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Daffodil Cultivation in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly

Leslie Major

Contents Foreword ................................................................................................... 3 Leslie Major - Biographical Notes ......................................................... 4 Contents (as they appeared in the manuscript) ................................ 14 Introduction ............................................................................................ 15 Tribute ..................................................................................................... 24 Daffodils at Trelawne (poem) ............................................................... 26 1. Genesis of the Industry ................................................................... 28 2. Raising the Standard ......................................................................... 65 3. The Isles of Scilly............................................................................... 88 4. The Tamar Valley ............................................................................. 137 5. South-West Cornwall ...................................................................... 170 6. Marketing .......................................................................................... 184 7. Commercial Growing Through the Years ..................................... 206 8. Pests and Diseases ......................................................................... 236 9. Daffodil Classification (and the Registration of Names) ............ 264 Glossary ................................................................................................ 282 Appendix A How Daffodils Acquire Their Names......................... 284 Appendix B - Collar Daffodils, or Split-Cups ................................... 291 Appendix C - Correspondence with Andrew Tompsett .................. 297

Foreword
It was known that Leslie Major had done quite a bit of writing in his last years before his death in 1971, but not their content, nor what had become of them. As it turned out, a manuscript he worked on - and largely finished - at this time had been deposited with the library of the Rosewarne Experimental Horticultural Station at Camborne, Cornwall (possibly even by Leslie himself, as he mentions the station in the manuscript). When, after 38 years of operations, Rosewarne closed in the mid 1990s, the manuscript was given to Andrew Tompsett, a horiculturalist and bulb specialist who had been working there. Fortunately, Andrew went on to write his own well-researched and illustrated, Golden Harvest: The Story of Daffodil Growing in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly published by Alison Hodge in 2006 (ISBN-10: 090672046X and ISBN-13: 978-0906720462). He drew on some of the material in Leslies manuscript and kindly acknowledged Leslies work in his introduction: It was the intention of the late Leslie Major to write a book such as this. He was a daffodil enthusiast, residing near Launceston, on the borders of Devon and Cornwall, with a great interest in the West Country crop. I have drawn on some of his notes, and in particular his recollections of the events around the middle of the twentieth century and production in the Tamar Valley, an area which he particularly loved. Thanks to this acknowledgement, Leslies manuscript came to light again. Andrew kindly loaned it so it could be scanned and made available in this online version. His intention is for the manuscript to be presented to the Cornwall Garden Society. Some biographical notes on Leslie Major, along with a few photographs, are added in an appendix to this online version. The photograph of daffodils on the cover page is a free stock photo from www.publicdomainpictures.net BEM 28/3/2013

Leslie Major - Biographical Notes


Acknowledgements: Different individuals assisted in providing the information and illustrations included in these notes, most especially to Bernard M. J. Major and Doris Western, and also to Chris Harris, Marjorie Hueston, Frank Hueston, Jack Mayne, Gwen (Mayne) James and others (apologies for any other names omitted). Bernard Major provided a substantial part of the interviews and information on Leslie, the news reports, the research and authorship of the biography of Leslie Major which was published in Devon Birds 70th Anniversary issue, and the introductory notes to Leslies poetry.

Leslie Major was born on 23 Dec 1901 in Looe, Cornwall, England, son of John Jack Major, a businessman of Lifton, Devon. He died on 30 Sep 1971. Leslie was a man of many interests and talents. He started out running his own poultry farm, was both an amateur boxer and a racing driver. Leslie loved birds and flowers and was a founding member of the Devon Bird Watching and Preservation Society and a judge for many years at the famous annual Chelsea Flower Show in London. In a special 70th anniversary edition of its magazine, Devon Birds produced a write-up on its founding members, and the one on Leslie, published with one of his poems, can be seen at the end of these notes, along with a few news articles on him.

Polapit Tamar, Leslie Majors mansion


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He bought Polapit Tamar, a substantial country house built in stone in 1866, which had an oak-paneled ballroom with elaborate marble fireplaces added in 1902 as a twenty-first birthday present for the then owner's daughter. Here Leslie entertained and, on some of the 120 acres that came with the mansion, raised prize daffodils (some of which were his own new varieties) and other flowers and farmed poultry. With his interest in nature, he also wrote nature notes for the Western Morning News. Leslie drove an expensive car which was festooned with metal decals (probably from racing meetings). This car aroused the suspicion of customs officers in Southampton in 1934 or 5, when Leslie had gone there to collect his father and Uncle Thomas on their return from a trip to Canada. Both passengers' bags were thoroughly searched. Long-time Major employee George Treglown says about Leslie: "he was very well known in the district through playing snooker in the village hall [and] through his association with the Tamar Valley Flower Show and Falmouth Flower show. These flowers were produced at Polapit Tamar where he had a poultry and bulb farm. This was once a gentleman's estate which Leslie bought in 1938 and was let out at the outbreak of war to Stubbington School from Southampton."

