Horse and cart ready for the long journey to market, taken at our Kirby Road Nursery.

The Cottage Garden Flower Shop of Dunstable has been trading in the same family for over a century. Established in 1898 by Alfred George Headey the business was originally diversified in a number of areas including the growing of flowers, plants, vegetable and fruit crops and the raising of livestock.

Alfred George Headey

After working on a nursery on the south coast Alfred found himself in Dunstable at the latter end of the 19th century.  At this time there were a number of nurseries in Dunstable and Alfred ended up in partnership with Fred Robinson who owned and ran a small nursery in Union Street near the junction with Princes Street.

Chiltern Road Cottage
The Chiltern Road Cottage at the turn of the century.

At the time, Chiltern Road itself was a muddy lane with few buildings, one of which was the Primrose Laundry at the junction with West Street and further down a cottage which stood on land owned by the Seamons family.  Alfred purchased the cottage along with roughly two acres of adjoining land and an additional plot at the rear of The Pheasant in West Street.

Greenhouses were erected and Alfred was soon selling flowers and plants grown on site from the garden of the cottage, hence The Cottage Garden Flower Shop and Nurseries were established at what is now 160 Chiltern Road, the shop’s current location.

A view of the 'Cottage' standing alone in Chiltern Road. In the foreground sheep grazing on what is now the Beecroft Estate. In the distance can be seen Blows Downs.
A view of the ‘Cottage’ standing alone in Chiltern Road (1905). In the foreground sheep grazing on what is now the Beecroft Estate. In the distance can be seen Blows Downs.

As business flourished Alfred, along with Frederick Robinson bought several parcels of land from Arthur Field Hobbs, also a florist and grower in the town.

Alfred then met and married Maud Bunker with whom he had two sons, Maurice and Leslie.  With business going well and the immediate need for a larger house the family moved in 1912 to Westleigh adjacent the Victoria Allotments in West Street.  This included a plot of land which ran all the way back to Cemetery Lane at the rear of Canesworde (Kensworth) Road.

The long journey to market.

Flowers, plants and produce were transported by horse and cart daily to all the major markets of the area, including Luton, Leighton Buzzard, Aylesbury and Tring.  The picture featured to the right shows one such horse and cart on its way to market and at the top of the page at what was then the Kirby Road Nursery.

Alfred watering crops.

Maurice, as so many of his contemporaries, was sadly killed while fighting at Ypres in the First World Ward (Dunstable War Memorial.)  During the war, as more and more food production was required, further land was purchased by the family at the top of Totternhoe Road.  The plot ran back to the Green Lanes and was adjacent to what was then Rollings Whiting Works.

In 1922 further greenhouses were erected at the rear of Westleigh as the business continued to expand however only a few years later came the Great Depression.  Alfred died in 1930 and Westleigh was sold for £1400, although the land at the rear which had become known as the Kirby Road Nursery was retained by the business and renowned tomatoes were grown there in their thousands.

An advertisement for A G Headey and Sons.
An advertisement for A G Headey and Sons.

Alfred was quite a character, a larger than life man in many respects.  He played for the Dunstable Town Cricket Club and was in 1929 Captain at the Dunstable Downs Golf Club.  You can read about one of his exploits here.

Leslie had by this time already met and married Clarice who was at the time working at Lacey’s in Luton.  They had two sons, Ivor and Terence and were all living together at Westleigh before it was sold.

Leslie Headey

Leslie took on the business and moved with his family to the newly built ‘Sunningdale’ at the top of Totternhoe Road.  An additional house ‘Les Dunes’ was built next door for Maud.

Leslie was to die at a young age and his son Terence, although only 20 years old at the time took on the business.  Maud, overcome by grief at the loss of her husband and two sons threw herself from one of the upstairs windows at Les Dunes and died of her injuries.

Terence Headey

Terence met his future wife Prudence of Chantry Farm, Houghton Regis when she came to work as a florist at Chiltern Road.  They were to have three children, Caroline, Alison and Charles and Terence continued to run the business until his retirement in 1993 when Charles took over.

Advertisement for the opening of Chiltern Florists.

During Terry’s time in charge the business moved from a mixed retail/wholesale model to predominantly retail.  Additional shops were opened, including in the 1950’s Chiltern Florists in Middle Row and in the 1970’s Beavingtons Florist, a pre-existing business in High Street North was purchased.  The business also became members of Interflora in the late 1950’s.

The original lean-to at the side of the cottage was demolished in the 1950’s and replaced with a much larger ‘soil shed’ and new shop area facing the road.  As more and more space was required for the shop the soil shed was slowly converted into retail and office areas.

A brochure from the 1970’s.

The Kirby Road Nursery was sold for development in the 1980’s and now comprises the Kirby Road Doctor’s Surgery and Long Meadow.  The site at Chiltern Road continued as a retail florist and garden centre until Terry’s retirement in 1993 when the land upon which the nursery was situated was sold for development and became Nursery Close.

The Cottage Garden Flower Shop continues today to trade successfully from the original cottage that Alfred first purchased in the late 1800’s and is now run by Alfred’s Great Grandson.  You can read about our current flower shop and services here.


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