George William Parsonson

George William Parsonson was the son of Charles and the brother of Thomas. He was uncle to Joseph and great uncle to Stanley. Just like so many other members of the Parsonson family he was a skilled basket maker. He was born in 1834 and baptised at St. Peter’s, Sudbury. He became a Freeman of Sudbury on May 2nd, 1856.

St. Peter’s Church, Sudbury (Image from the Sudbury Town Archive)

Later in life he made the same decision as his brother Thomas and left the Church of England to join the congregation of the Independent Chapel in Friars Street, Sudbury, where he became a much respected deacon and a Sunday school superintendent.

Unlike his brother Thomas, however, he did not have a large family. He married Meani Barnard from Castle Hedingham, Essex, in 1867 and continued to live at the family shop, Number 7, North Street, with his parents and two of his unmarried sisters, Emily and Ellen. A daughter, Rosa Meani, was born born in 1872 but his wife did not live to see her grow up. Meani died on November 4th, 1884 – a loving wife, a devoted mother and a sabbath school teacher at the Friars Street Chapel.

Number 7, North Street, Sudbury. Image from the Parsonson Family Archive

By 1879 the entry in Kelly’s Post Office Directory for Cambridgeshire and Suffolk had been amended so that it read: ‘Charles Parsonson and Son’. The ‘Son’ was a reference to George who was running the family basket making business in North Street as his brothers had set up their own establishments. He continued to look after his father and sister Emily.

When Charles died on August 15th, 1888 his estate was only valued at £27. George, however, was working hard from the mid-1870’s to extend the business by acquiring a small portfolio of property and land in Sudbury.

His first purchase was likely to have been a piece of garden ground near the railway line, bought in 1874 at auction for £31. The plot of land was to become very important to his brother Thomas’ family over the next 90 years as a garden but it was originally intended to be used as a place where osier rods could be cut, soaked, peeled and sorted and turned into some of the products on sale in the Parsonson shops. No doubt George had an arrangement with his brothers Charles and Thomas so that they could use the facilities as well.

Osier cutting, peeling and sorting in the Edgworth Road garden. (Image from the Parsonson Family Archive.)

The land was linked to the railway in Sudbury. When the Eastern Union Railway was given permission by an Act of Parliament to build a line between Sudbury and Marks Tey, about 25 acres of meadow land were purchased in an area of the town known as ‘Backfields’, close to Friars Meadow.

On July 2nd, 1849, the line between Sudbury and Marks Tey was opened with the station built in Great Eastern Road. When the line was eventually extended to Cambridge and Bury St. Edmunds in 1867, a new station was constructed on land now used as the station car park next to the Kingfisher Leisure Centre. As the spare ground was gradually given up for property sales and commercial enterprises such as a timber yard, a coal yard, an iron works and a maltings, four acres of the site were converted from meadow land to gardens and orchards and let as allotments.

An aerial photograph of the Station Road area of Sudbury c1970 showing the ironworks and maltings, (in the lower right-hand corner of the image), built on some of the land released after the railway line was extended to Cambridge and Bury St. Edmunds.

In 1874 the spare 4 acres of land were divided up into 19 plots of garden ground near the Railway Station and sold by auction by Messrs Wheeler and Westoby on Wednesday April 29th at 5pm at the Four swans Hotel, Sudbury. Most of the plots were long narrow strips of land about 55 feet wide and 125 feet long. The land had been cultivated and was studded with young fruit trees.

Plot number 6 caught George’s Parsonson’s attention as it ran parallel to Bullocks Lane along the line of the ditch with Friars Meadow on the other side and the railway line to the south east. It had a frontage on the new roadway which was later to become Edgworth Road.

The blue line represents the ditch which ran on one side of Bullocks Lane. Today, the remains of the ditch can still be seen next to the plot of land bought by G.W. Parsonson in 1874. Friars Meadow covered a much larger area at the time, including the land on the other side of the ditch which is now Corporal Lillie Close. (Extract taken from the 1885 map of Sudbury )

Charles Parsonson had appointed his three sons as executors of his estate in 1888 but when his own son George came to draft his will, his older brother Charles was dead and Thomas was over 90 so he arranged for two close friends from the Chapel in Friars Street to be his executors: Charles Cundy and Francis Ronald Francis.

George died on December 9th,1912, after a long illness and left an estate valued at £1806 16s 7d. His executors wasted no time in organising sales of his furniture and property. George had been a widower for 28 years and his only daughter, Rosa Meani, had died in the Melton Asylum in 1911 so there were no children to inherit his estate. Illness had forced him to retire from business in 1910 and his brother’s son, Joseph, had bought the shop in North Street.

