Thomas Fairchild 1667 – 1729

19 May 2022 update: I’ve been tidying up my notes today, and have completely forgotten how to re-blog on WordPress. If you want to know more about the Ingenious Mr Fairchild, who was born in Aldbourne, a really good reference is the Gardens Trust blog. Both articles were published in June 2017. and

9 June 2019 update – editing my notes about Thomas Fairchild on the anniversary of his baptism in Aldbourne 352 years ago. The Wellcome Collection : The wisdom of God in the vegetable creation. A sermon preach’d in the parish-church of St. Leonard Shoreditch, on Whitson-Tuesday, May 19, 1730. At the first opening of an annual lecture on that subject, founded by Mr. Thomas Fairchild – Denne, John, 1693-1767 Date 1730†

Portrait of Thomas Fairchild (unknown artist) Department of Plant Sciences, University of Oxford

November 2018: Aldbourne Community Heritage Group – ‘who lived in Aldbourne‘. An excellent presentation by Jan Lambourn, exploring Mr Fairchild’s ingenuity and curiosity.

June 2017: and

Old Michaelmas, Pack Rag Day and Blackberries

Blackberries tend to appear all year round, but when is it best to pick them?

I looked up ‘Old Michaelmas Day’ and, according to various sources, it’s either 10 October or 11 October. Either way, according to folklore it’s definitely the last day to safely pick blackberries. I heard years ago that the Devil swept his cloak over the land in October, making the fruit bitter. Other legends relate Lucifer’s Fall in October, landing on a blackberry bush and cursing the fruit. More prosaic explanations include damp weather, and possibly something to do with the life cycle of the caddis fly.

There is a brilliant mug with old Wiltshire dialect words in the shop at Wiltshire Museum, Devizes (link to their website below) including ‘Pack Rag Day’ for Old Michaelmas. Pack Rag Day seems to relate to servants or agricultural workers moving and finding new employers at hiring fairs. So maybe that’s why the first of the Marlborough Mop Fairs is held on this particular weekend in October.

The scientific study of brambles, or Batology, has origins in the 18th century. Apparently in those early days all British blackberries were lumped together as one species. In An Early History of Batology in Wiltshire (1999), Rob Randall reveals that the earliest known reference to a Wiltshire plant when Donald Grose was compiling his county flora was in a grant of land by King Cenwalh in 672 AD, probably at South Newton, which refers to a ‘brember wudu’. Grose explains “the same Bramble Wood is mentioned in six of the Wiltshire Charters but the site is not determinable” (Grose 1957, p 223).

Thanks to Mr Randall we have a list of brambles collected by Miss Emily Sophia Todd (1859-1949) part of that lady’s “formidable herbarium” at Swindon Museum & Art Gallery. Miss Todd lived at Hampstead Cottage in Aldbourne and collected a vast amount of flora. Including brambles from all around the country, but apparently she “rarely travelled more than a few miles from her home at Aldbourne when collecting Wiltshire material [brambles].”

when Donald Grose was preparing the account of brambles for his Flora in 1948-9 he invited William Charles Richard Watson (1885–1954) to Wiltshire for some field work. During this period Watson checked the brambles in the Todd herbarium.”

Rob Randall* Wiltshire Botany 2, 1999 An Early History of Batology in Wiltshire

* This gentleman is very possibly the same Rob Randall. Dr Steve Wharton’s oration on Robert Randall for the honorary degree of Master of Arts in December 2014

Local tastes and sainfoin on the downs

We were out and about yesterday, walking from Wilton Windmill and enjoying a different range of wild-flowers in the sunshine. To my delight, we spotted a patch of sainfoin along a field edge. So that’s another box ticked from Chapter Ten. I was on the look out for this elusive bloom after reading the blog post ‘Local Tastes’ – a family history blog that focuses on Firmin family research and ‘Finding the Wiltshire Relatives’ and which in the re-blogged article below talks about Ida Gandy’s book, and the many flavours of Wiltshire.

