Left Plaque - This land was given to the Residents of Micheldever in Memory of Bill Biggs Watercress Grower.
Right Plaque - Royal Silver Jubilee 1977
2 Plaques on this bench
In 1928 a watercress grower, Alfred William Gunnell, bought Micheldever watercress beds on
the main Northbrook stream of the river Dever from the Baring family with some land. The
track to the beds was called Bilberry Lane. On the 1757 Milner map, the land was called
Greenways and Upper Greenways, fed by Caldwell Springs just upstream. More recently,
when water was abstracted from the headwaters of the Dever, a borehole was added.
Joseph Biggs (Senior) came from Hertfordshire before the Great War to manage the St Mary
Bourne watercress beds for Mrs James. He and Eliza had 3 sons and 3 daughters: Walter, Arthur
William (Bill), Joseph Junior, Kate, Nellie and Rose.
After WW1 ended, Walter, William and Joe went their separate ways. Joe Biggs Snr retired but helped out. From 1921 Joe Biggs Jnr, youngest, of the sons, started his own business farming watercress at Bullington, Norton, Hunton, Stoke Charity and Micheldever, and building beds for other growers until he retired in 1965. Joseph Biggs Junior (born 5 April 1895, died 17 April 1978) and his wife Hilda were survived by their daughter Carol Legendziewicz (married to Joe) of Sutton Scotney.
Micheldever beds were substantially rebuilt and improved, and work sheds and housing were
included. He was a pioneer in the industry, who understood the movement of underground
water and warned many, many years ago about the dangers of pesticides and modern
practices on the industry. All his beds, when acquired, were rebuilt and laid out to his exacting
standards, and all the bore holes were made by him and managed to ensure that the temperature
and water level from inlet to outlet never dropped below the optimum for crops. In some
earlier beds watercress grew wild and flourished in river water and ponds, leading to serious
health issues for the unwary. The business flourished because he could guarantee fresh
produce at the London markets and as far as Coventry on day one, and he designed and built
bunching sheds with flowing spring water, and invented many tools to maintain and harvest
fresh watercress. He was a founder member of the NFU watercress branch.
Arthur William (Bill) Biggs bought Joseph’s business including the beds at Micheldever
when he retired in 1965. During the mid 1970s the business was profitable with the peak
season at Eastertide when other salad crops were not available. With the import of salad
crops from southern Europe, labour costs and the growth of the supermarket, their traditional way of growing cress was no longer profitable and in 1991 they stopped trading. Towards the end
Bill’s son, Robert, was running the business. The next year the cress beds at Micheldever
To read more about the watercress beds - CLICK HERE