The Gardens of the British Working Class by Margaret Willes - review by Miranda Seymour

Miranda Seymour

Flowers in the Smog

The Gardens of the British Working Class


Yale University Press 413pp £25

‘Now you can’t do a poor man a greater kindness, in my opinion, than by giving him a garden.’ The speaker was the head gardener of Caunton Manor, which belonged to Dean Hole, one of those stalwart Victorian philanthropists who believed that the best way to keep a suffering soul from the gin shop was to provide him with a plot of land. Such Victorian industrialists and do-gooders – the two went together like a horse and carriage – shine out like beacons of energy and determination from Margaret Willes’s marvellously illuminating book.

Her story begins with Queen Elizabeth I, a monarch enlightened enough to decree that each new cottage built during her reign should be granted four acres of ground for cultivation. Royalty and the wealthy have seldom showed such generosity to the have-nots of the land. Following the dissolution of the monasteries, monastic and priory lands were

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