Northdown and Friend Family History

Watercolour of Northdown (now known as East Northdown House) by Richard Havel (painted 1800-1840)

Watercolour of Northdown (now known as East Northdown House)
by Richard Havel (painted 1800-1840)


Watercolour of Northdown House (Col Baker’s house) before it was extensively added to in the 1870s

Watercolour of Northdown House (Col Baker’s house) before it was extensively added to in the 1870s

Northdown House and the Friend Family

The Friend family was – and still is – one of a handful of inter-related Thanet yeoman farming families associated with Northdown: the other families being the Tomlins, the Sacketts and the Taddy’s. Time and time again, the same families inter-married. It was considered to be ‘unfair on the horses’ to go courting too far afield. With water surrounding Thanet on three sides, this led to repeated inter-marriages between the same families and of pairs of siblings marrying – Jane Austen style!

The Tomlin family

Northdown was the home of the Tomlin family (said to be a French name) and one of the oldest families in Kent. The earliest records are of a dispute over ‘Botany Bayfield’ (I farmed the field where ‘The Ridings’ development now stands) between two brothers, John and Thomas, upon their father’s death in 1440 (qu’est qui change?). The ruling went in favour of the younger brother that the inheritance should be divided equally according to ‘gavelkind’ of the Kent-Jutish tradition rather than the Norman ‘prima genitor’. Six generations later, John Tomlin (1600-1651) of Northdown and Updown (next to the present-day Pilgrim’s Hospice/QEQM Hospital), raised ‘train bands’ at his own expense for the Parliament during the Civil War. Thanet had a ‘low church’ parliamentary tradition more akin to the arable lands ofEast Anglia than the rest ofKent. John had six sons and five daughters, dividing the estate between his sons on his death led to the break-up of the estate coveringWest Northdown andEast Northdown. John Tomlin’s mother was Mary (née Sackett, of Sackett’s Hill).

The Sackett family

The earliest mention of the Sackett family is in a ‘subsidy roll’ of 1327, based in particular at Sackett’s Hill, St Peter’s. Through the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries the family produced a long line of Cambridge-educated vicars. A Stephen Sackett set off for Connecticut in 1628 as one of the very early settlers.

The tomb-stone in St John’s Churchyard, Margate of Richard Sackett the elder (1668-1730) records him as ‘Yeoman of Northdown’. His wife Martha having inheritedEast Northdownfrom her great-grandfather, John Tomlin (1600-1651). Their son was also a Richard (the younger 1717-1789) of East Northdown and Sackett’s Hill. Richard Sackett the younger’s daughter, Susanna (1749-1773), married Peter Cramp in 1769 who farmed Dane Court (next to Sackett’s Hill) as tenant. It was an ‘unsuitable match’, Susanna already being pregnant with a son (who later died). Susanna herself died only four years later, aged 24, leaving a daughter, Sarah (1771-1846), as Richard’s only grandchild. Richard’s wife died the same year, 1773. Following this double bereavement, he erected the imposing double tomb in St Peter’s Churchyard in their memory.

Sarah was brought up by her grand-father, Richard, at East Northdown. She married Robert Tomlin (1770-1850), her third cousin, bringing the Northdown land back into the Tomlin name.

Robert Tomlin was descended from Martha Tomlin’s brother, Francis (of Northdown) (1676-1732) whose son Francis (of Ash) (1714-1751) married Anne Minter of Moat Farm, Ash. Richard Sackett (the younger) died in 1789, just one month after Sarah’s wedding thus securing the future of Northdown within the Tomlin/Sackett family.

During his lifetime, Richard Sackett (the younger) built up his property substantially, reuniting much of the Tomlin land of his great-grandfather: He purchased Dane Court in 1759 (219 acres) next to Sackett’s Hill (100 acres). At East Northdown, he owned Sackett’s/Home Stall Farm (103 acres) – now much of Northdown Park – and purchased Fell’s/Yorkshire Farm (40½ acres) – now ‘The Spinney’. The two West Northdown farms were purchased off Tomlin cousins, Omer Farm (127 acres) and Tomlin Farm (59½ acres).

