One of the great mysteries of W8, London, is how is it possible that a flourishing nursery garden and florist has quietly existed in the heart of prosperous Kensington, residing in 'Pembroke Square', off the Earls Court Road, since 1897?
The surrounding area became prime building land during the great construction boom of the 1820's. London was thriving like no other city on the globe. The Victorian era was about to unfold with its gigantic ambitions powering the country to the forefront. Speculators hungrily scoured the edges of the city- for this was at the time sleepy, semi-rural Kensington, albeit a highly desirable part of London with a fashionable high street, set apart by the Royal Parks from commercial centres such as Piccadilly and Covent Garden.
At the time market gardens and arable farms occupied much of the land, which was largely owned and dominated as it had been for centuries by landed estates.
The Rassell family were gardeners hailing from West Sussex. Like so many, Charles Rassell's father, Henry, was drawn to London with all its possibilities. He established the firm in 1870 employing large teams of gardeners. The property boom had opportunities for gardens and parks all over the city. Prosperity for new home- owners brought a desire to enjoy a gracious and more leisurely way of life. Both public and private gardens multiplied across the city. The new occupants with sufficient money and time grew unusual plants and this was further reflected by the visionary tree planting in squares, parks and gardens still to be seen and admired across London today.
At the head of Pembroke square fronting on to, what was then Earls Court Lane, was 'The Lodge', a small building constructed to be just that. It had been in existence in some form or another for many years, providing a valuable outlet for a succession of florists. Charles Rassell bought the lease of 'The Lodge' from Lord Kensington, then the freehold and finally the 'enclosure' i.e. the centre of the square.
Charles Rassell may have established his pretty florist shop at The Lodge, 80 Earl's Court Road, providing all for the discerning customer in 1897, but the business founded in his name is unusual in still trading today. The Rassell family through his daughter, Marjorie Rassell, continued the family connection untill 1979 and further through Donald Rider; who in 1935 at the tender age of sixteen became her apprentice, rising to eventually occupy the position of managing director. War service apart Donald worked continuously for the company untill 29th july 2011 when he died at the age of 92 in his home above the business. In turn Donald has been succeeded by Richard Hood whose intention is to continue to provide a rich selection of plants along with knowledgeable and personal service to all of Rassells customers, in a manner that it has always tried to fulfil.
The 'garden centre'- a concept which didn't exist at the inception of the company, receives constant supplies of a dizzying selection of fresh plants in tune with the whims of modern customers and ever-changing seasonal demands.
Charles Rassell would probably judge his venture to be rather favourable after so many years. A pleasant surprise. Which of course Rassells has always been.