Our history : The Industry of Table Decorations: The Middleton Water Lilies

One of the more unusual industries to take place at Middleton Hall was the commercial production of water lilies. These water lilies were sold to hotels, such as The Ritz, who used them as table decorations. This trade continued for decades, at least, but ended after World War II.

Collecting lilies on Middleton Pool c.1900

In Victorian times, women from the village would harvest the lilies on Middleton Pool. They harvested them in little

boats that were said to be very unstable. These boats were kept along the edge of the Walled Garden. The lilies were harvested early in the morning. They were taken to the area that is now the Small Walled Garden, which was at that time filled with small buildings. One of these buildings was a packing shed. In the packing shed, six lilies were placed in a box. The boxes were then transported to Tamworth train station and were put on the 12:30 train to London. The lilies were then sold at Covent Garden. We have also been told that the lilies were sold to hotels in Birmingham and Manchester too.

White water lily

Middleton was most noted for its white water lilies. In fact, when Middleton was designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest in 1973, one of the plants noted was the White Water Lily (Nymphaea alba).

In the summer of 1893, the gardener and journalist William Robinson (1838-1935) visited Middleton. In his book The Wild Garden he wrote:

“at Middleton Hall, Tamworth, I saw the finest example I remember of its beauty, not only in growth and large flowers, but in effect over a lake – in masses and sheets divided by open water – an enormous sheet of Water Lilies, and the picture, in association with a pretty old manor house, was lovely. The flowers were very large, and of two forms – one with a bronzy-green outer division of the flower, and a flush of delicate pink inside; the other, a smaller form, pure white with outer dark green divisions; so we have at least two forms of our native Water Lily, and there may be others.”

It is thought that the larger white lily that Robinson described was Nymphaea alba and the smaller one that he saw was possibly Nymphaea candida.

Egbert de Hamel was the tenant of Middleton Hall from 1886 to 1924. He would entertain his workers from Bolehall Mill in Tamworth by bringing them to Middleton Hall for their summer party. Hundreds of workers would arrive by boat. They were greeted by Egbert and his wife, Ernestine, at the landing stage where every worker was reported to have been presented with a White Water Lily and a gold pin.

Middleton Pool c.1900

In 1977, a survey of the flora and fauna of Middleton was conducted. This revealed a third variety of water lily on Middleton Pool, thought to be the yellow waterlily (Nuphar lutea).

Sadly, in recent years the number of white water lilies on Middleton Pool has reduced. When the M6 toll road was constructed, a large amount of sediment and other pollutants found its way into the Langley brook, which feeds Middleton Pool. What was once a blanket of water lilies has been, as a result, greatly diminished. Hopefully, they will eventually recover.

Debbie Jordan, Middleton Hall Trust Volunteer & Historian