All this was left to Robert and Sarah Tomlin in Richard Sackett the younger’s will in 1789, to be divided between their children. They also lived in East Northdown House, although Richard had intended them to move into the larger ‘Dane Court’.

Robert and Sarah Tomlin had one son, Robert Sackett Tomlin (1790-1868), and four daughters, Ann (1801-1877), Harriet (who never married), Jane and Sarah. Jane and Sarah married two brothers – their Tomlin cousins from Ash – James Tomlin and Thomas Minter Tomlin, whose mother was Susanna (née Taddy). Robert Sackett Tomlin was one of the main benefactors of the then ‘new’HolyTrinityChurchinMargate.

Ann Tomlin married George Friend (1790-1831), who was killed in an accident, leaving her with one surviving son James Taddy Friend (1827-1909) of just four years old. She lived opposite her parents in East Northdown Farmhouse (where I now live). This was not part of the original ‘Sackett estate’ but was probably acquired at around this time for her. Thus young ‘Taddy’ was raised atEast Northdownas the protégé of his grandparents just as Sarah, herself, had been raised by her grandfather.

The Taddy family

James Taddy (1710-1764) was another Thanet yeoman farmer , based at Street Court ,Westgate, with land stretching towards Westbrook, Hartsdown and Margate. He had two sons,. Edward (who married Mary Friend) and James ,who was an extremely gifted businessman and entrepreneur. He founded a successful tobacco and snuff ‘empire’. Neither brother had any children. However of their three sisters:

Susanna, married William Tomlin of Ash, who were the parents of James Tomlin and Thomas Minter Tomlin who married their Northdown cousins Sarah and Jane, aunts of James Taddy Friend;

Mary (1753-1817), married John Friend of Brooksend and was the mother of George Friend , grandmother of James Taddy Friend.

& Ann who married John Hatfeild from Norwich, who lived at Hartsdown House – Hatfeild is spelt with an ‘ei’ as it derives from ‘Hauptfeld’- literally meaning ‘high(or main/home) field’ in German.

The three sets of cousins ran the tobacco business until the 1920s when it closed during the General Strike never to re-open. The business made many innovations including being one of the first-ever pre-packaged goods and the first cigarette cards. The original premises were in ‘the Minories’ , near the Tower of London, and later moved out to the ‘snuff mill’ at Morden Park, south London. Sealed Stone jars of snuff were shipped out around the empire, particularly to Australia.

James Taddy (the Younger) was probably Margate’s greatest-ever benefactor, as well as passing the business to the children of his three sisters , he endowed a range of charities and good causes , such as ‘ Taddy’s Bounty’ for Margate’s retired seamen and farm-workmen and their widows. In particular he was the founding father the Royal Sea Bathing Hospital at Westbrook, where his portrait hung by the front door until its closure in the 1980/90’s.

The Friend family

The Friend family are another long established Thanet family, mainly Birchington, recorded back to Daniel Friend in the 1500’s. Family tradition is that the name Friend derives from ‘fremde’ meaning strange or foreign and that they were Jutish followers of Hengist and Horsa settling in Thanet in the 5th century. The Friends were, in turn, related to other Birchington families such as the Crispes of Quex Park and the Neames. Generations of John Friends (and the odd George) farmed at Great Brooksend Farm, Birchington which, then as now, was owned by the Church. The family was granted a charter and the title of Gamekeeper to the Archbishop of Canterbury , in the parishes of St. Nicholass and Minster hence the Friend-family crest of the greyhound. One ‘John Friend’ was hung, drawn and quartered during the time of King Charles I for being a ‘black protestant’ and dissident. As with the Sacketts , members of the family left for Massachusetts at the time, where the name Friend still persists and is considered among to be oldest of the American nation’s original founding ‘Brahmin’ families.

