Sunday, 15 May 2016

Watercress beds - Letcombe Bassett

Nice piece of rural industrial archaeology here- the watercress beds at Letcombe Bassett. Fallen out of use now, but the concrete blocks forming the beds and leats are still visible on the Letcombe Brook between Letcombe Bassett and Letcombe Regis. Watercress (Nasturtium officinale) is a native herb and grows in on cold, running water. In the 19th century there was quite a trade in it, with many growers in the south of England sending it up to Covent Garden where it was sold. Elsewhere in Oxfordshire, there were important beds at Ewelme – there were also beds on the down edge at Ramsbury in Wiltshire  The chalk stream at Letcombe was also used for growing cress. I can’t find out much about the chronology of the watercress growing in the village- the beds seem to be shown on the 1st Edition OS map, but are not marked as such. The beds are clearly labelled though from the 1870s. The use of concrete for bunds and channels which can still be seen presumably indicates a phase of 20th century investment. It was still active into the 1970s and several newspaper reports from the time write about the threat posed by the drought of 1976, and I think the beds were still being worked until the 1980s? 

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