Waterend Lane and the cress growing industry
Watercress could have been growing wild in the streams of the area for hundreds of years as the river has just the right amount of flow, temperature and shallowness the plant requires. Growing on a larger commercial scale was encouraged by the proximity of Watling Street, allowing relatively quick access to the large London market and then by the arrival of the railway. William Payne, is the first recorded grower in the village, from the early 1860’s, until around 1890. He lived in ‘Watercress Hall’ the exact location of the building is unclear, but it was probably situated beside the Ver in the south of the village.
This picture was taken around 1865 at the end of Waterend Lane. The flint wall to the left was the boundary of Redbourn House.
The better known family associated with the growing of watercress in the area was the Samson family. They lived at Ver House. Father John had moved to the village in 1866 and set up a large business along the Ver, both in Redbourn and along to Redbournbury Farm.
The Sansom family rear (left to right): Dr. O’Malley, Charles, Nell, and Tom, front (left to right): Mary, Harry, Mr. & Mrs. John Sansom, Arthur. John Sansom started the watercress business at Ver House, c.1868. Tom carried on the business after John’s retirement. Charles and Harry started a watercress businesses in Croxley Green and Whitwell.
By the 1920’s , Tom Sansom had developed large areas to the rear of Redbournbury Farm on the deep water ford.
The yard at the back of Ver House was a hive of activity, the picked cress was baled and packed into woven ‘skips’ or ‘chips’ and taken to the station by horse and cart bound for the London markets. These photos were taken in the 1930’s and 1920’s.
The beds today are overgrown and not easy to trace.
The business continued, if on a smaller scale as shown by this photo from the 1950’s of Mr Lee at Redbournbury Farm.
In the 1930’s Walter Vise, the farmer opposite Doolittle Mill in Doolittle Farm was growing watercress in what had been the old mill pond. During the war the farmer was given the use of a German prisoner of war to help him on the farm. The farmer who had worked the watercress beds for years did not really need additional help now, an agreement was made that the P.O.W. worked on the farm in the morning and in the mill cleaning the workshop and stoking the steam engine boiler in the afternoon.
Indeed Mr. Vise wrote an article for the Redbourn Round on the subject of watercress growing in Redbourn in 1960.
With the pumping from the river today, there is not the flow needed for the beds.