John Friend the younger of Brooksend (1753-1817) married Mary Taddy. They had three sons: James of Birchington Place (1781-1819) whose son, also named James, owned and ran a sugar refinery in the East End; John of Brooksend (1787-1858); and George (1790-1831),who lived in Clapham and was in the Taddy Tobacco business. George married Ann Tomlin of East Northdown and was father to James Taddy Friend (1827-1909). George Friend was killed in a tragic accident –when his ‘phaeton’ overturned on Clapham common, leaving his wife, Ann and four year old son.

Just as Sarah Cramp had been raised by her grandfather ,Richard Sackett, at East Northdown, so too, James Taddy Friend was raised by his mother Ann (née Tomlin) at East Northdown Farm House, living across the land from his grandparents Robert (1770-1850), and Sarah Tomlin.

‘Taddy’ Friend was the heir to East Northdown , from his his mother, his maiden aunt Harriet Tomlin, and two childless Tomlin uncles and aunts. His uncle Robert Sackett Tomlin inherited Dane Court. Also , from his father and two Tomlin uncles he inherited the main share of the successful Taddy’s tobacco business. With these resources he was able to re-consolidate the old Tomlin/Sackett estate at Northdown – as the Hatfeild cousins did with Hartsdown.

‘Taddy’was 23 in 1850 when his grandfather died. Mother and son ran the estate together for a further 27 years until her death in 1877. They set about extending the estate and building a suitable mansion. They purchased Northdown House from Colonel Baker, himself a distant Tomlin relation. They also acquired Mr Blackburn’s house across the road, which brought with it the land that lays either side of the present-day Northdown Hill. This was around the 1840s.

James Taddy Friend’s first wife, Frances Sweyn, died in 1874, with no children. He then married Mary Stewart Irvine who bore him six children in seven years from 1879-1886! She was from the Aberdeenshire family from Drum – reputedly descended from Robert the Bruce’s barber and standard bearer. ‘Taddy ‘Friend and his wife were very prominent local figures. He was master of the goldsmiths company in London and high sheriff of Kent. And keen supporter of a whole raft of local good causes and institutions , such as the Margate Lifeboat.

Northdown House

The original house was a square Georgian building, facing west as now. The north extension facing the sea was built first housing the reception rooms, probably prior to his second marriage, followed by the south extension built as a nursery-wing as the family expanded. The original house lay on theMargateroad (broadly along what is nowNorthdown Park Avenue/George Hill Road) which ran in a straight line along the south of the house. To allow for the expansion of the house, Mr Blackburn’s farmstead was demolished and the road diverted along its present course and a high flint-wall built enclosing the parkland.

St Mary’s Chapel was built for residents of the estate in 1893. The chapel was left to the Diocese in James Taddy Friend’s will. The surrounding land being gifted by my father and his sisters for the re-building ofHolyTrinityChurchin the current position in the 1950s.

Following James Taddy Friend’s death in 1909. As with so many other great family houses, the halcyon days of the Victorian and Edwardian eras were shattered by the First World War and its consequences. As with John Tomlin’s Northdown estate 250 years earlier, the property was broken up between his six children (and the tax man!) : four boys (George, ‘Reggie’, James and Arthur) and two girls (‘Freda’ and Maude). All four brothers served in The Buffs (East Kent Regiment) in the First World War. George, the eldest, was killed in action in 1915 near Plœgsteert, nr Ypres (‘Plug Street’ ) in Belgium, aged 35, leaving a son, Geoffrey, who later emigrated to Kenya. ‘Reggie’ received a DSO, he inherited ‘West Northdown’ including Mill mead, Holly lane, Omer Farm and all the land to the west of what is now Princess Margaret Avenue. He lived at ‘Duck Pitts’ in Bramling,Canterbury: a large house now used as offices. The land which he inherited was eventually sold off piece by piece. His family moved toSomerset. ‘Freda’ married and lived in Hay-on-Wye, eventually returning to the area to live inLanthorne Road, Broadstairs, as a widow. Maude never married and lived at East Northdown House and latterly in Lawn Cottage; she was one of the first lady magistrates in the country. James Irvine Hatfeild Friend was my grandfather. He was known as ‘Irvine’. During the First World War, he served on the Western Front (where he was awarded the Military Cross) and at Gallipoli where he specialised in making home-made bombs. After the war, he went toWrittleAgriculturalCollege. He inherited Northdown House and park, together withEast Northdown. He lived in Northdown House, where my father and his four sisters were all born. Arthur(also an MC) was a full-time soldier rising to the rank of General. At the fall ofFrancein 1940, he was trapped at St Valery and put to sea in a small fishing boat. He was picked up ten days later drifting in the Fastnet approaches. In the family tradition, he married one of his Taddy/Hatfeild cousins.

