The Most Expensive Single Red Rose In Town

One of the most fascinating old books on Greenwich is unpromisingly-titled Legacies of the Parish of St Alphege, Greenwich. A book about the various charities and estates of the town, it was produced as a fund-raiser in 1816 as a sort of collection of greatest hit-reprints of the juiciest wills and documents, with copies sold for charity to the great and the good, presumably to the very people whose ancestors’  marvellous deeds are mentioned in it.

You can generally find it in the library reference section, and it’s jam-packed with little snippets, not just of sundry legacies and charitable gestures, but maps of parcels of land (largely left to the church or charities) interesting summaries of who owns which bits of Greenwich (even down to single fields) and even whinges about people committing  sundry antisocial acts; ‘naming and shaming’  they would call these days…

We’ve talked about the bowling green beside Ranger’s House before, and its murky history – where dodgy developer Andrew Snape built sundry houses and a bowling green (not this particular one, natch, which if memory serves, was grubbed up during the war?) on land that he’d only got on a sixty year lease and was actually heathland anyway.

In an article about ‘Nethercombe Farm’ alias ‘Eastcombe’, I found this:

All that tenement and parcel of land, now used for a bowling green, containing twenty-seven peches in length, and thirteen percehse in breadth, now in the possession of John Snapp  or his assigns; which said house and bowling green, as formerly erected and inclosed, was heretofore granted by indenture, bearing date the 19th day of February, 1629, in the fifth year of  the reign of the late King Charles the First, and demised by Francis Earl of Rutland, by virutue of his office or place, being then high steward if the honor or manor of East Greenwich, unto Sir Robert Mansell, William Allister, Robert Mason, John Roper, and John Vaughan, Esqrs. and several other persons in the grants specified for the term of forty years after the date thereof; the said lesses yielding and paying to the said Earl or his successors, one red rose, being lawfully demanded; which premises the said jurors do value upon approvement, at per annum fifty two pounds.

FIFTY TWO POUNDS? Is that for each rose, or for the whole bunch? Even so, for fifty-two quid I’d want it done up in a swanky arrangement with cellophane, useless squirls and bits of fernery. And a bow. In 1629, apparently, it bought an entire estate. Mind you it was the 19th February, and everyone knows the bottom falls out of the flower market after Valentines Day…

But – whatever, it started out at least, as a peppercorn rent, even if the romantic Earl of Rutland had plenty of peppercorns and preferred roses instead. It’s hard to tell from the book what date the document itself dates from (an odd omission; maybe I’m looking in the wrong place) though I’m guessing just after 1694, as it goes on to grumble about Snape’s encroachments, listing all the buildings he erected on the heath without proper permission, and ends with a memorandum which is as close to  retrospective planning permission as it was ever likely to get:

That on the 9th Day of March , 1694, his present Majesty granted the premises to Nicholas Lock for 99 years, from Michaelmas before, at six shillings and eightpence per annum rent, on payment of a fine.* Presumably the fine, like the new rent, had nothing to do with flowers. Monarchs, like descendants of Earls, tend to be less interested in peppercorns and more interested in hard cash.

I mention this today as I was sent, a few days ago, a notice about taster sessions at the Bowling Green outside Rangers House. Despite being the least sporty Phantom in Christendom, I was interested enough to actually write the date in my diary – 22nd May, 2.00pm-5.00pm. It felt like a wonderfully civilized thing to do of a Sunday afternoon. However I wasn’t actually efficient enough to save the details, so if anyone cares to re-send, I will put it in the Parish News along with about a million other things that have joined the backlog. I will catch up this weekend, promise.

The picture, btw, is, appropriately enough, from the Rangers House Rose Garden, and taken by long-term Phantophile Stevie, who’s just told me he’s been creating a book of lovely Greenwich pictures. He’s going to tell me when it’s out, and that, too will go in Parish News sometime. It may even happen before the next millennium…


*I’m mildly confused here – as it looks as though these are two separate plots of land. Did Snape build on them both? The first is an encroached bowling green (which Evelyn, in his diary, attributes to Snape), the second is encroached buildings, which this book attributes to him. Clearly the man just couldn’t help himself…

the attachments to this post:

a single red rose stevie
a single red rose stevie

3 Comments to “The Most Expensive Single Red Rose In Town”

  1. Capability Bowes says:

    What a fascinating story – thanks Phant! It brings to mind the Ellis Peters story “The Rose Rent”. I’ve often heard stories about people asking for a single rose as annual rent but really dismissed them as romantic fictions. Pleased to have my scepticism blown out of the water! Mind you, we’ve all read “Beauty and the Beast” and know what problems a single rose can cause!

  2. Ebspig says:

    I once paid an actual peppercorn for a short-term site. The po-faced owners were not amused.

  3. I have a half-formed memory that one of the City livery companies demands as rent from another company who have a piece of land from them a mulberry pie from the tree that grows there. I can’t remember whether this is as a result of a dispute or just a friendly thing, but I vaguely remember there’s a banquet involved these days.