There are two connections of Redlands with the famous name of Suttons Seeds: one is that Broadoak House (now the home of St.Joseph's Convents School on the corner of Alexandra Road and Upper Redlands Road) was the family home of a member of the Sutton family, and the other is Alfred Sutton School was founded due the philanthropic benefaction of Alfred Sutton who gave money for its establishment and building.
By the 1870s Sutton and Sons was the world’s largest seed firm, and was donating twenty percent of their substantial income to charitable causes. In Reading they subsidised the foundation of local schools, as well as large donations to churches. He set up Mildmay Hall which is today used by the Progress Theatre and gave his name to a variety of Rhododendron. He lived for a large part of his life in Cintra Lodge, in Whitley. On his walks to work along Watlington Street Sutton would sometimes encounter George Palmer, and they would often discuss the relative merits of their products.
The company was founded in 1806 by John Sutton (1777-1863) who named it the 'House of Sutton' of King Street , Reading, supplying corn. In 1832 he was joined by his sons, Martin Hope (1815-1901) and Alfred. A few years later in 1837 the business was transferred to the Market Place, when they induced their father to launch out into the flower and vegetable seed trade. From this time on the firm progressed and expanded rapidly, being the first seed house to supply pure, unadulterated seed. By untiring energy and business acumen they laid the foundations of the great firm as it is today. The determination to supply only the best seed has been carried on by their successors, and through the years the name of 'Sutton' has become known the world over.
The Market Place shop was double-fronted with large windows each side of the entrance. It was in a prominent position and overlooked the Saturday vegetable and general market. Martin Hope acquired nursery grounds in Queens Road along with a greenhouse. By mid-1838 he began selling greenhouse plants, many of the bulbs coming from local nurseries, but some from Holland. In 1836 Martin Hope, aged 21 years, became a partner and the 'House of Sutton' became Sutton & Son.
Suttons received Royal patronage in 1858, when Queen Victoria requested Martin Hope Sutton to supply seeds to the Royal household; the honour of the Royal Warrant has been bestowed on the firm ever since - right up to the present day with Her Majesty the Queen.
In 1840 the decision was taken to establish a laboratory so they could test the seed themselves for germination and purity - a practice which became law 80 years later with the passing of the Seeds Act, 1920. Sutton's seed-testing station was one of the first to be licensed by the Government. We still have our own seed testing laboratory along with trial grounds. Our varieties continue to be tested to ensure high germination, quality and purity levels.
Also in the year 1840, Martin Hope was at Reading Station to see the first train depart for London , taking advantage of selling flower seeds to spectators and passers-by. The railway from then on took an important part in bringing large consignments of seeds, bulbs, etc to Reading for Suttons and, on the other side, sending wholesale orders by rail which were too heavy to go by mail.
As the years went by many changes took place - lorries replaced horse-drawn carriages; the garden tools available slowly improved; the use of fertilisers increased. And, of course, there have been significant advances in breeding and hybridising new strains of seeds, along with the introduction of many new varieties.
The company expanded further, and, in 1873, new offices and warehouses replaced the original premises in Market Place , Reading. These premises had various offices - including Export, Ledger, Order, Invoice; separate store rooms for flower & vegetable seeds, bulbs, potatoes, grass and root seed, farm seed; along with recreation rooms, an exhibition department and even their own fire station which came with cottages for the firemen!
There were even stables, where not only were the horses fed, groomed and bedded, but vans and trolleys washed. There was also residence for the head groom. Houses were built at the testing grounds, where plants were grown for the purpose of saving stocks of high-class seed for flower growing.
Alfred Sutton School
Alfred Sutton Primary School has served the community since 1902, as a result of both the rapid development of new houses built on either side of Wokingham Road and the Education Act of 1895 which made schooling free for all children. The school opened as Wokingham Road School with just over a hundred children attending on the first day.
The school was built with some financial help from the Sutton family, of Sutton Seeds fame and in 1920 the school was renamed Alfred Sutton County School. Then as now, the school was very popular and pressure for places was acute. By the mid 1920s, there were 528 children in attendance, which meant there were about 50 to a class!
During the 1960s and 1970s, the cultural life was broadened by the arrival of families from South Asia and the Caribbean, and the expansion of the nearby University of Reading brought visiting academics and their families to the area from many parts of the world. As a result the school developed the vibrant multiculturalism praised in recent reports following inspection of the school by the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) .