by Joanna Lewis

Available from: Tamar Valley AONB Service,
Cotehele Quay, St Dominick, nr Saltash, Cornwall PL12 6TA


You may have had many visits to the delightful landscape of the Tamar Valley but were perhaps never there, and sadly may now be too late, to see it blooming with Sovereigns, Madams and Double Whites, the subject of this illuminating book by Joanna Lewis, which is a wonderful piece of horticultural and social history.  For two hundred years, there had been a thriving fruit-growing industry in the Tamar Valley for local markets, which included homemade cider for the Devonport sailors, but at the end of the 19th century there was a great strawberry rush after the arrival of the GWR in Plymouth in 1849 with the Tamar being the main artery.

Soon Royal Sovereigns and later Madame Lefebvre, special Tamar varieties, were put on the evening train for sale in the early morning opening at Covent Garden.  With the decline of the copper mining industry horticulture took over.  The market gardens were usually family run, generally of about three acres on sheltered south-facing slopes and were simply referred to as ‘gardens’; as indeed they were, with orchards of plum and cherry trees underplanted with narcissi.  Local children would pick and bunch primroses for market before they went to school.  The Tamar Double White became the Valley’s most famous flower.  Septimus Oliver Jackson is said to have found this sport of the Pheasant Eye daffodil growing in his hedges in the 1880s and, captivated by their scent, he gathered them and sent them to market; they immediately became popular and the Tamar Double White industry was born.

Sadly, with imported fruit and flowers, the industry has now declined but many of the old varieties can still be seen in the hedges and odd corners where cultivation has long been abandoned.  The disc of fascinating Tamar oral history, which accompanies the book, gives characterful portraits of a few remaining horticulturists with reminiscences of self-sufficient, hard working, and well-spent lives with Sovereigns, Madams and Double Whites.

Mavis Batey