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'The Arbury' - The Memories of Mr Cardinal: Part 5

Manor Nurseries, Arbury Road, Cambridge, in the late 1950s. 

The fifth part of Mr Gordon Cardinal's memories of old Arbury, written in 1983 for the Arbury Archive. 

Young Gordon has begun work for his aunt's brother, Ernest Sale, at the Manor Nurseries on Arbury Road...

'The Arbury'

Part 5

By Gordon Cardinal

Mr Eaton would be away from the nursery doing garden contracts except for the rough weather at winter times. Then he would come back to the nursery and spend his time making garden seats and rustic arches, etc.

From Charlie Eaton I learned the art of creating a garden. From Sidney Arbor I learned the knowledge of propagation and from both Sidney and Ernie Sale the art of floral work.

Mr Sidney Arbor at work at the Manor Nurseries in the 1950s.

Manor Nurseries tried to be self supporting. The perimeter was planted with various evergreen trees and shrubs, which were used in floral work. Most of the basic flowers used were grown on the nursery. On Fridays, any surplus flowers and plants were made up to a load and sent to Winship's Produce Auction Mart that was held in King Street.

I must add at this point that Ernie Sale started his working life as a confectioner and baker but he suffered from the 'gas' used in the 1914-18 war and was advised to take up outdoor work, so he became a nurseryman - a leading florist and nurseryman of Cambridge.

As a florist, he was gifted. His office was decorated with the numerous awards he had won at shows. I must describe the office for you: it was a glass fronted shed built on the end of the first greenhouse. The workbench was littered with the tools of the floral trade, wreath wire, black edged wreath cards. etc, etc, ashtrays - always an unending supply of cigarettes, and in his little box under the bench would be a bottle of spirit for a drop for any of his many friends who called for a chat.

The phone was of the type that was fixed to the wall. When it rang, you unhooked the earpiece and held it to your ear. No electric light then. We worked by lantern light.

Every gardener had his own secret ways of growing things.

One of the Manor Nurseries liquid manure feeds for our plants was made up as follows: first, I would go to the cow paddocks (Manor School now) [North Cambridge Academy] and collect fresh cow dung in a cloth sack. This would be hung in a tub of water. Then I would go to Mr Turner's pig sties and collect the pure liquid as it ran from the sties. This would be poured into the tub too. To that would be added a shovelful of dried animal blood. Then, as if to 'flavour' the whole mixture, a bag of old chimney soot would be flung in the tub.

After a week the mixture was ready to add to the watering can for watering the plants. The strength of the mixture could be judged by the smell!!

The plants on the land would be hand watered with the mixture added. The buckets were carried on a 'yoke' - a smooth piece of wood that went across the shoulders, a semi-circle cut out to fit behind the neck. On each end of the yoke was a chain, on which the buckets would be hooked. As you walked along, you held it steady with both hands holding the cross bar holding the buckets.

Floral decorations took place most weeks throughout the year.

The Lion Hotel in Petty Cury was decorated Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays throughout the year. Work was also done at all the cinemas, the New Theatre, and most of the dance halls in Cambridge. Two of the largest jobs were the Dorothy Ballroom and the Guildhall. The college May Balls were also a great time for floral decorations, and the nursery was in great demand. 

Not many days went by when we didn't have funeral wreaths to make. I recall, on one of these very sad occasions, when an aged and devoted husband had died. Two wreaths were ordered from Manor Nurseries - and two wreaths we sent - with ladies' names and words of endearment on them! I had to make an explanation to the poor widow about that! Such mistakes were very rare, but they did happen.

Another job for funerals then was to 'line out' a grave. That would mean decorating the corners and sides of the grave right down so the grave would be decorated with flowers. Wire netting would be lowered into the graves and fixed to the sides. Into the wire, evergreen would be threaded, then the flowers arranged amongst the evergreen, making the grave look very nice. It wasn't a nice job on a wet day.

Saturdays were always the happy days. If you were lucky you could be finished work around 1:00PM. Also, it was always the day for weddings.

The main order then was always a 'full shower' bouquet for the bride. As the bride held the flowers in front of her, the bouquet was arranged to start just below her chin and trail to within twelve inches from the ground.

Head dresses would be made for the bridesmaids as well as little bouquets for them to hold. 

I was always sure of a 'tip' when the flowers were delivered to the bride's home, and often a drink was offered as well - but I was never caught drunk in charge of a delivery cycle (known as a trade bike)!

Another 'extra' we could earn was at 'posh' weddings - when we would be asked to attend the church and make sure the flowers looked nice, ready for the family photographs. I would be paid at least two shillings and sixpence (twelve and a half pence) or even five shillings (twenty five pence), and, if lucky, would receive an invitation to come to the reception for a drink.

Just after the Second War ended, Ernest Sale decided to brighten up the entrance to the Manor Nurseries. He already had two large boards up, one facing towards Histon Road, the other up the Arbury Road facing the opposite way. As they needed a good overhaul, he employed Swainlands of Broad Street, Cambridge, to do the work.

They were a real work of art. Ernest Sale's name was large and clear at one side. On the board facing Cambridge was a picture of a little girl looking at a Christmas tree, on the other board was a bouquet of red roses.

I remember a lot of people coming down Arbury Road just to watch Swainlands at work on the boards.

We built two brick entrance columns either side of the nursery drive.

As we were building them, Ernie Sale heard that the entrance to the old Central Cinema was bring modernised. He managed to get the two wrought iron lamp standards from there. These were placed on top of the columns.

As materials were still scarce after the War, we wanted something to help out our supply of cement, to fill the middle of the columns. We decided to clear out all the old beer and spirit bottles we could find and broke them up and mixed them in.

In 1983, Gordon Cardinal directed a couple of Arbury Archivists to the site of Manor Nurseries and recommended they take a stick and tap around in the hedgerow near Nicholson Way - as, he said, the bases to the nursery entrance columns were there. Sure enough, the archivists found them. As with the other remnants of the once rural community that existed in Arbury, it was a striking reminder of the huge change that had taken place in a very short period of time.

The sixth and final part of Mr Cardinal's 'The Arbury' is here - work begins on St Kilda Avenue, the 'Great Ring Road' threatens huge change, and Gordon decides to move on.

Prints of many of the photographs featured on this blog can be purchased from the Cambridgeshire Collection, Cambridge Central Library. This is an essential resource for all Cambridge history researchers. We recommend you make it one of your first stops when embarking on any Cambridgeshire local history project.


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