A Model Farm

The Watercress Company was transported back to the early 60s when members of the Blandford Forum Model Railway Club visited Dorset HQ to show Tom and team a detailed model of Spetisbury Watercress Farm which grew and packed the Sylvasprings watercress brand and was one of the original farms out of which The Watercress Company grew.

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The model farm took 4 months to make and is part of a much bigger project the group of 5 modellers are working on; they are building a 22ft x 10ft model of Bailey Gate Station in Sturminster Marshall and once home to the largest cheese-making factory in the world.  In its day the United Dairies site received 52,000 gallons of milk daily to make into cheddar.  The factory closed in 1978 but its dominating presence will be recreated in the model.

The Blandford Forum Model Railway Club sought the help of The Watercress Company who provided photographs as well as the plans of the farm on which to base the model.  Even better, they introduced chair of the club, Howard Day and his deputy, the aptly named Robert Stephenson to 92 year old Bill Jesty.  Bill’s family association with watercress goes back several generations and he himself worked on the original farm back in the 60s so was able to provide the additional detail needed to make the model so true to life.

Left to right: Howard Day, Bill Jesty and Robert Stephenson

Left to right: Howard Day, Bill Jesty and Robert Stephenson

In the 1920s Sylvasprings was the trademark name of what had been Bedford & Jesty.  It’s believed to be one of the first ever fresh produce brands and even had one of the first recognisable slogans – “Stick with the cress with the stick in it”.  This had originated from a desire to differentiate their commercially grown watercress from that picked from the wild and sold by hawkers at market, but which carried the risk of liver fluke.  The watercress grown for Sylvasprings was protected by fences and prevented animals from gaining access and possibly polluting the beds with the liver fluke bacteria.  Management at the farm came up with the idea of putting the slogan on a stick which was inserted into the middle of the bunches when on sale in the markets to reassure customers.

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Howard Day, 77 who has been making models for over 60 years explained that Spetisbury Watercress Farm had been especially interesting to the club because there had been an 18 inch narrow gauge railway on the farm.  The train had been introduced in the 1920s to replace the horse and wagon and used to transport the harvested watercress from the beds to the packing house where it was made into bunches ready for the markets of Liverpool and Manchester. The train seen on the model was based on one designed by John Jesty and used on the farm in the 50s and 60s.

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Howard estimates that the full model won’t be completed for another two to three years but when finished, it will go on show at various model railway exhibitions around the country.   We’ll keep you posted about its progress and if you’re interested in hearing Bill’s memories about life on the watercress farm yourself, click here.

Sophie PeelComment