The Biggest Owner of Watercress Farms in the World
A prominent figure in the watercress industry in the late 1800s and early 1900s was Eliza James, who because of her near monopoly on the London watercress trade was nicknamed “The Watercress Queen”. As a child of five, she hawked watercress around factories in Birmingham, being given 40 bunches of wild watercress a day by her family to sell to the workers. She continued to sell more and more watercress, eventually working her way up in business to become the sole watercress supplier of nearly every hotel and restaurant in London. She was reputed to be the biggest owner of watercress farms anywhere in the world, owning vast watercress beds at Mitcham and Beddington in Surrey and at Warnford, Overton and Hurstbourne Priors in Hampshire. At the time of her death in 1927 at the age of 72, James & Son, the company she founded, was handling 50 tons of watercress in just one weekend.
She was a well-known figure in Covent Garden, working at her stall there for over 50 years, arriving every day on a watercress cart driven by her son or son-in-law.
The Daily Mirror reported: “For a woman by her own unaided efforts to have amassed £20,000 three or four times over by selling watercress is surely one of the most wonderful romances of business London has ever known”.
The farms Eliza founded in Hampshire are still producing watercress and are now owned by Vitacress Salads. In fact the name Vitacress was trade marked by Eliza and later sold on to Mr. Malcolm Isaac, the chairman of Vitacress Salads, part of The Watercress Alliance, which also includes Alresford Salads and The Watercress Company.