‘Irvine’, my grandfather, was known locally as Captain Friend, his First World War rank. Like all the generations before and since, he was a passionate farmer and countryman personally growing all the trees along Northdown Hill,Northdown Park Avenueand Reading Street Road from acorns etc and planting them all out. He was a tireless doer of ‘good works’ – probably to the detriment of his own affairs – on projects such as the building of theMargateHospital. He married Louie Cowley who was born inMadras; her parents served with the Indian Army and stayed on after independence in 1947. She was from a prominent military Anglo-Irish.

The high inheritance taxes and the collapse of agricultural commodity prices in the Great Depression led to heavy financial losses. ‘Irvine’ struggled on as best he could, mindful of how many families depended on the Northdown estate for their homes and livelihoods. Finally, he sold land to Sidney Van de Bergh, the developer of ‘Palm Bay Estates’ who purchased the land stretching from East Northdown to the sea. The price was agreed at the bottom of the market and was to be paid in instalments. In fact, money was not paid until the 1950s – because of the war – at 1930s prices!

Northdown House and parkland was put up for auction but did not sell. A deal was struck with Margate Corporation. The house, outbuildings and parkland were sold to the Borough Council for the legal expenses incurred of about £50, subject to ‘the property’ being ‘laid out and forever maintained as an open space and public park’ with no new buildings to be built except ancillary pavilions, tearooms, etc. A further sum was reimbursed to Sidney Van Deburgh for the option he had taken to buy the house. The two cottages were intended as ground-keepers cottages and the house to be used for reading rooms, etc. Attempts were made in the 1970’s and around 2008 , to dispose of the properties in the park by successive council administrations , but on each occasion has been met by a massive groundswell of public opposition.

My father, Irvine James Cowley Friend (known as ‘Bobby’) was born in 1923. His great friend and Taddy-cousin was Aubrey Hatfeild, a celebrated First World War pilot and my father’s godfather. Aubrey Hatfeild too saw the family estate at Hartsdown – James Taddy’s original home – given over to the town, for the same reasons as his older brother Capt Charles Eric Hatfeild was killed in action inFrancein 1918, aged 31. Aubrey Hatfeild continued farming on the family land at Hengrove where Jonathan Tapp, his grandson, now farms and has recently bought back the land.

My paternal grandfather, Capt James Irvine Hatfeild Friend (known in the family as Irvine), was also a trustee of the Quex Park estate during Major Powell Cotton’s long safaris abroad and was also Christopher (‘Kit’) Powell Cotton’s godfather. ‘Irvine’ was responsible for securing a tenancy at Somali Farm, Quex for his retiring Northdown farm-bailiff, Sidney Linnington, who was originally from theIsle of Wight.

My grandparents, my father, his four sisters , Mary, ‘Jean’, Sheila and ‘Annette’ moved into East Northdown Farmhouse for a brief period around 1937. My father loved being on the farm with the cows, goats, ducks, geese, ferrets, etc. But for Mary, the eldest of his sisters, it came as a big shock as she returned from boarding school, having not been told of the move from Northdown House. Shortly afterwards, they moved away to a beautiful house at Skeete, near Lyminge, during the war years and East Northdown Farm was let to the Steed family, who also farmed the Palm Bay Estate land as it was gradually developed over the next 50 years.

