The Crocus is the epitome of early spring flowers. Mass displays in places such as Big Mead recreation ground in Shanklin are a delight, when the flowers open fully in the sunshine.

At one time, Freshwater was a mecca for crocus lovers. The purple flowered Spring Crocus, Crocus vernus (now C. neapolitanus), used to be abundant in a meadow at the junction of Victoria Road and Camp Road.

The field was known as the glebe field and was associated with the 17th century rectory chapel and tithe barn, still standing, across the road. A glebe field was an area within an ecclesiastical parish used to support a parish priest.

The origin of the crocuses in the glebe field is uncertain. They are not native. The spring crocus is a native of Italy and the Balkans, and was introduced into cultivation in Britain before 1600, and first recorded in the wild in 1763, in Surrey.

Isle of Wight County Press: Crocuses bring the springCrocuses bring the spring (Image: Neil Hitchock)

Isle of Wight County Press: Freshwater churchyardFreshwater churchyard (Image: Colin Pope)

The botanist Frederick Stratton wrote in 1916, ‘This year, I saw the plant in vast abundance in a meadow, several acres in extent, at Freshwater. It extended nearly over the whole field, and was a most lovely sight, the flowers even then constituting a purple haze when seen from some distance away. Lord Tennyson [Hallam Tennyson] says he has known the plant growing there for fifty years past.’

An earlier report suggests there was only one patch in the 1860s.

Freshwater and Totland Archive Group refers to a journal dated 1875-1898 then 1925-1936, and a Mr John Jones, a butcher trading at Donnington, now a domestic property in Victoria Road.

It says he had ‘a passion for flowers’ and employed a man once a week to keep his garden in order.  ‘Extravagant in his tastes,’ writes the journal’s author, the gardener ‘threw roots and bulbs over into the Rectory Field where, sixty years ago, the only few stray crocus were close to Mr Jones’ fence’.

This may well explain their origin, but such were their abundance that by the twentieth century the glebe field became a much-loved place of pilgrimage in the spring, to collect posies. Local people gathered bunches for Mothering Sunday services, and for Easter.

Isle of Wight County Press: Freshwater crocus field in 1965Freshwater crocus field in 1965 (Image: Robin Fletcher)

Isle of Wight County Press: Spring crocus in bloomSpring crocus in bloom (Image: Les Lockhart)

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Despite objections, the glebe field was developed for housing in 1968.

Prior to development, the Isle of Wight Natural History and Archaeological Society organised an operation to dig up as many corms as possible and plant them in other safe locations, including Quarr Abbey, Marsh Farm house, Newtown and above Freshwater Bay.

Crocuses often naturalise freely and cemeteries and churchyards are good places to see them today.

Isle of Wight County Press: At Big Mead, in ShanklinAt Big Mead, in Shanklin (Image: Jane Grewcock)