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The Surprising Story Of Hitchin Lavender

With lavender season back in time for lockdown easing, we venture back in time at one of Hertfordshire’s most scenic spots in Hitchin

BY Kristianna Engbrecht

Strolling around Hitchin’s lavender fields today, you’d probably be surprised to learn that the plant first came to the UK to prepare for the onslaught of battle. The use of lavender can be traced back 2,500 years to the Mediterranean, Middle East and India, and it was it was most likely introduced in the UK by the Romans who would have used it as an antiseptic for battle wounds or for cooking and washing. Thus the name lavender after the Latin word “lavare” – to wash. With early uses such as treating migraines, curing infection, and preventing disease, lavender has had a long history of soothing pain and calming stress – and even now it is one of the oldest perfumes used in England.

It’s little wonder, then, that Hitchin Lavender will soon be welcoming the tourist throngs, where each summer their fields are open to the public welcoming in tens of thousands of visitors a year to witness the blooms. Family-run for more than 100 years over the span of five generations, Cadwell Farm is home to lavender and traditional arable crops alike. 

Peak flowering season occurs between mid-June to mid- August. There visitors can find two main species of lavender, explains Emily Lovett from Hitchin Lavender. “Angustifolia, which makes up the first seven rows on the left-hand side and on the far right, and intermedia or lavandin, which makes up the majority of the field,” she explains. “Our season begins with the angustifolia, which blooms between mid-June till the end of July. The lavandin blooms between mid-July to the middle of August.” In addition to lavender, Cadwell Farm is also home to a wildflower patch and a sunflower field.

Lavender has plenty of appeal

Lavender fields such as this one are rooted in a history that can be traced back to the early 1500s, when Hitchin became one of two major lavender producers in England. As lavender became more and more popular for medicine and perfume, Harry Perks established a pharmacy. From their his grandson would forge a partnership known as Perks & Llewellyn, which gained notoriety for their renowned lavender products in the latter half of the 19th century. Despite the later evaporation of the company, a replica of their pharmacy can be viewed on site in the Hitchin Lavender museum. Provided by the Hitchin Historical Society, guests can visit the pharmacy, learn about the history of lavender in Hitchin and how Hitchin Lavender began.

Since then, lavender was introduced to the Cadwell Farm in 2000 by Alexander and Zoe Hunter, where its production for essential oil has flourished, keeping the lavender legacy alive in Hitchin. In 2012, Time Hunter and Maria Noel Castro de Hunter were paid a visit by Queen Elizabeth II on her Diamond Jubilee, where she was gifted a bouquet of assorted locally grown flowers and a basket of essential oils, the same that her great grandmother Queen Victoria would have received 150 years prior.

This summer, guests will be able to witness fields that span over 30 miles. “When in flower these rows create an amazing sea of purple where visitors are welcome to walk through and pick their own lavender,” says Lovett. Visitors can also shop for a larger selection of products made from the lavender on site. These include gins, jams, marmalades, essential oils, wellbeing products and handmade pieces from local artists found exclusively at Hitchin Lavender.

Hitchin Lavender also provides a variety of activities and workshops that run throughout the summer for those looking for a touch of relaxation among the beauty of these fields. Outdoor activities pencilled in for this summer include a full moon meditation, Pilates, yoga and the return of the outdoor cinema – a world away from those battle-laden fields of yesteryear.

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