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Sutton & Sons' Royal Seed Establishment
8-10 Market Place, Reading
A Description from 1892

Messrs. Sutton and Sons' Royal Seed Establishment is another of the notable modern features of the town, and is well worthy of a visit. To agriculturalists, the establishment is particularly attractive, though it is interesting to everyone - not only on account of the large range of buildings in which an enormous trade is carried on, but also on account of the peculiar nature of the trade fostered by this well-known firm - the improvement of all food producing crops, the primary elements of life. The transactions of the firm extend all over the earth. The fame of Messrs. Sutton is worldwide, and they number amongst their patrons, emperors, kings, princes, peers and peasants who, all alike, testify to the high value of the articles they purchase. The proprietors of this great business - the largest of its kind in the World - can look back upon a rapid growth from comparatively small beginnings. Sixty years ago, the father and grandfather of the present partners were engaged in a corn-dealing and milling trade; but the founder of the firm, so far as the seed business is concerned, was Mr. Martin Hope Sutton. The business premises of Messrs. Sutton are situated in the centre of the town of Reading, and extend north, south and east, with frontages in three streets, and covering a total area of nearly six acres. The Market-place front is of a massive and elegant design. Passing up a handsome paved corridor, filled with samples of seeds and models of their produce, specimens of grasses & co., an idea is gained of the vast extent of the premises. In the private Post Office of the firm arrangements are so perfect that ten thousand letters can be despatched to all parts of the World in a few hours, without risk of error or delay. The next office is the one devoted to all matters of work and business connected with the selection of seeds from various growers and collectors. Messrs. Sutton have, by years of careful research, acquired that practical knowledge that will ensure purity of stock. In fact the constant application of their personal knowledge and experience to the rearing of what is technically known as "stock seed," is the very foundation upon which their immense business has been built. The stock seed thus carefully obtained is sent to the extensive farms and seed grounds in various parts of England and the Continent to produce crops of seed for sale, and, during the year, thousands of acres are visited and inspected. Connected by a covered passage with the ledger office is the despatch and railway office, where the whole of the correspondence with the railway and steam-ship companies, advising customers of the despatch of their goods, directing labels to affix to the packages, as well as the despatch of seeds by parcel post are carried out. Next is the flower seed and bulb department. The number of varieties varying in value from the modest mignonette to the beautifully developed begonia, may indeed be said to be infinite. The whole of the wall space is occupied with drawers and other compartments filled with neatly labelled packets of seeds. Immediately on receipt of an order, one of the numerous assistants takes it in hand and, rapidly passing from drawer to drawer, he gathers the different packets required. The order is then checked by the head of the department, the packets are carefully made up in a parcel, an initial letter of the surname of the customer affixed and, if vegetable seeds are also required to complete the order, this flower seed portion is passed on to the next section - the vegetable seed department. In length it is 159 feet by 30 feet in width and 20 feet in height. The centre of the room is occupied by rows of counters, upon which the assistants arrange the packets required for each order, as they have brought them from the innumerable drawers which, each distinctly labelled after its kind, occupy a large proportion of the wall space. The millions of packets of seeds necessary for the requirements of this department are all of them got ready prior to commencement of the busy season. Adjoining this large room are several small ones. In one is the stock of vegetable seeds which supplies the drawers and receptacles of the larger room. In others, machines of the most recent and improved construction are erected for the purpose of cleaning the samples from light seeds and dirt. Immediately underneath is a great storeroom for peas and beans. On one side of this room are stacked thousands of bushels of peas and beans, while on the other side is a long row of women busily engaged in picking out every seed which has the least blemish or flaw, so that only the most perfect remain to be supplied to the customers of the firm. Adjoining this store is another for carrot and parsnip seed, and then passing by the export department is the farm seed order room. This is a spacious handsome room, measuring 180 feet in length by 60 feet in width, with no supporting pillars to obstruct the view or incommode action, the roof being tied together by iron rods. Here is every conceivable variety of agricultural seed, from that of mammoth mangel which has been grown to the enormous weight of 110 tons per statute acre, to the modest seed of cynosurus cristatus, which forms a component part of Messrs. Sutton's Lawn Mixture, universally appreciated. Attached to the farm seed order floor are the numerous rooms for sacks and bags (hundreds of thousands of which are used in the course of the year), with several floors on which are closely packed thousands of quarters of rye grasses, ready for use when the season comes on. Adjoining the farm seed order department, and in connection with it, is the seed potato store, where thousands of bushels are carefully sorted by hand and put up in quantities varying from one gallon to several tons, for the orders which Messrs. Sutton receive for all the varieties known, but especially for such renowned sorts as Sutton's Magnum Bonum, and many others, remarkable for their disease-resisting power. Connected with this is the great room for packing the garden seed orders, which by means of lifts and shoots, are (after being packed) conveyed to a floor beneath, to await removal to the railway stations. Crossing a bridge from the farm seed order room, and passing through two fireproof doors, the visitor comes to the farm seed warehouse, an enormous building, consisting of four floors for grass seeds, clover seeds, mangel seeds and turnip seeds respectively, and having a cubic capacity of 304,704 feet. Here, a prodigious quantity of seeds is stored in thousands of sacks. This building is also fitted with lifts, while machinery of the most improved description is employed for cleaning the various samples previous to their being passed on to the order room. Those seeds which are of too light a character to be cleaned in this way are all hand-sifted. In the large "mixing" floors, Messrs. Sutton specially prepare their grass seed mixtures, according to the particular soil and purpose for which they are required.

A large building, running parallel with the farm seed warehouse, is the export drying and packing room. The weighing-off department is an immense floor where all the packages are sent for Messrs. Sutton's seal to be affixed and the direction labels tied on prior to their being sent to the railway stations. Here, from early in the morning, Messrs. Sutton's well-equipped vans are busy carting goods to the railway stations. A long glass building is known as the seed trial house.

Besides arrangements by means of which those who choose can remain in comfort during the interval devoted to refreshment, there is a spacious library and reading room provided, well supplied with books and periodicals, and which is open whenever business is not going on. The trial ground is a beautifully-kept miniature farm of some fifty acres, and well-known to travellers on the Great Western and South-Eastern lines of the railway, on account of the beautiful display of flowers which is to be seen there at certain seasons of the year. The land is equipped with sufficient premises, two separate barns and granaries, with accommodation for horses and implements. It is divided by roads which are bordered by plots, showing the habit of growth of the different species and varieties of grasses. They are divided too by pathways, marking out a series of large plots and areas, containing thousands of different trials of mangels, swedes, turnips, cabbages, cauliflowers, broccoli, carrots, parsnips or other farm and garden plants, which are tests of the truth, quality and character of the seeds which have been supplied to customers. Plots are also set apart for testing peas and beans, and for growing small samples of selected sorts as "stock seed," from which further supplies will in due time be produced in various parts of England and the Continent. There are also large plots set apart for flower seeds, which are grown and ripened and harvested here, making a handsome show in the season in the eyes of the travellers by the adjoining railways. Lastly, there are other large plots planted and to be planted, where "stock seed," from selected sorts of turnips and mangels, is produced for use as before described. The florists' flower seed grounds is where, by a careful and elaborate system of hybridisation, the most perfect forms of cineraria, primula, calceolaria, begonia, gloxina & co. are raised and selected for seed purposes. Messrs. Sutton's reputation for flower seeds is as great as for vegetable and farm seeds.

    

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