A Family Business

Grandpa and Granny Linfield got married on 1st January 1883. The south road between Lancing and Worthing had been washed away by heavy tides, so the road via Sompting had to be taken. This was gravelly and worried the horse, so the trip took so long that they only just got to Bedford Row chapel in time (there was a limit to the hour within which marriages could be solemnised).

Granny Linfield was born EDITH MARY YOUNG in 1862. With two brothers and a younger sister, she was the daughter of FREDERICK YOUNG and SARAH JARLETT. They were, on the face of it, an oddly matched couple. SARAH JARLETT, whose home was at Shere, lost her mother when quite young (there was an even younger brother, but no trace of him can be found). When her father remarried, she didn’t get on with her stepmother, so was ‘taken over’ by a formidable Quaker Aunt, SARAH ROBINSON (ne PENNIFOLD) of Crawley. This aunt was a real character – when the local nonconformist children were told they could not attend the C. of E. school, she set about raising the money to establish a school of her own, which became known as the Sarah Robinson School. Family legend has it that Great Granny went to France as a governess where she may have met Great Grandpa, who was a sea-captain.

It would seem that in the early days, at least, she rather ruled the roost, and when she was expecting her last child, Emma, Great Grandpa’s ship went missing and he was believed drowned. Hence Emma’s birth was registered by her mother, not her father. Some months later, however, Great Grandpa reappeared, the tale being that although rescued from the shipwreck unconscious, he had completely lost his memory. There was also the rumour that the family of the captain who rescued him included a very attractive daughter who nursed him back to health!

Be that as it may, it was decided (by whom, I wonder?) that his seafaring days were over and he took up nursery work. I wonder whether this is what gave his future son-in-law the idea? All his life Great Grandpa retained a love of rum (consumed surreptitiously, of course. Grandsons were “breathed at” before he went home to his strictly tee-total wife: “My boy, can you smell anything but peppermint?“) He was also given to impulsive gestures, like buying a cran of herrings (before refrigerators or freezers!) – “So cheap, my dear.” Great Granny vowed that even the sweetpeas grown over their ultimate burial ground smelt of fish!

Grandpa, otherwise known as ARTHUR GEORGE LINFIELD, was born in 1859, the son of William and Anne Linfield of Worthing. He took a small nursery opposite the present entrance to Worthing Hospital Outpatients Department, with a small shop in Warwick Street where he sold his produce. After a while, he moved to Bridge Nursery where he erected several substantial greenhouses and built a house for his family. He sold his first business, including the shop, to his brother in law in 1886. Further west, he took over Ladydell and Chesswood Nurseries on the north side of the railway line. Ladydell had a big flint barn with slits for windows, and here mushroom spawn was “run” into compost for the mushroom beds. There was another nursery added on the east side of Ham Road, running out towards the Wildbrooks, which had a big lean-to greenhouse against the brick wall bordering the railway line. There was also our own particular base, Ophir Nursery, on the front at East Worthing. My father, when young, remembered being sent to Portsmouth from around 1908 to arrange grapes, figs and peaches – the fruit mostly grown there – on the Royal Yacht.

A farm had also been bought at Thakeham, just before the First World War, intended for the three youngest boys. Worthing itself was full of nurseries, mostly growing grapes, nectarines, peaches and figs in glasshouses, although tomatoes, cucumbers and forced beans were also grown. Originally known as ‘love apples,’ the Worthing growers pioneered the introduction of tomatoes in this country, but it took many years of perseverance before they gained popularity with the public. Chrysanthemums, carnations and orchids were also grown in abundance. Mushroom growing had also started by 1914 – as my mother testified. They had a glut of them the day I was born and Dad was too busy picking them to come home to see how Mother was getting on! At the Bridge nursery they actually had a mushroom shed on the south boundary, facing north. They were also grown, however, in the peach, fig and especially grape houses where the foliage of the vines, which were trained to the roof, provided essential shading for the mushroom beds which ran down the centre.

