Market gardens in London

Pages 573-576

The Environs of London: Volume 4, Counties of Herts, Essex and Kent. Originally published by T Cadell and W Davies, London, 1796.

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General View of the former and present State of Market Gardens, and of the Quantity of Land now occupied for that Purpose within Twelve Miles of London.

SOME observations were made in the first volume of this work (fn. 1) relating to the first introduction of the culture of vegetables for sale in this kingdom; which appears, by Fuller's account (fn. 2), to have been about the year 1590. In some bills of fare for dinners, in 1573, I find several charges for "parsley, sorill, and strong herbs;" and one charge of 12d. for "2 dishes of buttered peason," on the first of July (fn. 3), which, supposing the value of money to have been then four times greater, would now, at that season, purchase about eight pecks. Fuller says, that previously to the time which he fixes for the introduction of gardening, for profit, a mess of rath-ripe, or early peas, was a dainty for ladies, they came so far and cost so dear. What they cost in his time (1660) he does not inform us: the usual price now, at their first coming, is from about five shillings to half a guinea a pottle; afterwards from ten to fifteen shillings the half-sieve; a price sufficiently high to entitle them to be still called dainties (fn. 4). Giacomo Castelvetri, in a manuscript treatise (fn. 5) on the roots, herbs, and fruits eaten by the Italians, written whilst he was in England, in 1614, has a few observations on the vegetables used in this country. The asparagus (fn. 6), he says, was very small and very dear in London, its culture not being well understood; he expresses his surprise that it was not cultivated to a greater extent, since an acre of asparagus would, in a short time, yield more profit than ten acres sown with corn. Artichokes (fn. 7), in England, he observes, lasted the greatest part of the year; much longer than in Italy. Cucumbers were then eaten when they were big and yellow, in England; in Italy they ate them when small and green: Mushrooms were very little known in England. The English, says Castelvetri, have two plentiful crops of strawberries in the year; the first in the middle of June, the second in October. In the bill for Alleyne's foundation dinner at Dulwich, Sept. 13, 1619, two "collefloreys" are charged 3s. (about 9s. perhaps, according to the present value of money); thirty lettices 4d.; sixteen artichokes 3s. 4d.; carrots, turnips, rosemary, and bays, only 4d. (fn. 8).

Gardens, for the raising of vegetables for sale, were first cultivated about Sandwich in Kent (fn. 9). The example was soon followed near the metropolis, whose markets are the chief vent for their produce. In proportion as this great town has increased in population and opulence, the demand for every species of garden luxury has in creased also; and, from time to time, fields have in consequence been converted into garden-ground, till a considerable proportion of the land within a few miles of London became occupied for that purpose. The culture of garden-ground is principally confined to those parishes which lie within a moderate distance of the river, on account of the convenience of water-carriage for manure, which, since the prodigious increase of carriages, as well of hackney and stage coaches as of those kept by private families (fn. 10), is procured in great abundance from the London stables.

By a general calculation, founded upon inquiries made in each parish, it appears that there are about five thousand acres, within twelve miles of the metropolis, constantly cultivated for the supply of the London markets with garden vegetables, exclusive of about 800 acres cropped with fruit of various kinds (fn. 11), and about 1700 acres cultivated for potatoes (fn. 12). Besides which, there are, perhaps, 1200 more cropped with various garden vegetables (fn. 13) for the food of cattle, principally cows. This culture is carried on most extensively, in the parishes of Camberwell and Deptford St. Paul's (fn. 14), by persons who are called farming-gardeners. Their method is to manure their land to the highest pitch of cultivation for garden crops, both for the market and for cattle, after a succession of which, they refresh it by sowing it with corn.

In the parish of Fulham, the cultivation of gardens for the market is carried on to a greater extent than in any other in the kingdom. The quantity occupied by market-gardeners only is about 800 acres; to which may be added nearly 200 more cultivated for the market by farming-gardeners.

The cultivation of asparagus is carried on to the greatest extent in the parishes of Deptford St. Paul's, Chiswick, Battersea, and Mortlake; there being about 180 acres of it in the four parishes, of which about 70 are in Mortlake (fn. 15); which may be said to produce a greater quantity of that vegetable than any parish in England. Deptford is famous also for the culture of onions for seed; of which, on an average, there are about 20 acres (fn. 16). About ten acres are cultivated for this purpose in the parishes of Mortlake and Barnes.

Fuller mentions 6l. an acre as a rent which had been given in his time for garden-ground in Surrey; yet the occupiers, he says, paid their rents and lived comfortably; one cannot help suspecting some error in this statement; as the value of money is considerably decreased, and that of land much higher than it was in 1660. The average rent of garden-ground, in most of the parishes near London, is now 4l. per acre.


