Tuesday 19 July 2022

A Gift From India

 The story of the gift from India began in the mid 19th century following a conversation between a Maharajah and the son of an English country squire named Edward Anderton Reade. Edward worked for the East India Company and had spent more than 35 years living in India. He knew the Maharajah of Benares (now Varanasi, a city in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh) and was telling him about how much the landscape in Benares actually reminded him of his homeland in the Chiltern Hills, Oxfordshire. He also mention how much those very same hills brought about difficult challenges to some of the local people in a village called Stoke Row. He explained to the Maharajah how much the people there struggled to gain access to clean water and how they had to rely mainly on water retained in dirty ponds and deserted clay pits. Edward's conversation resonated deeply with the Maharajah and he decided that he would provide the people of Stoke Row with their very own well. 
The Well canopy stands 23 feet high. It's unique Anglo-Indian Architecture was based on a pavilion at the Maharajah's palace at Ramnagar.
However, the great engineering feat was the well shaft which was dug by hand one man at a time. It is 368 feet down to the waterline - more than twice the height of Nelson's Column! Earth was removed bucket by bucket, amidst poor light and foul air - if a bucket had fallen it would have spelled disaster for the subterranean labourer.   
Foundation Day
The Well officially opened in May 1864 and it continued to serve the people of Stoke Row with fresh water for over 70 years.
This elegant golden elephant standing sentinel on top of the winding gear was added circa 1871.
 Small octagonal cottage built to house the Well Keeper
The Maharajah not only provided the capital to construct the Well but also sufficient funds to purchase land on which to create a cherry tree plantation and build the cottage. The cherry produce provided an income for the upkeep of the well and payment for the Well Keeper. This was in line with customs in India where Well's were habitually supported by an orchard. 
The Maharajah never saw the well, and eventually the connection to India was all but lost. However, Queen Elizabeth visited Benares in 1961 and her arrival was marked by a gift of a marble model of the well from the then Maharajah and an invitation to Prince Philip to visit Stoke Row for the forthcoming centenary celebrations. In April 1964 to the delight of the villages Prince Philip, accompanied by representatives of the Maharajah, arrived in Stoke Row. Significantly they brought with them a vessel containing Holy Gangeswater from Benares which they poured into the well - believed to cleanse the soul of all sins.

Saturday 2 July 2022

Lavandula angustifolia

Growing Lavender in England is a tradition that goes back for more than two thousand years. Although lavender is not a native plant it thrives well, especially in this Cotswold area, where it loves our alkaline soil and fast-draining hillsides. It is indigenous to southern Europe, the Middle East, Persia, and parts of Africa and Assia. The Romans brought lavender to us, as they did to other northern European countries that they conquered, including southern France. The Romans greatly prized lavender, they place bunches of it between their sheets to safe guard against bedbugs, and used it when washing their clothes to repel moths and lice. In their Bathhouses, they steeped bundles of lavender into their bathing water.

Following the departure of the Romans, interest in cleanliness seems to have declined, but during the early medieval period, lavender was resurrected in abundance by the large number of Abbeys, Monastic Houses, and Priories up and down the country. The Monks grew it in their herbal gardens and used it extensively in their medicinal potions. The Monastasic Houses provided the only hospital care, and medicine that was available then.

In the 16th century lavender was established as the 'herb of cleanliness and calm' and used in every room of the house. It was laid amongst clothes to prevent moth damage, scattered in beds to deter vermin, hung in bags to freshen the air, and mixed with charcoal to clean the teeth. The new import, tabacco, was scented with lavender, both for smoking and snuff. Queen Elizabeth 1, was known to have a sweet tooth and was fond of a lavender conserve for which the flowers were steeped in sugar. During the Great Plague of 1665, the price of lavender soared. Great bundles of lavender were burnt in halls and churches in order to cleanse the air, and those who could afford  to purchase a vinegar made from the lavender flowers wore it in hope of fending off the plague.

The peak of lavender’s popularity can perhaps be attributed to one formidable woman, Queen Victoria ~ she loved it…. This in turn encouraged most other Victorian ladies to follow suit.  

The resurgence today in English lavender is partly due to the French production now in decline, which is mainly due to many of today’s perfumes being made from chemical concoctions.

Lavandula angustifolia - common lavender

Over the years in England we have produced cultivars of Lavandula angustifolia, which are compact and floriferous. Lavandula Hidcote, cultivated by Lawrence Johnston, is generally considered amongst the very best, alongside Munstead, which was Gertrude Jekyll’s favourite. Hidcote is now the plant of choice for garden lovers around the world, due to its rich purple colour.