At Ophir nursery, as well as the mushrooms in the glasshouses, we had the very latest and most up-to-date way of growing them- in mushroom tunnels. There were two or three brick-built, rounded tunnels running north to south, at the north end of the nursery. Cultivated blackberries and loganberries were grown all over the top of these houses, which were fiendishly difficult to pick, especially from the centre where the best ones inevitably grew! The grapes were also very tricky to cut: you had to bend down very low to pick the bottom bunches, and perch rather precariously on a slanted ladder to reach the centre ones. Once I tried to puff sulphur powder over the lower bunches – when green – and it not only nearly killed me from cramp, but gave me hay fever as well!

Grandpa and Granny Linfield were very different from the Youngs. Grandpa was one of three brothers, known in their younger days as ‘Dandy’, ‘Spif’ and ‘Pop’ who were quite “sophisticated” lads about town. However, Granny, strictly brought up as a Nonconformist, exerted considerable influence, and soon had Grandpa’s feet on the ladder of the Wesleyan hierarchy. Sunday School superintendent was one of his early posts, and , as such, he signed the fly-leaf of a Sunday school prize given to my mother! Nevertheless, he was always a very lively person and wonderful with children (although he and Aunt Al had a pretty tough argument when she wanted to train as a nurse – she got her own way, of course. When he was dying and she nursed him, he told my father how thankful he was that she had.)

When the war came in 1914, the three younger boys, Will, Harold and Wilfred joined up and after training were sent to France, where Harold was killed during fierce fighting for a landmark called “Hill 60” in May 1915. He was 21. A War Agricultural Committee was appointed and made growers take out grapes, peaches and figs from the glasshouses and grow potatoes, of all things! By the end of the war only a few indoor grapevines were left, mostly white muscats. Tomatoes took over in most greenhouses, often with mushroom beds also – traversed by planks raised on bricks (which I and my cousins all learned to walk – and even run – on, and at school they wondered why we all walked and ran rather alike! However, the consequences were dire once a shameful footprint had been matched to a shoe).

After the outbreak of war, Granny and Grandpa used to stay at Thakeham quite a lot, usually taking some of us with them. There are plenty of photos of those happy days: pictures of haymaking; mushrooms; new farm buildings; the pond where we were sent to find duck eggs; the horses on whose backs we sat (mind you, their backs were so broad that our legs stuck out at right angles!); the granary, where we must never go in case we fell in and were suffocated; the boar, which we must never go near; the kingcups that grew near the farm gates; the hay picnics; Aunt Mary’s Angora rabbits; and the ‘copse’ where I went to pick primroses for Granny, and when asked where I found them, replied “in the corpse.” Once, my cousin Joan and I were left at the cottage with Nanny. They’d been shooting and there were a lot of dead rabbits on the table. Joan and I – weaned on Peter Rabbit – were a bit shaken. But it wasn’t spotted that Joan had ‘rescued’ one and put it in her bed. However this particular rabbit wasn’t dead, just stunned. Later on, it ‘came to’ and tried to get out. Joan, waking, yelled and Nanny rushed in;

“What is it?”
“There’s a rabbit in my bed!”

“Don’t tell such stories.”
“But nanny, there is a rabbit in her bed!”

“And don’t you tell stories too. One of you is bad enough.”

But at that point the rabbit got free and fled!

In 1924 a house was built for our family on the Ophir Nursery on the front, and I grew up there. I recall all the men who worked there: MR COOPER, the foreman; MR AYRES, older with a long white beard; MR PEMBERTON, a bit of a joker, who told me that if I planted the primrose roots in my plot upside down, they would come up pink next year – muggins did, with dire results; MR MATTENS, younger with a small moustache; BERT COOPER, the garden boy; and MR RHODES, painter and decorator, who was also colour blind.

By the 1930s the soil, from long use, was getting less productive and land was acquiring building value, so many local nurseries sold their land and moved out. In our case, Ophir was sold to my father’s brother, Wilfred, who with a friend, had set up a building firm. The growing side moved to the farm at Thakeham, and nurseries were later acquired at Ashington, Sompting, and Climping.

By this time mushroom growing had become very scientific. At first it had been rather hit or miss. The spawn was collected from fields, from cowpats and horse-droppings, where the white threads could be spotted by the knowledgeable. We children were paid sixpence each for any promising-looking offering which showed traces of spawn.

