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Presteigne Daffodil History


Photo above is of ‘Wilson’s Carbineer’

For a town of its population, Presteigne has bred an extraordinary number of new varieties of daffodil – 470. There were four breeders of the Narcissus here in the first half of the twentieth century – the golden age of daffodil breeding: Gwendolen Evelyn at Corton, Dr Nynian Lower at St David’s House, Alexander Wilson at Middlemoor and Sir John Arkwright at Kinsham Court. Presteigne’s doctor, Nynian Lower (1872-1926) had trained at Guy’s Hospital, London, and served as surgeon on British India steamer Rewa before settling at Presteigne. He bred 66 varieties from 1907- 26 including ‘Beauty of Radnor’, ‘Discoed’, ‘Norton’, ‘Presteigne’ and ‘Stapleton’ and was President of the Midland Daffodil Society (MDS) in 1923-4.

By far the most prolific of the four was Alexander (Alec) Wilson (1868-1953) who moved from Somerset to Middlemoor in 1918. In all he contributed an astonishing 371 varieties, including the well-known ‘Snipe’ with swept back petals. Many have local names: ‘Ackhill’, ‘Bledfa’ [sic], ‘Broadheath’, ‘Byton’, ‘Coleshill’, ‘Cwm’, ‘Felindre’, ‘Harpton’, ‘Knill’, ‘Lingen’, ‘Ludlow’ (white), ‘Monaughty’, ‘Nash’, ‘Pilleth’, ‘Stocken’ and ‘Stonecote’. Wilson was a great benefactor to Presteigne (Wilson’s Terrace) and he donated bulbs for each of the town’s new council houses.

Sir John Arkwright (1872-1954) began breeding daffodils in 1919. Between 1930 and 1938 he contributed nineteen to the Royal Horticultural Society’s register, most of them notable for the contrasting colours of their trumpet and petals. He was President of the MDS in 1937-39. His stock patch still comes up annually in the lawn at Kinsham and 60 varieties have been recorded in the grounds. Miss Evelyn (d1949) had grown up at Kinsham Court and was the niece of Arkwright’s wife. From 1927-33 she contributed thirteen new varieties, four of them collaborations with Wilson.

Unfortunately, most of Presteigne’s introductions will have been lost by now. Unless they had significant commercial appeal and were taken up by the Dutch growers (like Wilson’s ‘Carbineer’ – see photo), as improvements were made with each new cross, the parent varieties were usually cast aside and the next generation used as new parent plants. If used in gardens, unless careful notes of their location were kept, they will now be unknown.

Both Miss Evelyn and Alec Wilson harvested flowers for commercial sale, too. Harry Hatfield (later, Presteigne’s greengrocer) managed Miss Evelyn’s crop, and after her death he continued to raise daffodils in Presteigne. Lane Walker oversaw Wilson’s enterprise at Middlemoor, and afterwards grew his own blooms on ten acres at Broadaxe, Presteigne. The flowers of both growers were picked and bunched by local ladies and dispatched in wooden crates on the overnight train from Presteigne Station to Paddington, London. There they were met by an agent who oversaw their safe delivery to Covent Garden market. The closure of the local railway line in 1964 didn’t just make travel more difficult, it also killed off a colourful contributor to the local economy.

©Catherine Beale

Information produced in collaboration with members of Chatterbrook WI.

For a full account of these breeders, reproduced from Hortus, please

see http://www.cbeale.co.uk/Articles/hortus.html