Sometimes you may meet a bit of sainfoin on downland verges, reminder of a time when rosy-pink fields added much to the Wiltshire landscape

Ida Gandy (1975)

Aunt Kate

I had the good fortune to taste some local honey the other day. The flavor of fireweed honey was simply marvelous. It reminded me that my Wiltshire ancestors would have eaten seasonally and locally (as we are so often urged to do). On the bright side this meant that they had access to some items that were exceptional; on the down side, this meant at times that their choices, and even their food in general was very limited. This post will explore a few of the things that have come to my attention that were notable about living in northern Wiltshire.

IMG_2461_fireweed-cropped Fireweed brightens an alpine stream.

I recently picked up a charming book: The Heart of a Village: an Intimate History of Aldbourne, which appears to be one of several books relating to Wiltshire by Ida Gandy. Because of the wonderful details in the book this post will mention…

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Yellow Flags with a Royal Connection?

By the pond, Aldbourne – May 2020

Look out in May for yellow iris around the pond in Aldbourne. They make a real splash of colour, together with the pink blossom of the horse-chestnut trees. This year at about the time they first appeared, I spotted a fascinating article by Karen Andrews (aka ‘Botany Karen’) setting out some other common names for this flower; including ‘Yellow Flags’. You can read Karen’s full article here. Karen connects to a 14th century tile in the Louvre, which reminded me of six tiles of a similar age found in Aldbourne and now in the British Museum. I’m not sure when these tiles were found, but it may have been sometime in the 19th century. There’s a mention of ‘medieval tiles’ as part of Mr Walter Lawrence’s collection, proudly displayed at the Crown to visiting members of the Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Society in 1894. Possibly the first instance of a ‘pop-up’ Museum in the village. The six tiles found at the Court House were acquired by the British Museum in 1947, are just a tiny part of the huge collection belonging to the 9th Duke of Rutland (1886-1940). We’ll probably never know if Mr Lawrence discovered his tiles at the Court House, or if the newspaper article refers to other discoveries; or (if they were the Court House tiles) how they found their way to the Duke of Rutland. Dating tiles is a mystery to me. At least one of the six in London is listed as ‘made in Clarendon’; how do they know that? Mind you, I’ve seen an article that speaks of tiles from the mosaic at Littlecote House having been made at Minety, which is fascinating, but that’ll be another article for another day!

Devizes Gazette Cutting July 1894 in the library at Wiltshire Museum, Devizes

Returning to the Yellow Iris, or Fleur-de-Lys, there was an interesting display during 2018 at the Aldbourne Heritage Centre, researched by Warwick Hood and reproduced in part here with his very kind permission.


The four decorated floor tiles shown here are the best examples from six medieval tiles that were found in the garden of Court House. The six date from between about 1280 and 1412 and are now held by the British Museum.The tiles form part of the Rutland Collection, assembled by the 9th Duke of Rutland (1886-1940) and originally kept at his family seat, Belvoir Castle in Leicestershire.  The collection was sold to the British Museum in 1947 by his son, the 10th Duke.

© The Trustees of the British Museum

Two of the six tiles date from before 1300, evidence that a substantial house or hall existed on the site at that time.  The pattern of one of the other tiles, dating from the 14th century, resembles a fleur-de-lys.  This was a prominent feature of the coat of arms of the Dukes of Lancaster in the 14th century, as can be seen in the tunics of Henry of Grosmont and John O’Gaunt, both pictured below

The Hall, the oldest part of the present house, has a fine fireplace into which have been carved a rose and a fleur-de-lys.  Both the Rose of Lancaster and the fleur-de-lys are closely linked with John of Gaunt. The presence of these carved symbols has therefore been cited as evidence for the link between John O’Gaunt and Court House.

The puzzle is that the fireplace dates from 100-200 years after John’s death in 1399! Maybe the symbols were added later to celebrate the earlier link with John?  Or perhaps they mark a later connection with the Crown, which held Aldbourne Manor for much of the Tudor and Stuart period up to 1627?  All of the Tudor and Stuart monarchs used the fleur-de-lys and the rose – by then the Union Rose combining the roses of Lancaster and York – as important symbols.

