Celebrating 70 years of growth

Bromsgrove Advertiser: STAFF OUTING: Webbs staff enjoy an outing on the River Thames in 1950.      STAFF OUTING: Webbs staff enjoy an outing on the River Thames in 1950.

WHEN William Webb moved his family's business to Wychbold in 1937, he planted the seeds for a remarkable 70 year stay.

Years later, after undergoing a £5million expansion at the very same site on the A38, Webbs is the biggest garden centre in Britain.

Now, Webbs is preparing to revisit its roots with an exhibition to document its illustrious history and celebrate 70 years at Wychbold.

The firm, which has established itself as a regional tourist attraction and a giant in the horticultural world, was delighted with the response when it invited members of the public to contribute their photographs, artefacts and memories to celebrate reaching the milestone.

The exhibition will highlight the gradual rise of the business from 1886, when Edward Webb, a successful agricultural seeds merchant, began trading from Wordsley, near Stourbridge.

Due to the quality of its products, Webbs quickly earned the highest seal of approval when it was appointed seedsman to Queen Victoria, and the firm has served every monarch ever since.

There have been many developments in the 70 years that we have been in Wychbold, but one thing has never changed the name over the door."

Ed Webb, the great, great grandson of the firms founder

To assess the quality of its seeds, trial grounds were established in 1937 - the same year that William, Edward's grandson, moved the whole business to Webbs' current home alongside the A38.

That year, the famous Webbs thatched reception building, with a floor designed to accommodate wood from all of the countries of the Commonwealth, was completed by Braziers of Bromsgrove.

Webbs continued to breed and trial seeds throughout the next 30 years, and also successfully exhibited at all the major flower shows.

Edward's great grandson Richard Webb then purchased the site with his wife Marigold, signalling the birth of Webbs as a garden centre and nursery.

When the popularity of gardening began to flourish through television, so did Webbs' reputation.

The garden centre was featured on Gardeners' World Live, and was also asked to build a multi-sensory garden at Worcester's RNIB New College for Anneka Rice's show Challenge Anneka.

Since then Webbs has gone on to achieve top accolades, such as a gold medal at the 1996 Chelsea Flower Show, as well as scooping this year's UK Garden Centre of the Year award.

With years of nurturing, growth, and passing down of the reigns between family members, traces of familiarity still remain on the shop floor.

Several of the 400 members of staff currently employed at the garden centre have notched up more than 30 years service.

The business is now in the hands of Ed Webb, the great, great grandson of the firm's founder. Having overseen the most significant development of recent times - last year's expansion and reopening - he expresses his great pride that the family name has stood the test of time.

"There have been many developments in the 70 years that we have been in Wychbold, but one thing has never changed - the name over the door," he said.

The 70th anniversary exhibition kicks off this Friday and runs for 70 days.

A weekend of celebrations are also planned on July 7 and 8. Webbs senior manager David Lowe said the exhibition had caused great excitement among staff past and present.

"As well as the old photographs we have collected we have tools used on the old trial grounds," he said.

"We have had loads of people coming in with old catalogues and old seed packets, and also some very interesting letters.

"It should be very interesting to anyone who has had any involvement with Webbs, and it really establishes our history," he added.

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