A Brief History
The origin of lavender is thought to be from the Mediterranean, Middle East and India and can be dated back to over 2500 years ago. The Egyptians made perfumes with lavender and when Tutankhamun's tomb was opened traces of lavender were found and its scent was even still detected.
Lavender was first thought to be introduced to the UK by the Romans several thousand years ago. Being a natural antisceptic it was used to dress battle wounds. The Romans in fact had many uses for the plant and they used it to help repel insects, to cook with and to wash with (which in Latin is the word 'lavare' - this is where the lavender name is dervied from).
Lavender is one of the oldest perfumes used in England and in the 1500's Queen Elizabeth, used it both as a perfume and also in her tea to treat her migraines. By the time of The Great Plague in 1665 it was even thought to help protect people from becoming infected and to cure those with it.
In France the 16th century lavender was regarded as an effective and reliable protection against infection and it was also believed to prevent cholera.
Lavender in Hitchin
It was as early as the 1500's that the small market town of Hitchin was becoming an established grower and was one of only two major Lavender growing areas in the country. It was becoming an ever-popular form of medication, and perfume and thus very sort after.
In the 1760's Hitchin's association with lavender grew when Harry Perks established a pharmacy. His son Edward started commercially growing the plant in the 1800's and in the latter part of the 19th century Harry's Grandson Samuel forged a partnership with Charles LLewellyn. As "Perks & Llewellyn" they established a countrywide reputation for their lavender products. At its peak over 100 acres were grown and Hitchin became renowned nationally as they won a series of awards. However, by the 1960's, running costs had escalated and, with more competition from France and high taxes, the fields and pharmacy shop, which had been in the centre of Hitchin for 200 years, had disappeared. Nonetheless, we are grateful to be able to display an accurate replica of the shop in our museum at Hitchin Lavender thanks to the generosity of the Hitchin Historical Society.
Hitchin is also home to the oldest independent pharmaceutical company in the UK: Ransoms. Its creator was William Ransom who, in 1846, worked tirelessly to build a business that became the focal point for much of Hitchin and helped to ensure the growth of lavender in the area. William Ransom distilled the lavender for Perks & Llewellyn and the resulting product was so good that, in 1851, Queen Victoria's train stopped at Hitchin so that he could present the Queen with a bottle of essential oil.
Our family have farmed at Cadwell Farm for more than one hundred years and for five generations. Lavender was introduced here in 2000 by Alexander and Zoe Hunter alongside the traditional arable crops which we continue to grow. Initially, the lavender was grown only for agricultural purposes by selling the essential oil from its harvested flowers. However, it became apparant after several years that there was growing interest in the project and in recent times we have begun opening up each summer for the public and now get tens of thousands of visitors each time we are in bloom. Tim Hunter and Maria Noel Castro de Hunter were fortunate enough to have met Queen Elizabeth II in 2012 when she visited Hitchin on her Diamond Jubilee. Maria Noel created a bouquet using red roses from Harkness Roses and white and blue lavenders from our farm (red, white and blue themed for the Jubilee) as well as local flowers from other Hitchin organistaions. We also included in the basket some oils from our very first distillation from 2002 which is what her Great Grandmother Queen Victoria would have been given 150 years beforehand when she met William Ransom. The gift was given to Her Majesty by Theodore Dye (a descendant of the Ransom family) on the 14th June 2012.
We now have nearly 30 acres of lavender which amounts to over 30 miles of rows that visitors can wander through and our products are sold both nationally and internationally.