Warwick Hood

The yellow flags by the pond, and the fleur-de-lys have also made their way into the exquisite ‘Awborne Gospels’. a current illuminated manuscript project by Jenny Greaves, inspired by the beautiful works of Medieval scribes and artists.  The manuscript initially set out to present John Wycliffe’s fourteenth century translation of the Four Gospels into English – this unauthorised translation enabled Aldbourne’s Medieval residents to hear, for the first time, the Bible in their own language. The challenge of these “Awborne Gospels” is to illustrate each page with something to do with our village. As Jenny’s project progresses, the breadth and depth of our village’s history and culture are proving to be near infinite.

Copyright Jenny Greaves

With thanks to Karen, Warwick and Jenny

Aldbourne Village Gallery. The story so far – long may it last!

I started a Flickr Gallery in 2008. It now has just over 4,000 photos in it. Flickr has been acquired by something called Smug Mug, and I’ve decided not to add any more photos since there seems to be a risk that the Gallery might disappear; free accounts being a bit vulnerable to that, it would seem.

So here’s a link – enjoy!

Many aspects of village life are represented; particularly Carnival and the Beating of the Bounds. If there are any photos or albums you’d like to chat about, please drop me a line,

Jo Hutchings – August 2019

A Maiden’s Blush: the first book of Roses

Eureka moment in the Rare Books Room at the British Library!  This post from the Gardens Trust popped into my in-box this morning; just as I was thinking about Ida Gandy and Miss Todd. No real connection with Aldbourne (as far as I can see) but such beautiful drawings that I just had to share! A very accomplished artist.

Also, in Heart of a Village (1975) Ida Gandy did mention that two plants were named after Emily Sophia Todd; one a variety of the Wood-cowwheat (Melampyrum sylvaticum), another a wild rose, Rosa Toddie.

An opportunity for more research, perhaps!

The Gardens Trust

detail of Rosa centifolia, the Bishop Rose

The British Library Rare Books room is not usually the place where people get over-excited, but occasionally there are Eureka moments. Sometimes they’re the result of long patient reference checking when you realise your original hypothesis is true, or ploughing through vast tomes for a good quote to prove a point or grab a reader’s attention and   sometimes they are simply serendipity. Today’s post is one such.

Rosa pendulina, or the Rose without thorns

Following a discussiion in one of the clkasses I teach, I had an idea for a worthy post on how and why women became widely involved in botany in the late 18thc and thought I’d call up a selection of books and magazines by women from the period to see if I could find anything interesting to write about.  They included a couple by an artist…

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Gardens through the letterbox… widen the net!

I’ve been following the Gardens Trust blog for some time, and have just realised stories can be re-posted using the tech set up by those clever WordPress people. Here’s the Gardens Trust offering from today, a detailed look at ‘wonderful wheezes’ with postcards.  I’ve set up a new category called ‘widen the net’ here, so that I can do just that once in a while (but I’ll try to keep it local!).  Many years ago the lovely late Trish Rushen and I introduced the feature to to plug events and matters of interest outside the parish boundaries occasionally.  More clever people, this time at the WaybackMachine, allow us to catch a glimpse of the original Aldbourne Community Website back in 2006.

aldbourne org wayback machine january 2006

A word on postcards – there are some fabulous views of Aldbourne published by Swindon Local Studies and Family History as part of their extensive collection published on Flickr.

The Gardens Trust

Fort Belvedere “The Country Residence of His Majesty King Edward VIII” 

A brightly coloured old postcard on a market stall caught my eye the other day , and it turned out to be one of a series of “Famous Old Gardens” produced sometime in the very early 20thc by the firm of Raphael Tuck.

detail from a card of Drummond Castle

The Italian Garden at Bowood

This series of cards are all in a very distinctive style, so I decided to track down Mr Tuck and more of his garden postcards to see if  they’d make some light reading for the Saturday morning breakfast table, and indeed they do!