  • 1. P. 28.
  • 2. In his Worthies, pt. 3. p. 77.
  • 3. Nichols's Queen Elizabeth's Progresses.
  • 4. Asparagus, at its first coming, generally sells for about six or seven shillings a hundred, and has in some instances been sold at a much higher price. Early potatoes are usually sold at 3s. 6d. per pound; and have been sometimes at as high a price as 5s. The fall of price in all these articles is generally very rapid as the season advances. A singular instance of fluctuation of price occurred a few years ago in the article of Carolina raspberries, which, when they were first introduced, sold at 2s. 6d. or 3s. a pottle. They were very prolific, an acre yielding about 3000 pottles. The gardeners, tempted by the high price, overstocked their plantations, the market became glutted, and at last they fell to two-pence a pottle, which was not sufficient to pay the gathering and carriage.
  • 5. This treatise (which is written in Italian) is in the library of Sir Joseph Banks, Bart. Its title is "Brieve Racconto di tutte le Radici, du tutte l'Herbe, & di tutti Frutti che crudi o cotti in Italia si mangiano." It seems to have been transcribed for the press, and is dedicated to Lucy Countess of Bedford.
  • 6. Gerrard, writing in 1597, says, "the first sprouts or naked tender shoots of asparagus be oftentimes sodden in flesh broth and eaten, or boiled in fair water and seasoned with oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper; then are served at men's tables as a fallad." Herbal, p. 955.
  • 7. Gerrard says, "The nailes of artichokes, that is the white and thick parts which are in the bottom of the outward scales or flakes of the fruit, and also of the middle pulp, whereon the downy seed doth stand, are eaten both raw with pepper and salt, and commonly boiled with the broth of fat flesh with pepper added, and are accounted a dainty dish; so likewise the middle ribs of the leaves, being made white and tender by good cherishing and looking to, are brought to the table as a great service, together with other junkets; they are eaten with pepper and salt, as be the raw artichokes." Herbal, p. 933. Parkinson says, "they use to take the boiled bottoms to make pyes, which is a delicate kinde of baked meate."—Paradisus Terrestris, 1629, p. 520. Turner recommends artichokes to be sodden with wine and oil to render them wholesome.—Herbal, 1551, fol. 43.
  • 8. See vol. i. p. 99 of this work.
  • 9. Fuller's Worthies, pt. 3. p. 77.
  • 10. Some idea of this increase may be obtained by looking into Maitland's History of London, printed in 1739.
  • 11. The principal places for the growth of fruit are Brentford, Isleworth, Twickenham, Hammersmith, Kensington, and Plumstead. The fruit grown in the latter is in orchards, principally cherries: the three first are particularly famous for strawberries, for which the soil, a fine loam, is well adapted. Mr. Nettleship of Twickenham has sixteen acres. He cultivates about fifty acres for fruit of various sorts, in that parish and Isleworth. The quantity of land cropped with fruit in the latter parish alone is nearly 400 acres.
  • 12. The chief culture of potatoes is in the parishes of Barking, Little Ilford, Eastham, Leyton, and Westham. In the latter parish alone about 500 acres are cropped with that vegetable. The plant which we call the potatoe was introduced into this country about the latter end of the 16th century; it is mentioned by Gerrard as cultivated (in 1597) in botanical gardens for curiosity. He observes that its taste and virtues were much the same as those of the batata Hispanorum or Spanish potatoe, then in much esteem in this country. When Parkinson published his Paradisus Terrestris, our modern potatoes, then called batatœ Virginianœ, were become more common, and were prepared in the same way as the Spanish potatoes, being roasted under the embers, and eaten with sack and sugar, or baked with marrow, sugar, and spices, or candied by the comfit-makers; in all which ways, says Parkinson, the Virginian potatoe, being dressed, maketh almost as delicate mcat as the former (the Spanish). p. 518.
  • 13. There are also about 300 acres cultivated for physical herbs, and between 300 and 400 acres occupied by nurserymen. Of the physic gardens about 250 acres are at Mitcham, the remainder in the neighbouring parishes. The most extensive nursery grounds are Russell's at Lewisham; Malcolm's at Kennington; Birchall's at Fulham; Howey's at Putney, and Grimwood's at Kensington.
  • 14. It is stated in p. 386, that there are about 500 acres in this parish occupied by market-gardeners; it should have been said rather by farming-gardeners, as there are not more than 200 on an average cultivated for the market.
  • 15. Farmer Adams, who, perhaps, is the largest grower of this vegetable in the kingdom, occupies 36 acres; Mr. Bagley 25 acres.
  • 16. Principally in the hands of the Edmonds family, who first established their culture, and have carried it on for many years.