Friday, 10 May 2019

Seeds of Interest Sown

Posted on behalf of Balfour Blogger #2

Volunteering in the Orkney Archive, getting hooked by an invoice for seeds

In Autumn 2018, I started to help with the cataloguing of the Balfour papers. These are a collection deposited in the Orkney Library in 1962 and are legal papers, letters, financial records and estate records and material relating to the family of Balfour of Balfour [Shapinsay] and of Trenabie [Westray], 1547-1921. There are over 100 books - including letter books, account books, pay lists and muster rolls. There are also 54 boxes of bundles of letters, notes, invoices, receipts, etc. Each box has between 11 and 20 bundles of papers.

I am working on Box 24 which contains letters to John Balfour MP received in 1825 and invoices for a variety of years. Bundle 11 of Box 24 consists of invoices and receipts for the estate of Charlton Grove near Blackheath in Kent. These include, amongst other items, statutory Poor Rate Tax, building work, invoices for journeys to London, and the rent of the estate. My favourite in this bundle is D2/24/11/3/3a which is the invoice and receipt from 'Thomas Gibbs & Co., Nursery and Seedsmen to the Honorable[sic] Board of Agriculture', Corner of Half Moon Street, Piccadilly' for the year 1824. The total bill is for £16 and 5 shillings (£16 5/-). According to data from the Office for National Statistics, that is equivalent to about £1,444 in 2017 prices.

D2/24/11/3/3a page 1
The quantity and variety of the listing is astonishing. For example:

2 quarts of Magazan beans (cost 1 shilling). I had to look up what these are. It turns out they are the 'smallest and most delicate species of the Windsor bean.

Windsor beans, long pod beans, negro beans and liver coloured beans.

Varieties of peas include early Charlton, Prussian, blue imperial, and white Prussian

Included in the list is 2 quarts of Prickly Spinage[sic] and 2 quarts of round Spinage.

Then there is scorzonera which may refer to black salsify, especially as it is immediately next to salsify in the listing.

Onions (3 kinds including Deptford).

Herbs include knotted marjoram, sweet basil, curld[sic] parsley.

Cabbage varieties include early Battersea, early York and Cornish.

Broccoli, 7 varieties in all - white, Belvedere, early Cape, late Cape, sprouting, late Portsmouth and late Danish.

Apart from vegetables, there were '25 paper flower seeds' costing 12 shillings and sixpence (12/6), 12 pounds (lbs) of fine mixed grass seeds for lawn costing £1 and 16 shillings (£1 16/-); and a variety of sundries including 9 canvas bags (5/-) and 1 large hamper (2/6). The most expensive items are yew trees, 18 in all at a cost of £4 10/-.

D2/24/11/3/3a part of page 2
This is one year's invoice from Gibb's. There are several more from this company in Bundle 11. There is a large variety among the invoices. The building work is extensive, including the roof of a dairy. I could spend months on just this bundle, but I have 13 other bundles in this box. Of course, there are another 30 boxes to be completed, luckily not all by me.


  1. Wow, it's nice to see a new post here. And such a fun one! Who knew there were 7 varieties of broccoli? I wonder if Prussian peas are blue? And are the white Prussian peas really white? I shall have to wander off into the world of the internet and look! (of course, everything I find will be true and accurate, because the Internet Knows Everything! LOL!)

    1. Thanks Sue. Yes, sorry, we've been a bit busy with visiting researchers and email enquiries recently.
      We will try harder.


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