comes from the Latin word “Lavare” meaning “to wash.”) It led me onto the path of pure essential lavender oil and other essential oils. Eventually I became an aromatherapist. I don’t practise anymore but I still use lavender on myself and family to treat ills and infections, and as a huge aid to stress relief and relaxation. I use it everyday, and every room has lavender in it, from moth deterrent bags to dried displays and sleep pillows. I even use it in cooking. And I grow a number of different types of lavender. There are also some beautiful lavender fields in north Kent, in the Darenth Valley – Castle Farm in Shoreham.

  9. Linda Granfield permalink
    June 8, 2021

    Ahhhhhhhhhhh….I swear I can smell those fields as I sit here in Toronto! Nice to see/smell the softer haze of English lavender–it’s usually the intense purple of French fields featured in photos.
    Thank you!

  10. Ann V permalink
    June 8, 2021

    For me, lavender is one of life’s joys. I cannot be without at least one bottle of lavender oil and a bar of lavender soap in the house. Wonderful!

  11. June 8, 2021

    Thanks for this beautiful and evocative piece! You may be interested in this:

  12. June 8, 2021

    Ahh I grew up there, in Woodmansterne, just around the corner. We always drove past these fields.
    I love your website and spend much time reading through it. I’m the grandson of a costermonger who lived on Brick Lane, and love the history of the East End.
    Nice to see Banstead featured here!

  13. June 9, 2021

    Not far from where I live GA. You reminded me I haven’t been this year. And will now. An interesting side attraction at Mayfield is its regular visits by coach loads of South Koreans and Japanese. Chinese too maybe. Lavender has an almost spiritual quality for them and they come in their best finery for photographs. Wedding parties with brides in full wedding dresses lying amongst the lavender. Maybe I should pop over on this beautiful sunny day.

  14. Lynne permalink
    June 9, 2021

    I grew up in Mitcham and much was made of the lavender heritage when I was at Primary school. As I recall sprigs of lavender featured on the old Mitcham town crest.

  15. June 9, 2021

    In 1959 when I was 11 years old, due to my father’s new job, our family moved out of London to Mitcham in Surrey. I was entranced by our new address which was no. 1 Lavender Grove in a cul-de-sac off Lavender Avenue. My father always had a wealth of knowledge at his finger tips, and told me about the history of both Mitcham’s former Lavender fields, and also of its Watercress beds. I also had two elderly but much loved aunts whose homes and clothes had always smelled of lavender. Not only did they use lavender scented polish on their dark furniture, but also kept lavender bags in the drawers where they stored their clothes. The smell of lavender immediately brings back memories of those much loved aunts. I currently have several lavender bushes growing in my garden of course.

  16. Sarah Price permalink
    June 13, 2021

    I happen to have walked through this on the same day you posted this! It was a great place to discover whilst I was walking the London LOOP walk. These are great photos.

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