As with the Sadler & Green dairy tiles I posted a few months back, the interest for me at historic buildings open to the public is often in the everyday detail. Spetchley Hall (1811) near Worcester isn’t even open, but the landscaped grounds and some of the outbuildings are, though the thunder of the A44 passing the gate does impose on what would once have been quite an idyllic spot. The fascinating walled garden (which may in part be even older, there was a mansion here in the late 1500s) has the feel of owners falling on hard times and struggling with the upkeep. The weathered bricks are a source of fascination but I was puzzled by all the tiny holes in the mortar. Looking like insect dwellings, these turned out to be the marks of thousands of old nails used as plant ties. And every so often an antique plant identification tag, many nailed into a small wooden noggin in the mortar, a precursor to the rawplug.
Some of these clearly dated back to the early 1800s, others were more recent, but together they probably chart the changing fashions for plant boarders. The earliest are just simple lead strips with the names hammered into the soft metal using a set of dies, probably owned by one the groundsmen. Later versions are moulded aluminium metal tags, probably supplied along with the plant by the nursery (much as we get those plastic labels in pot plant today).
Perhaps not surprisingly, it’s the early plastic tags which have faired worst. It isn’t until the technique of cutting the letters into a layered plastic sheet that they seemed to have got the hang of the medium.
Hopefully as the volunteers who are working to bring some of the garden back to life (it has been open to the public since 1925) get round to these beds, they will leave these old markers in place to remind us all of the people who went before them.