Leslie showing some of his daffodils at Polapit Tamar to a gardening group. (Photograph courtesy of Joan Rendell) Miss Joan Rendell, a well known and published local Launceston area historian, wrote in a letter dated 7 December 1996: "I did not know Mr. Jack Major, only Mr. Leslie and his wife. They were both very generous supporters of the parish when they were at Polapit, always giving willingly of gifts, donations or time to Parish events. Mrs. Major was a charming lady and I was very fond of her."
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Leslie Major Another employee was Tom Furse, whose widow Win said that Leslie and his wife were very good people to work for. Win "assisted in the flower fields (along with the wives of other employees) when at planting time a machine made holes across the field and Mrs. F. and the other women followed, dropping one bulb in each hole!" (Joan Rendell letter, 22 January 1997)

Tom Furse harvesting Leslie's daffodils, 1965 (Photograph courtesy of Joan Rendell) Although he lived in a large manor house in the Tamar Valley, Leslie had little interest in carrying on his father's milling business. Leslie went to London frequently, where he joined a gentleman's club. Leslie's business ventures did not in the end produce enough to keep up with his expenses and lifestyle. Eventually he had to give up Polapit Tamar and his
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beloved daffodil cultivation. He and Dot were obliged to move in with his sisterin-law Ann, who had previously been Leslie's secretary at the mill. In August 1998 Bernard Major visited Polapit Tamar and wrote the following about the grounds and house: "Leslie apparently left about thirty years ago. According to the person we spoke to, it broke his heart to see that the farmer had done to his gardens - he obviously let them go to wrack and ruin, and extended the area for grazing cattle up as far as he could to the ornamental garden, in so doing ruining part of the rest of the gardens. To the right of the house is a stream which feeds several ponds. One has been partially cleared. The other is choked with pond weeds and water lilies gone wild. Both are still badly silted up. The second pond feeds a small grotto, which is just being brought back to some of its former glory. It has ivy around the walls, which has been trained there through using 'chicken wire'. There are also holes in the stone roof at regular intervals, so it looks as if the roof was planted as well. The grotto is about six foot in diameter. There are large white quartz rocks marking the edge of the watercourse, one imagines, as it is very overgrown; there is a stand of larger sized bamboo, and then further off, in what in what is now a field used for grazing cattle, there is a stand of miniature bamboo. This presumably was the route of some kind of Japanese water garden which has long since been destroyed. "The house is presently subdivided into different sections... [A] present tenant has managed to grow some seeds from Indian Silk Tree that was in the grounds... The house is very interesting: it has several ghosts. There is a maid that is seen in the kitchen, a little girl in white of eleven year old who hangs around, and father and daughter who have heated rows! ...[A] present tenant is putting on a story telling evening. You bring along a pound, a cushion and a log and sit around a log fire having stories told, then feast on cream tea... The house is a listed building and it looks like it might be up for sale soon. The person who is renting says she would buy it without hesitation - if she won the lottery! "We met one of the owners, the farmer lives in one part, and also a rock band that we heard practising. This is a regular occurrence every afternoon. It has not done a great for them and it looks like there may be a great deal more practice ahead! The outside of the house is structurally sound, although it is badly in need of redecoration. The person who showed us around said that the daffodils were particularly splendid this last spring. It has a gate keeper s lodge and a drive in and out. There must have been quite a staff employed there in its heyday. "We also visited Leslie's last residence: Trelawne in Lifton Down. It is a small, probably two-bedroomed, bungalow with a small front and back garden, all of which would probably fit into the ballroom of his previous home."

Leslie (centre) and Dorothy Major (far left) with two Canadian cousins of Leslies, Vera and Hazel Harris, and one of his English cousins, Northam Dodd Major In his later years Leslie suffered from ill health. He continued with his writing, much of it at the Thorverton cottage of his cousin Doris Western. Much, if not all of those writings were almost certainly his manuscript on daffodil cultivation in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. He had earlier privately published a book called West Country Poems and others under the pseudonym "Lachlan". (See end of these notes on Leslie for a link to the poems.) Leslie predeceased Dot in 1971. The Western Morning News, on Saturday 2 October 1971: DEATHS Major - On September 30, in hospital, Leslie, beloved husband of Dot (Doris), of Trelawne, Lifton Down. Funeral private. Family flowers only. Dot was Leslie's sole beneficiary in his will. He left very little financially. However, he left a far richer heritage in the memories of his employees, friends and family, his services to the horticultural field, including the development of new varieties of daffodils, his part in the founding of the Devon Birdwatching and Preservation Society - still going strong and known today more popularly as Devon Birds - and in his writings. Dot died five years after Leslie, in 1976, in Guildford, Surrey, where she was staying with another sister.

