Girl power continues at Wrest Park

Wrest Park, Silsoe, Land Girls today.
Wrest Park, Silsoe, Land Girls today.

YOU may have heard of the Tractor Boys if you’re a football fan as that’s the nickname of Ipswich Town due to its rural location.

But now you can meet the Tractor Girls much closer to home – in the heart of Bedfordshire.

Wrest Park, Silsoe, Land Girls in 1949

Wrest Park, Silsoe, Land Girls in 1949

The colour picture shows three of the apprentice gardeners – Joanna Huckvale, Anna Howgego and Joanne Laybourn – and their manager Corinne Price, who work at Wrest Park, Silsoe.

The four are re-creating an archive photo, believed to have been taken in 1949, of four members of Bedfordshire Women’s Land Army who were based at Wrest Park Lodge in the grounds of the estate.

Joanna, Anna, Joanne, two other apprentice gardeners – Pilar Medrano Dell and Petra Hicks – and Corinne have just completed tractor driving and pesticides spraying training. They all passed with flying colours.

Thanks to support from the LANTRA Woman and Work project, which is aimed at closing the gender gap in male-dominated industries, the ladies were each granted £400 towards the cost of training for their qualifications.

It was all very different back in the 1940s when Land Girls had far less training before they were asked to do their bit by ‘digging for victory’ during the Second World War.

The Women’s Land Army (WLA) occupied Wrest Park Lodge from June 1943 to September 1950, accommodating up to 32 Land Girls in five bedrooms.

They became well known at their local pub, the George Hotel at Silsoe, and records show that the WLA was represented at a recruitment display at the Wrest Park Agricultural Show in July 1946.

The WLA was a civilian organisation created to work in agriculture to replace men called up to the military during the two World Wars.

During the 1939-45 conflict, the WLA at first asked for volunteers and this was supplemented by conscription, so that by 1944 it had more than 80,000 members.

At Wrest Park, other parts of the mansion were occupied by the Sun Insurance Co and there was a Women’s Auxiliary Air Force camp in huts on the estate.

Returning to the present day, the female gardeners are part of Wrest Park’s team who manage the Grade I registered grounds, currently being restored by English Heritage to their early 20th century appearance in a 20-year project.

Latest tasks include tending 13,000 box plants and 4,000 William of Orange tulips in the sheltered nursery.

They will be ready for planting in the restored French parterre in time to wow visitors next month, including those attending Wrest Park’s annual St George’s Festival on April 21 and 22, which last year attracted more than 8,000 people.