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In The Lavender Fields Of Surrey

July 1, 2024
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

7 Responses leave one →
  1. Marie-Anne permalink
    July 1, 2024

    I do like visiting Mayfield Lavender; such a lovely place and so calming walking through the rows of those beautiful flowers.

  2. July 1, 2024

    Lovely, thanks! I remember reading somewhere that the picture on the Yardley’s tin originally showed a primrose seller, but was altered for the purpose?

  3. Andy permalink
    July 1, 2024

    I remember stopping on the way to Margate with my Mum and Dad and brother and smelling my first ever lavender field .
    I just finished Suresh Singh’s book “A modest living “
    Beautiful .

  4. Marcia Howard permalink
    July 1, 2024

    I lived in Mitcham Surrey during the early 1960s which is where I went to Senior School. Mitcham was once famous for its Lavender, reflected in our home address which was no.1 Lavender Grove, a cul-de-sac which led off from Lavender Avenue. My mother, who was the gardener of the family, planted a border of scented lavender alongside the path leading to our front door. I love Lavender to this day and have several varieties in my current garden, including a white one.

  5. Andy permalink
    July 1, 2024

    The lavender fields are truly evocative .
    Just like Suresh Singh’s book “A modest living “ which is grand.

  6. Christine permalink
    July 2, 2024

    Beautiful fields and cards ! But Lavender not one of my favourites, and why they put them in sweets I will never know x lovely to see these fields still exist x

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