Daffodils at Brownsea
Within the Partnership Archive lies a sale catalogue for Brownsea Island from the 1920s. Inside is a remarkable insight into the economy of the island almost 100 years ago.
Daffodils at Brownsea
“As the visitor strolls Eastwards from Maryland back towards the Castle, he finds himself following a path through deep woods and shoulder high bracken, past fields which at Eastertide are bright with daffodil and narcissus, here grown commercially with considerable success.” The industry began in 1908 when the decision to operate a commercial flower growing business was taken by the island’s owner Charles van Raalte.
12 acres of the island were cultivated with daffodils and narcissi the main crop. Many different varieties including Grand Monarch, Scilly Whites and Glory of Seyden were grown and as well as selling the blooms there was a steady trade in the bulbs too. About 20 tons of bulbs were sold each year reaching up to £90 per ton.
The mild climate suited the early flowers which were harvested and taken to Poole by boat and then on to London by rail. A former resident of Brownsea, Jack Batterick recalls the days when days were spent picking the daffodils and transporting them to Covent Garden for sale to the London market.
“We worked until it was too dark to see, continuously picking the succulent stems. On average 750 bunches were tied each night by every family on the island. For this we received ten pence for each hundred bunches and, by the end of the season, all of us, but especially the women, were exhausted.”
The trade continued until 1927 when the island was purchased by Mrs Bonham Christie who refused to allow anyone on to the island. The industry closed and the local people gradually left for a life on the mainland. Within a year the population was reduced from 270 to four.
So, idyllic as it may have seemed, life on the island was hard with little reward for a hard day’s labour. Thankfully now most people who visit the island do so for rest and relaxation. They may walk around the island wondering about the ridges in the soil never realising the significance of the furrows in Brownsea’s long history.