Image from the Sudbury Town Archives

The results of the property sale were published in The Suffolk and Essex Free Press: two houses in East Street sold for £260 and two more houses in Melford Road went for £250. However, his nephew Joseph managed to find enough money to buy two small cottages at the back of the shop in North Street for £55 and two plots of garden ground in Edgworth Road for £22 10s.

George had paid £31 for the plot but 38 years later when it was divided into two parts for the auction after his death, the amount of land had shrunk. The first plot had a frontage of 22 feet, 4 inches and a depth of 125 feet whilst the second plot had a frontage of only 10 feet and a depth of 62 feet, 6 inches. When the size of both plots was combined it was obvious that some of the 1874 plot had been sold by George in the past. Still, there was a large shed made from railway sleepers with a corrugated iron roof and a very deep and rather dangerous well with a bucket attached to a rope which provided a water supply for the garden. (Joseph’s son Stanley fell down the well once but was rescued safely.)

Well from a location near Edgworth Road

There was also an extensive fruit and vegetable garden. Joseph’s father, Thomas, was able to enjoy working in the garden and the osier sheds were very much in use. Thomas died in 1913, a year after the death of his brother George. Joseph continued to run the shop in North Street until he too retired c1929 and moved to Belle Vue Road. He continued to look after the garden in Edgworth Road as gardening was his great hobby. His grandaughter Ann has many happy memories of the garden.

“Joseph grew everything in that garden – all kinds of soft fruit such as raspberries, strawberries, gooseberries, white, red and black currants as well as different varieties of apples and pears together with greengages, plums, damsons, bullaces and a golden gage tree.” Ann remembers that there was a peach tree growing against the south side of the shed; a tree grown by her grandmother, Elizabeth, from a peach stone. She also remembers lots of rhubarb and horseradish in the garden and every vegetable that you could think of.

Unfortunately, people used to steal the fruit despite the presence of a large notice by the ditch which read: ‘Trespassers will be prosecuted’. Ann remembers that one of the apple trees had a swing. Her father, Stanley, would bring his gramophone to the garden and people in Edgworth Road would come and stand at the top of the garden and listen to the music. The Hills family also had a piece of garden ground which had been acquired by Joseph Hills in 1874. Ann would sometimes hear the family enjoying picnics in their garden.

When Joseph grew too old to look after the garden, Stanley took it over. He had always helped his father but it was hard physical work. Stanley soon realised that he needed to spend more time at Edgworth Road but he was working every day, including Saturdays, so it was difficult to find enough spare time. He shocked his father when he began to garden on Sundays. Joseph was not happy. “Stanley,” he said, “do you really think you should be digging your garden on a Sunday?”

In time, the garden became too much for Stanley. He still had his own garden at home to manage so, rather than let the plot in Edgworth Road go to rack and ruin, he sold it for £300, bringing an end to many decades of loving care from the Parsonson family.

Edgworth Road changed in the 1960’s as more industry moved into the area. The engineering firm Atkins Fulford, for example, which began in a small building in Walnuttree Lane just after the war and then moved to a site next to the C.A.V. factory in Cornard Road, was expanding. In 1961 the firm built a new factory covering 9,600 square feet at the end of Edgworth Road on land that had once been part of Friars Meadow. In 1964 an extension was built on the Gas Works side of the site which enlarged the floor space to 16, 000 square feet. Meanwhile, new bungalows were built in the area – in Bullocks Lane as well as Edgworth Road – as large gardens became too much for the families who had owned them for three or four generations.

The aerial photograph, (c1970), shows the factory built by Atkins Fulford at the end of Edgworth Road. The allotments laid out on land around the Gas Works are on the left of the image whilst the Parsonson plot, on the right-hand corner of Edgworth Road and Bullocks Lane, has a large new structure which has covered the garden. (Marked with a yellow border.)

By the mid-1960’s more people in Sudbury could afford to run a motor car and the Suffolk Free Press regularly printed several pages of advertisements for different car services in the local area each week.

In October 1965 a new business started advertising from premises in Edgworth Road. It was not only a Standard Triumph Dealer, (open seven days a week for sales, servicing and repairs), but also had a variety of used cars for sale. There was a fully equipped panel beating and spray shop as the new business owners were specialists in motor body repairs.

Many older people in Sudbury will have fond memories of the garage but few are able to remember the garden that once existed on the site. It had a similar fate to many other allotments and plots of garden ground that have been covered with houses, car parks and roads etc. The osiers, however, still grow in the remains of the ditch but most people using Bullocks Lane or Edgworth Road en route to Waitrose or Friars Meadow have no idea of the extent of the beautiful gardens and orchards of ‘Backfields’.

Thomas Parsonson at work in the garden in Edgworth Road, Sudbury. (Image from the Parsonson family archive.)

We would like to thank Ann Eley for letting us borrow her family archive and for sharing her memories of the Parsonson garden in Edgworth Road, Sudbury.