Gladding & Thomas


The Rockery at Old Mill Gardens, Wannock

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Proprietors of the Old Mill Tea Gardens at Wannock, near Jevington. In 1826 Henry Thomas from Bexhill started work as an apprentice to James Seymour, owner of the watermill at Wannock. He ended up marrying Seymour's daughter, Phillis, and taking on the tenancy of the mill, though his main interest seems to have been market gardening. He retired to Uckfield by 1870.

Henry's son, George Thomas, continued the tenancy before purchasing the watermill outright in 1879. He went on to acquire a second watermill and the windmill at Polegate. He also set up a bakery to supply bread to Polegate and Eastbourne. He and his family lived in the attractive old house next to the watermill, known as Wannock House.

In 1906-7, George's two sons, Frederick William Thomas and Charles Thomas, started laying out the Old Mill Tea Gardens at Wannock House. They built lily ponds, rock gardens, long flower borders, tea lawns, greenhouses and other attractions. In one of the greenhouses a firm of Japanese landscape gardeners created a miniature Japanese Garden that was much admired.

George Thomas died in 1915, and his son Frederick briefly took over the milling business, but died in 1917. In 1912 Charles Thomas married for a second time. His new wife, Ethel Gladding, was a trained florist, and she and her father, Walter Gladding, joined Charles in managing the gardens, which became an increasingly popular destination for day-trippers from Eastbourne, particularly after the First World War.

During the 1920s Gladding and Thomas sold packs of sepia-coloured halftone cards of the Gardens. The cards had perforated left edges so that they could be readily detached. Hand coloured versions were also available. The cards were printed by the R. A. Publishing Company (Radermacher, Aldous & Co.) of east London.

Gladding and Thomas also sold black and white as well as sepia tinted real photographics of the Gardens. F. A. Hutchinson supplied some of these cards, as well as Taylors of Eastbourne, but others (with captions that were machine printed or stencilled onto transparent slips) came from an anonymous supplier, who has not been identified. In addition, Gladding and Thomas issued a selection of king-sized real photographic cards.

In 1930 Gladding and Thomas decided to sell the house and gardens to Alfred John Frazer, but he stayed only two years before moving on. A card of the Japanese Garden bears Frazer's name and may indicate that he too became a publisher, but more probably he was simply a retailer. Gladding and Thomas, by contrast, issued a great variety of cards of the Gardens, and, although they did not print the cards, they have a much stronger claim to be regarded as genuine publishers.

Acknowledgement: Many of the details of the history of the Old Mill Gardens as set out above are taken from Jennifer Wootton's delightful book The Gardens at Wannock (privately published, 1999).

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