Life Story retold by Teresa Verney-Brookes
John Sutton founded the ‘House of Suttons’ brand in 1806. The business was originally located on King Street, Reading, where it specialised in growing and supplying corn (maize).
Later in 1937, the business moved to Market Place, where his sons – Martin Hope Sutton and Alfred Sutton gradually diversified the company to specialise in the flower and vegetable seed trade.
According to Sutton Seeds A History (Earley Local History Group, 2006) John Sutton was born in London and was one of three sons and three daughters of James Sutton (1744-1789) and he moved to Reading at the turn of the eighteenth to nineteenth century to take of his inheritance of a mill on the Kennet. He married Sarah Norris of Shinfield, and they had three sons and three daughters.
The book also notes that both John and Sarah suffered from ill health – so much so that by 1827 John Sutton was unable to manage the firm – s0 his son “Martin Hope Sutton was bought in to help run the warehouse and then the office”. “John Sutton became a widower in 1834 and ‘he died at his home, Southampton Villa on the 31st May 1863”.
Suttons received Royal patronage in 1858, when Queen Victoria requested Martin Hope Sutton to supply seeds to the Royal household. By the 1870s Sutton and Sons was the world’s largest seed firm.
The honour of the Royal Warrant has been bestowed on the firm ever since – right up to the present day with Her Majesty the Queen and more recently with His Majesty the King.
Decorations were hung on the exterior of Suttons Seeds on the Forbury in anticipation of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation in 1953.
In 1962, Sutton & Son moved to new premises situated on the main London to Bath road (A4). At the time, the premises were the most up to date of their kind in the country!
According to Corley (Berkshire Archeology Journal, 74, 1991-3) Martin Hope Sutton (Johns second son) described his father as “always respected in an uncommon degree by the inhabitants of [Reading] where he had lived for nearly thirty years as a respectable tradesman. His word was really ‘was as good as his oath’ “.
The Sutton Seeds website contains a full history of the Sutton Seeds business and lots of fabulous photographs such as the one below:
The Museum of English Rural Life (MERL) in Reading holds a collection of signs seed catalogues and other artifacts from Sutton Seeds plus there more information can be found about the company on their website.
For further information about John Sutton and his family refer to Corley’s article entitled The Making of a Berkshire Entrepreneur, Berkshire Archeological Journal 74, 1991 – 3
Also, the book – ‘Sutton Seeds – A History 1806-2006′ by Earley Local History Group (Cromwell Press, 2006)
Buried in Section 45, Row A, Number 5