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In The Lavender Fields Of Surrey

June 10, 2022
by the gentle author

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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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6 Responses leave one →
  1. June 10, 2022

    Beautiful — the scent of lavender wafts up my nose when I look at the pictures!

    Love & Peace

  2. Lorraine permalink
    June 10, 2022

    A nice tribute to one of my favourite fragrances. My friends have mocked me for liking lavender, telling me it is ‘old ladies’ perfume’ (possibly brought about by the old fashioned fragrances of Yardley and so on, in an era when it became unfashionable). I also agree with your comment regarding cleaning products and its overuse! But I don’t care – I love lavender, using it in handwash, soap, hair products and such like. It has such therapeutic purposes, it is comforting, and pleasant to the sense of smell. Your piece has prompted a delightful and gentle thought process that modern busy life doesn’t always encourage. Thank you.

  3. Marcia Howard permalink
    June 10, 2022

    Lavender is always ‘a must’ in my garden. As well as loving it, it brings back memories of my grandparents garden in Gloucestershire (both now long gone), plus an aunt’s clean hankie which smelled of it – even though she’d spit on a corner of it to wipe around my mouth (I hated that bit!). The latter used to have Lavender bags among her closet.
    When we moved out of London in 1959 due to my father’s new job in Mitcham, the address of our new home was no. 1 Lavender Grove, Mitcham, SURREY. I’ve never had such a lovely home address since that time! Mitcham was also famous for its watercress beds too!

  4. Cherub permalink
    June 10, 2022

    I love the smell of lavender when out walking late in the evening, it grows wild along the Rhein here in Basel. I also love the smell of Barlauch (wild garlic) when it has its short season. Very heady, people pick it from the verges to use in all sorts of dishes. It resembles lily of the valley. My district was historically a meadow and we have all sorts of wild flowers planted here to attract birds and insects.

  5. Andy permalink
    June 10, 2022

    All good. Lavender is my favourite.


  6. boudica Fawkesredd permalink
    June 10, 2022

    Lavender is blue dilly dillly lavenders green lavenders blue dilly

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