Anthea and Jaime Blake met at College in Liverpool. They started their married life in Peterborough where Anthea was a teacher for special needs and Jaime worked for the local parks department. In 1988 Jamie was asked to work at Bressingham Gardens as deputy head gardener by his father in law Alan Bloom. So they returned to live in Bressingham where Anthea had been brought up in Bressingham Hall. Both their children, like their mother, went to local schools. Ellie is now a teacher working in Dereham and David has just finished University in York where he studied film and television. Anthea teaches at a special needs school in Attleborough and Jaime is now the curator of the garden his father in law created at Bressingham Gardens. Anthea’s sister, Jenny, is a garden designer and lives in London.
Anthea has done some extensive research on her family the Blooms. She discovered to her surprise that her great, great, great, great grandfather was William Harnwell who lived at Fen Side in Fen Street, Bressingham. He was a blacksmith he also owned land around his house which presumably he farmed. Anthea was able to trace the Harnwell family back to the1500’s when they were linen weavers. The family cannot be traced as living in Bressingham after around 1850, dispersing around the area as a result of a poor rural economy at the time. She also discovered that Robert Harnwell’s son John was a pupil at Elizabeth Barker School in Church Lane around 1811. Anthea’s great grandmother was Amelia Feake (married name Whitworth) who lived in Palgrave and worked in Diss at Gosling’s Chemist when she was 16. She was born in Rickinghall.
Alan Bloom – Anthea’s father came to Bressingham in 1946. Although he had been told that his grandmother had been born locally, he had no idea that there was a Bressingham connection. He came from Cambridgeshire where his family had been shopkeepers for several generations. Before the war Alan’s plant nursery was the biggest in England and he had also developed new herbaceous perennials. The wholesale nursery was recognised as the most successful and largest in England. He owned about 200 acres of farm land, and during the war he reclaimed 350 acres of Fen land, the largest drainage and reclamation scheme of its kind. This was most successful and, as a result, a lot of extra food was grown for the war effort. Even the King came to admire what he had achieved. Unfortunately, after the war, this reclaimed land was given back and reverted to Fen. It was then he decided to make a new start and was able to buy a 200 acre shooting estate in Bressingham – where it was suggested the Water Board would drain some of the Fen Land. It was because of Alan’s previous success and knowledge of draining land in Cambridgeshire that he was able to persuade the water board to go ahead with their plans.
Alan was acknowledged as one of the leading plantsman in England of the 20th century, awarded medals and honours in the field. But this was not without set backs. His first Bressingham winter in 1946 was the worst in many years and was followed by a summer of drought. He left a manager in charge and decided to go to Canada to start a nursery there. However there he encountered the worst Canadian winter in 30 years.
The plants he had sent for from England arrived by boat but were mostly dead on arrival. He returned to Bressingham and with, a lot of hard work, developed his nursery in Bressingham to be the size of his Cambridgeshire one. When his sons Robert and Adrian grew up they took over the nursery and Alan concentrated on developing the Dell Garden. Here he made history by creating the island beds. The Dell Gardens had originally been the site of where they extracted clay for bricks, so most of the soil was light and sandy and suitable for plants. People visited the garden from all over the world. At this time too Alan began his collection of steam engines, initially traction engines, which were being sold for scrap at the time. Enthusiasts emerged to help him develop what is now the Steam Engine Museum and is open to many visitors and enjoyed by so many. The Bloom family have provided work for many people in the community over the years. Eventually the museum became a charitable trust and the main nursery and plants centre were sold, leaving the gardens and a smaller nursery to be carried on by the family. The Hall is open to bed and breakfast – and the third generation of Blooms in Bressingham are producing plants.