My father, Irvine(known as ‘Bobby’) also shared the family passion for farming. He was unable to join the Army due to ill-health so read agriculture during the war with Professor Hammond (an animal-breeding pioneer whose work started the field of IVF, ‘the pill’, AI, etc) then joined the Ministry of Agriculture (the ‘war ag’) as an advisor on the Isle of Wight. After the war, he set up the world’s first AI breeding programme in British Frisian cattle for the Milk Marketing Board, before moving to Staffordshire to start farming on his own account until his death in 2003.

Mary served in the Auxiliary Territorial Service during the Second World War landing in Normandy about a month into the campaign. She served with the Military Police and was there when they entered the Gestapo headquarters in Brussels, at the liberation of Belsen . She met her first husband, Robert Flach (whose mother was Jewish) serving in the Australian army , having left Vienna in the 1930s. She died in summer of 2011.

Louie (known as ‘Jean’) had a passion for animals, keeping goats and ferrets as a child. She married a stockbroker and lived the ‘good life’ at Knockholt until her death in 1982.

Ruth (known as ‘Annette’) married Tim Creasey who was from a naval family but joined the Army as a Private as he was colour-blind and the Navy would not take him. He rose through the ranks to become General commandingNorthern Ireland, thenC-in-CUKland forces. ‘Annette’ followed him round moving house every couple of years. As a passionate gardener, she started again from scratch each time. Finally, under threat from the IRA, Tim accepted the offer of the Sultan of Oman to go back as his Chief of Defence. He was an intimidating figure; a ‘soldiers general’ who made it his business to always keep his ear to the ground. He could speak to his Baluchi, Persian and Arab soldiers. Throughout his career, he was never far from the action. Annette died in early 2012.

Sheila was the youngest of my father’s four sisters. She married twice and has joined her daughter’s family in New Zealand.

I returned to Northdown in 1985; fifty years after the Friend family had left and fulfilling my father’s hope that one of the family would carry on living and farming at Northdown. It is a privilege to benefit from such a rich historical legacy and be able to look back over the ups and downs of past generations.

William Friend

With acknowledgements to Dane Court written byPeterHills and to the website


Fond Memories of a Friend

Turkeys in front of houseMembers of the Friend Family, gathered on Sunday (9th Sept.) to celebrate the life of the late Rt. Hon. Lady Mary Crofton TD.
Mary Irvine (nee) Friend , was born in Northdown House on the 23rd September 1920, eldest daughter of ‘Cpt.’ James Irvine Hatfeild Friend MC DL OBE.

A brief service of dedication of a memorial and of commital of her ashes, was conducted by the Rev. John Richardson, in St. Mary’s Chapel, Northdown.

The Chapel, built by Mary’s Grandparents, James Taddy Friend and Mary Stewart (nee) Irvine celebrated its 120th Anniversary earlier this year. Holy Trinity Church was rebuilt on the adjoining land, donated by Mary and the family, after the original church in Trinity Square, Margate, was destroyed by enemy bombing in WWII.

Mary’s final wishes were that her ashes be returned to her childhood home of Northdown – beneath her favourite Mulberry Tree. Northdown house, park and buildings were given over to Margate Borough by the family in 1937, to be used and maintained as a public park forever, for the primary benefit of the residents of Northdown and Palm Bay.

The readings were Psalm 16, and Philippians 4, 4-7, celebrating in her rich, varied  and selfless life, read by her nephew, William Friend, of East Northdown Farm.   Mary’s two sons Peter Flach- retired Royal Hussars , and Tim Flach – a renowned photographer, and her three grandchildren all attended , together with cousins, relations and friends.

The Family looked inside Northdown House, which is currently being used by the BBC to film a docu/drama about the allied invasion of Normany. East Northdown Farmhouse is to be used as a ‘Normandy Farmhouse’.

Mary joined the ATS in the summer 1939, aged 18, and served throughout the war, and afterward in the control commission. She was one of only a handful of women, selected to land in Normandy- on D+20, attached to the military police. Monty, thought some women MPs would be necessary to handle female POWs and Churchhill though it would send a positive message out to allies and foes alike, to have women serving in Normandy at an early stage. She was initially based outside Caen, she  later moved to Brussels, and then North Germany.