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Tree Planting by the Pond 1937

We have two pink horse chestnuts by the Pond in Aldbourne, one dates from 1935 to celebrate the Silver Jubilee of George V, and another sapling was ceremoniously planted in 1937 to mark the coronation of George VI.  Sadly, the later tree didn’t thrive and has been replaced at least once in the intervening years.

I remember Wally Palmer telling me about the trees by the Bus Shelter and Pond House, planted for two Kings.   The tree by Pond House may have died and been replaced in 1938; however, if you take a look at the BBC film Village in the Downs (1967) there’s some great footage of Wilf Jerram chatting to Desmond Hawkins.  The tree in the film certainly doesn’t look that old so perhaps the smaller horse chestnut we have now was planted in the 1950s or 1960s.

Looking back to 1937, the two oldest children at the village school wielded the spades and then went on to enjoy the sports.  Beryl Perrett did particularly well, placing second in the Girls under 14 race.  Many thanks to John Brown for confirming the location of the Coronation Field in 1937, and for sharing his recollections of a very good tea,

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In the Pink in Aldbourne

Pinks Feast Aldbourne 1792
Reading Mercury – Monday 11 June 1792 Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

UPDATE: 23 April 2020 This article was originally written in the summer of 2018, leading up to the Aldbourne Produce & Craft Show. Sadly, that event hasn’t taken place since. A loss to the village calendar, but so poorly supported (except by the faithful few) that the organisers gave up the unequal struggle and called it a day.

Writing this in the days leading up to the Aldbourne Produce & Craft Show 2018 I thought it appropriate to explore just how long flower shows have been a feature of our lovely village.  The earliest reference I have found so far is a notice for a SUBSCRIPTION PINK FEAST at the Crown on 26 June 1792; the prize was a ‘handsome piece of plate … to him that exhibits the six best whole-blown PINKS of six different sorts’.

I’ve learned that the carnation is said to have been brought to Britain by the Romans.  The smallest member of genus dianthus is the pink; there’s also Sweet William.  Thomas Fairchild, born in Aldbourne in 1667, cross pollinated two of the genus to produce the hybrid Fairchild’s Mule. Two of Fairchild’s mules have survived in the herbaria of Oxford University and the Natural History Museum, London.

I can recommend a lovely book printed in 1969 called Shakespeare’s Flowers, by Jessica Kerr ( beautifully illustrated by Anne Ophelia Dowden).

Shakespeare’s plays are full of references to plants and flowers, he wrote in The Winter’s Tale much about gardens, flowers, trees and about their care and cultivation.

Sir, the year growing ancient,
Not yet on summer’s death, nor on the birth
Of trembling winter, the fairest flower o’ the season
Are our carnations, and streak’d gillyvors

‘Streak’d gillvors’ would be a fine example of Picotee – worthy of winning the Crown Picotee Cup – first presented in 2017.

Some links in praise of pinks!

The Vegetable Sermon

6 December 2018 -update: the original blog on the Gardens Trust website has been moved, you can now find this article at

The Gardens Trust

St Giles Cripplegate
David Marsh, June 2017

Thomas Fairchild, the 18thc London gardener and subject of a recent post, was more than just a great London nurseryman and striver for professional unity and strength, he was also highly  inquisitive – or what his contemporaries would have called “curious”. He combined his intellectual curiosity with a strong religious faith and in his will he bequeathed £25 to the churchwardens of St Leonard’s Church in Shoreditch for an annual lecture to be given on the Tuesday after Pentecost.  He specified two possible subjects:  “The wonderful works of God in Creation” or “On the certainty of the resurrection of the dead, proved by certain changes of the animal and vegetable parts of Creation,” and this has resulted in the event being sometimes nicknamed the “Vegetable Sermon.”

The Arms of the Worshipful Company of Gardeners from the 1616 Charter

After a somewhat chequered history it…

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