L. Major of Polapit north of Launceston was a keen collector of daffodils at about the same time [1949 1972]. He raised and exhibited a few seedlings and registered two of them. Daffodils from Cornwall by F.W. Shepherd and R.A. Scamp, p. 100 American Daffodil Society Journal, Dec. 1987 In the Royal Horticultural Societys International Daffodil Register, L. Major is shown as originator and registrant for two daffodils; Goonhilly and Telstar. Goonhilly, registered in 1962 is a Division 2 daff and is described as Perianth segments pure white; corona deep saffron yellow, with a paler tone at rim. Resembles a stronger `Blarney's Daughter' Telstar, also registered in 1962 is a Division 1 daff and described as Fl. milk white, of strong and almost waxy substance. Mid-season. Resembles `Trousseau' L Major also registered 7 other daffs, of which G.L.Wilson was the originator. (Guy L Wilson -18851962 - was a famous daffodil breeder based in County Antrim.) Photos of Goonhilly and Telstar not readily available, but the ones they resemble can be seen below. Blarneys Daughter:

Trousseau:

Below from the Devon Birds 70 Anniversary edition magazine, 1998

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A copy of West Country Poems and others with a new introduction can be seen online at http://www.scribd.com/doc/110646147/West-Country-Poems-and-Othersby-Lachlan-Leslie-Major.

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Contents (as they appeared in the manuscript)

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Introduction

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Tribute

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Daffodils at Trelawne (poem)

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1. Genesis of the Industry

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2. Raising the Standard

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3. The Isles of Scilly

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4. The Tamar Valley

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5. South-West Cornwall

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6. Marketing

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7. Commercial Growing Through the Years

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8. Pests and Diseases

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9. Daffodil Classification (and the Registration of Names)

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Glossary

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Appendix A How Daffodils Acquire Their Names

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Appendix B - Collar Daffodils, or Split-Cups

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Appendix C - Correspondence with Andrew Tompsett


Sent: 21 February 2013 10:01 Subject: Re: FW: query for Andrew Tompsett Hello Bryan, I have papers by Leslie Major which describe the history and practices of daffodil growing, and much else besides. Would you like to contact me and I would gladly loan them to you. Call me on ___________, or email __________ I look forward to hearing from you. Yours Andrew

Brian Mayne <bemayne@gmail.com>

21 Feb. 2013
Dear Andrew, Thank you very much for coming back to me regarding my query about Leslie Major. Alison Hodge kindly forwarded your email. Back in the 1980s I became quite close to a first cousin of Leslie's, Doris (Major) Western, who lived in Exmouth. She told me different stories about him and gave me a few photographs. She spoke of Leslie doing a lot of writings in his later years, but it was a mystery what had happened to these. I had thought they had ended up with his widow, Dot, and then had probably been thrown away or destroyed after her death. From another relative in Canada, I did obtain a book of poetry Leslie had published called West Country Poems, but I feel that came out when he was quite young. I have now made that available online. I have put together a rough write-up with photos on the Major family, including some notes on Leslie. You can see that here: http://www.scribd.com/doc/110013580/Major-Family-of-ChulmleighDevon-and-Agincourt-Ontario The notes on Leslie are on pages 44-46 and 76-79. Some of that research on Leslie and on his father, Jack, was performed by Bernard Major, another distant relative. (There is a link to the West Country Poems in this.) I was very happily surprised to find your good acknowledgement of Leslie and his work with daffodils in your book Golden Harvest, which looks to be a wonderful achievement for both the writing and photographs. I have only read parts of the book so far, but have it on my wish list with Amazon books, and look forward to a full read of it. I would very definitely love to borrow writings you have of Leslie's to read myself and to consider for inclusion in the family story, or even for further publication online. Bernard Major will also be delighted to learn further writings of Leslie's are still available, as he had been searching for them too. Have left a message on your 1571 messages, but am sending this, too, to be sure you have the links to the Major family write-up and my contact details. With kind regards, Brian Mayne 297

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