Family reunion inspires couple to recall a member of one of the great families of Thanet

Fond memories of a friend

James Taddy with Charter to start Royal Sea Bathing Hospital

James Taddy was uncle to William’s 2 x grt grandfather George Friend .  James was from Street Court , Westgate and founded Taddy’s Tobacco and Snuff company in the mid 1700’s . His brother Edward lived at Hartsdown. Niether had children , so they left their business to the children of their 3 sisters. One married a John Friend from Birchington , one a Hatfield from Norwich , and another a Tomlin from Ash. But James also gave the land in Westbrooke for the Seabathing Hospital and obtained a Royal charter for it. Their main premises was at the Minories , off Tower Hill . James Taddy Friend of Northdown House ran the firm through it’s Victorian heyday. The firm had a ‘snuff mill’ in Morden , south London , which was given to Morden council along with the house and grounds as a public park , by the last manager of the firm Gilliatt Hatfield . Two 3rd cousins , who would run the firm for a further generation , George Friend and Charles Hatfeild  were both killed in WW1 , so  ‘Uncle Gill’ closed the works following the general strike in the early 1920’s. Their younger brother’s J.Irvine Friend, ran Northdown Eastate and Aubrey Hatfield (his best man) ran Hartsdown, until each were given over to Margate Borough Council.   Taddy’s Tobacco was a household name , inventing tobacco cards , and were pioneers in pre-packaged goods and branding. Snuff was sold around the empire in stoneware ‘honey jars’ . At the time that James Taddy started the firm , tobacco was considered a medicinal product !! His portrait hung in the entrance of the RSBH opposite the main door until it closed in the early 1980’s. TB patients were sent down to the coast for treatment , and wheeled out in their beds onto the clifftop to take the sea air – with its curative ‘ozone’.  The clean air , better care and diet etc. probably did have a positive effect. 


St Mary’s Mission Church – Northdown Foundation Stone laid 1892

On Tuesday 20th October 1892 the foundation stone of a new Mission Church being built at Northdown, near Margate, by Mr. J. T. Friend 5J.P. and Mrs. Friend was laid in the presence of a large and interested gathering of the villagers and others including Captain Hatfield, Mr. and Mrs. Boys, Miss De, Vaynes, Mr. Churchwarden Malins, Mr. O. Bodger, Mr. Manser. J. Brown and almost enclosed by a cluster of trees, is being built by Miss. J. Brown & Son, Margate from plans by Mr. T. Andrews, A.R.I.B.A. Margate. The structure is in flint with red brick and stone dressings and the interior fittings will be of pitch pine, whils the inner linings of the walls will be bath stone. The length is 42 feet width 18 feet and 6 inches and height 26 feet. The east end will be apsedal in form and there will be a porch at the entrance and a vestry 80 to 90 worshipers. The clergy present at the ceremony were the Fosters, Rec. J. H. S. Randolph and the Rev. W. H. Sautez. The choir was composed of 18 scholars from Osborne House School and Mr. Pearson. the organist St. Paul’s Church presided at the Harmonium. The service opened with the hymn “In the name of earth and heaven … shall a house be builded here” after which followed prayer and blessings were evoked. Mrs. Friend then declared the stone well and truly laid and the concluding portion of the ceremony was carried out.

The stone which was of polished red Peterhead granite with gilt lettering had on the outside this inscription – “To the Glory if God this building is erected by J. T. and M. S. Friend A.D.DCCXC11″. The inner side was inscribed – “This stone was laid 28th June, 1892.” In the stone were placed a copy of the current issue of the “Times” and a copy of the service.

Mrs. Friend was presented with the silver trowel with which the stone was laid, and subsequently a party of about 25 were entertained to luncheon by Mr. and Mrs. Friend at their house Northdo

A passion for weather Geoff Philpott, Thanet Brassica grower

A passion for weather Geoff Philpott, Thanet Brassica grower


Geoff Philpott Thanet Cauliflower grower

The unpredictable weather is a focal point for many growers and none more so than brassica grower Geoff Philpott. He studies the weather avidly from his coastal farm in Broadstairs on the Isle of Thanet, Kent. For him, the weather is not so much the bane of his life but a passion and a hobby.

