Sowing the Seed
Farmers in Devon were quick to spot the potential of market gardening. Around the Exe Estuary, the climate was generous, the soil fertile and easy to till, and ready markets developed in wool-rich Exeter and the newly fashionable resorts of Sidmouth and Torquay. By 1840, several market gardening businesses were operating in Topsham. William Downey and his son worked Rodd Field, behind their house in Monmouth Street. John Westcott of Shapter Street worked the adjoining land, and his strawberries were highly prized. Joseph Pyne planted fruit and vegetables in fields off the High Street.
In 1861, the railway came to Topsham. Suddenly, goods produced in Devon could be on sale in London within just a few hours. Local farmers and smallholders saw their chance. Fields and patches of spare ground were planted with fruit and vegetables. Glasshouses were erected and packing sheds built. Every day, workers packed fresh produce into baskets and delivered them to Topsham Station to meet trains bound for Covent Garden.
David Bowen talks about sending crops to London
The railway also allowed nursery plants and trees to be offered directly to growers by catalogue. They were ‘wrapped up like straw dummies’ according to one observer, and sent to customers all over the country and abroad.