I have many happy memories of Grandpa. He loved children and was delighted to take charge of his grandchildren. When I was staying with him and he’d pop me in the car and head for Thakeham, you couldn’t miss his real kindness. We’d have to stop at the beginning of Sandy Lane, where a ‘retired’ bicycle basket was hung on a gate. The car was stopped, and out popped Grandpa, carrying a well-wrapped joint. He put it in the basket, took out a small envelope – which undoubtedly didn’t cover the price – and came back beaming: “Poor old lady can’t get to the shops – always bring her a joint.” No wonder when he died and they were seeking an epitaph, my mother’s suggestion was the one they chose: “He lit many fires in cold rooms.” What he loved most of all was a car packed with children. He’d be beaming with pleasure, and was as noisy as we were. The only thing which baffled us was the fact that he made all of us lean forward whenever we went up a hill. It wasn’t until years later that I found out why – it’s what they used to do to ease the load for the horse!

Apparently when I was very small and cutting teeth, I found it hard to get to sleep (no teeth growing now, but still can’t get off to sleep at 80!). Mother had only to let Grandpa know and he’d come round with the car and drive me round till I dropped off. And when I was divided between grandparents – one month with each – Grandpa would often take me to Thakeham – probably to get me out of Granny’s way. Once, up there, I saw a path up the rocky side of the road. “What’s that?” I asked. “It’s called Jacob’s ladder,” he said. Vague memories of chapel stirred. “Can we go up it?” “Of course, if you want to.” So up we staggered. At the top, where it ended, was a field of turnips. I burst into tears. Poor Grandpa was terribly worried. “What is it?” he begged, “Whatever’s the matter?” “It’s only turnips” I sobbed. “They said Jacob’s ladder went up to Heaven!”

For over forty years, Grandpa served on the board of the old East Preston Guardians. On one occasion he asked fellow members of the board why all the workhouse children were sent to the village school wearing the same distinctive dress? Grandpa pressed for this to be changed at once, which it duly was. He also visited the lunatic asylum where he frequently encountered a man pushing a barrow along upside down. After seeing this several times, Grandpa asked him why. The man beckoned him nearer, looked round carefully, and then murmured: “If I push it the other way up, they put things in it.” He also found a lady who had been there for 25 years, who seemed totally sane. She was frequently reading or writing French and seemed highly intelligent. After questioning, he found that she had experienced some difficulties at the menopause and her brother had taken charge of her affairs and had her committed. Although her difficulties had soon gone away, she had been there ever since – 25 years! “How on earth did you manage to keep sane?” he asked. “By reading anything I could lay my hands on, and reading and writing portions of French each day” I am glad to say Grandpa got her released and took her home for Christmas, where I was introduced to her, and sent to talk to her in her beloved French.

When the Second World War started a War Agricultural Committee was once more appointed. It hadn’t learned much in the 20 years between. We had two young apple and pear orchards at Thakeham, just due to come into full bearing. The “War Ag” decreed: “Any orchard which has not produced X amount of fruit the previous year must be rooted out.” Pleas of future yields went unheeded- they had to be rooted out, and the area planted with Jerusalem artichokes. We often wondered why the nurseries at Thakeham were not bombed- they were producing food so presumably were a legitimate target. Apart from the food side, an attack would have been lethal to workers. You can’t stick paper strips over greenhouses, and anyone working in the middle of one couldn’t possibly have got to the door in time. When, in the latter part of the war, we had German prisoners of war working there, they told us why. It was down on their maps as a large lake – light reflecting from the glass must have looked like water! Finally, the nurseries were taken over by Rank Hovis McDougall, and only a few of the family still work there.

Suggestions for further reading, by Malcolm Linfield:

  • “Pioneers of Growing under Glass in the Worthing District” by HW Hollis (1929) Reprinted in Worthing and West Sussex Growers’ Magazine Vol. 1 No. 1 (1955).
  • “The Worthing and District Glasshouse Industry” by AG Linfield, Jr. Found in Worthing: A Survey of Times Past and Present by Local Writers (1938). Ed. Councillor FWH Migeod
  • “Market Gardening: the History of Commercial Flower, Fruit and Vegetable Growing” by R. Webber (1972).

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