His farm, which stretches onto a cliff edge that boasts a picturesque lighthouse. is in the most south-easterly tip of the country and has its own microclimate that is ideal for growing cauliflowers. “It’s difficult to grow good quality cauliflower – they do not like wet feet,” he says. “But we are up in the most frost-free part of the Isle of Thanet”.

“It does not get quite so cold in the winter Dr quite so hot in the summer. Just two miles away from here the temperature is on average 20c lower.”

Philpott’s farm provides a relatively stress-free environment for the crop because the soil has a chalk sub-base, is very alkaline” and only gets about 23 inches of rainfall. “The chalk gets us fairly free draining,” he says.

Philpott’s cauliflower fields are now as noticeable a part of the seaside town as its sandy beaches. More than half of the 240ha he farms are devoted to brassica, with the remainder being for his other crops including early and main crop potatoes and cereals

Philpott grows more than 100 varieties of cauliflower. “We grow from September right through until June so we need to have continuity,” he explains. “That’s why we overlap with so many varieties. All of the time we are growing three or four. There’s a whole plethora of varieties that you can grow.”

Half of his seeds come from the farm’s own seed business, that breeds new cauliflower seeds. “Tozer Seeds markets them for us throughout the country.” Philpott claims that many varieties in the UK have been bred with milder winters in mind.

“Unfortunately, everyone has banked on the fact that warmer winters are here to stay and breeders took liberties. They didn’t think we would get colder winters and a lot of them are breeding for a friendlier climate. I don’t think other growers are aware of this. Last year [like this year] was a hard winter, more difficult than normal, and winter is a difficult growing period. There will be milder winters but not with such frequency.”

Perhaps the breeders would be wise to listen to Philpott’s predictions. A week before most of Britain was covered under snow, he explains that we are now in a new 22-year sun cycle. “The sun cycle changed two years ago,” he says. “Overall, the product of this will be much colder winters. Last winter was a colder one, which is why in tile first six months of 20 1 0 the quality of brassica was appalling at times. The weather hit them.”

thanet-cauliflower-grower-quoteYears of experience and a love of growing have brought Philpott his wisdom. He has worked on farms since he left school at 17. He is now in his seven ties and has no intention of retiring any time soon. His decades of experience mean that he has got cauliflower growing down to a fine art. “We operate a no fungicide regime in cauliflowers and have done so for 12 years. This is because, over the years, we have learned a bit more about the cultural needs of cauliflower,” he says.

“We space the rows out so we have wider rows but have them planted closer together within the rows. That’s had a warming effect on the plants because it’s allowed more light below the canopy and more air movement. We are also using varieties that are slightly more resistant to disease. When the head is coming up we have to make Sure it’s well covered to protect it from sun, frost and rain – all three can discolour the
cauliflower. It’s a tricky operation and we are very fussy about planting dates.”

Philpott’s expertise has helped him survive in an industry that has drastically depleted over the years as sales have reportedly shrunk by 35 per cent over the past decade. This depletion has partly been because of the poor returns growers have received from supermarkets and partly because the vegetable had been going out of fashion.

“The cauliflower growers in Thanet who supplied supermarkets have all disappeared over the years, whereas those [like me] who have found their niche in the free market are all still here. That is an important point,” says Philpott.

Some 75 percent of Philpott’s crop goes to the free market. The fact that supermarkets are not his main customer has enabled him to speak more freely about their impact. He has supported Brassica Growers’ Association (BGA) campaigns including “Save the Cauliflower” a couple of years ago and this year’s “Love Your Greens”, which has helped boost sales and returns to growers, he says.

“We are just beginning to turn a corner,” he adds. “In Lincolnshire, I understand that they have had better prices this summer. The average grower is getting around 40p now, but it was nearer to 30p a couple of years ago.”

He reveals that the BGA plans to continue promoting the vegetable, which, with his support and wisdom, hopefully has a sunnier future.
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Broadstairs Cauliflowers

broadstairs_cauliflowers article

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