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Boston - The Small Town With A Big Story


Roy Hackford

The name of Johnson’s Seeds has been known for its quality seeds for almost 200 years. For many years the company was the country’s leading supplier of seeds for the home gardener and commercial growers. Its lawn grass seeds provided the playing surfaces for football grounds such as Wembley Stadium and those used by Arsenal, Leeds United and Nottingham Forest to name but a few. Johnsons Seeds are now marketed by other seed companies but its trade name continues to be associated with the best in flower and vegetable and lawn seed.

A black and white photograph of Railway Wagons being loaded by workers in flat caps

Loading railway wagons. (Roy Hackford)

Image of Johnson Seeds truck next to the Queen Mary

Sacks of Johnson seeds waiting to be loaded on to the Queen Mary (Roy Hackford)

The company was started by William Wade Johnson, a 17-year-old horticulturalist. William had moved to Boston from Bucknall, it is said, as the result of a falling out with his father. In 1820 he began selling the produce from his market garden in the town's Wednesday and Saturday markets. As a keen botanist, Johnson also began growing on some of his best plants to produce a seed crop. These he also started to sell from his market stall. Such was the quality and productiveness of these seeds that demand for them grew.

Over the coming years the seed side of his business developed and by the turn of the 20th century, Johnsons was the largest privately owned seed company in the UK with an expanding wholesale and general seed business throughout the world. Particular specialities were peas, beans, beet, Brussels, cabbage, carrots, turnips and seed potatoes, although a complete range of flower, vegetable and grass seeds was also marketed.

In 1911 a new headquarters, warehouse and cleaning plant were built on London Road, Boston, from where seeds of all types were processed before being despatched around the world. Such was the company’s international renown that it received numerous awards from various countries. Despite the depression of the 1920s and 1930s the company continued to prosper as a prominent exporter of seeds, particularly to the United States and Commonwealth countries. This export business came to an end on the outbreak of war in 1939 and never recovered as, post-war, other countries were growing their own seeds.

A black and white photograph of Johnson Seed Factory. It is a five storey brick building. Johnson and Son Seed Merchants, Head Offices Steel Lane is painted on the front in white.

Johnson Seed Factory. (Photographed By Neil Wright, 1964)

Image of Seed Beds alongside Wainfleet Road. The plants and flowers are growing in a series of large circles and rows. There are orange, yellow, pink and purple flowers.

Seed trial beds alongside Wainfleet Road. (Photographed By Roy Hackford)

In the 1960s Alfred de Bouys Johnson and his son William Wade Johnson, following a radical appraisal of the company, took the decision to re-enter the home retail market with a completely new range of pre-packed flower, vegetable and lawn seeds, along with bulbs. More than 10,000 garden centres, hardware stores, DIY shops, department stores and supermarkets sell Johnsons products, although its Boston warehouse has now gone.

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