Suttons Seeds was granted a Royal Charter by Queen Victoria 160 years ago, for many decades their headquarters dominated the centre of Reading.

As one of the towns famous ‘beer, biscuits and bulbs’ triumvirate, it is remarkable to think that the area from the Market Place to the Forbury was once a bustling hive of industry.

Founded by John Sutton in 1806, his small corn and seed business flourished, and with his son, Martin, they introduced radical changes using new scientific techniques for the production of seeds.

Suttons made great progress during the 19th century, and the quality of their produce attracted both national and international attention.

A shop was opened in 1837, situated opposite the town’s Saturday vegetable and general market.

The company established their own laboratory to test seeds for germination and purity in 1840, and in the same year Suttons began using the Great Western Railway to distribute its products.

By 1873, extensive new offices and warehouses appeared behind the shop premises, occupying a large area with its store rooms, exhibition department and, horse stables and even a works fire station.

The printing of its annual seed catalogue was a much-anticipated event in the calendar of virtually every gardener in Great Britain throughout the 19th and 20th century. The Royal Appointment brought several visits by various monarchs to the firm’s trial grounds and the Market Place premises.

Suttons received royal patronage in 1858, when Queen Victoria requested seed supplies for the royal household, the firm have held a Royal Warrant ever since, and are currently suppliers to Queen Elizabeth.

In 1918, George V and Queen Mary toured the site, and in 1926 the Prince of Wales, (later to become Edward VIII) drove over the nursery grounds at Earley.

In 1962, the company moved from the Market Place to Earley, where it was easier to expand its own methods of large-scale seed production.

But in 1975 these buildings and 43 acres of land were sold to Slough Estates Limited for £3.2 million, who planned to develop the site for warehousing.

Over the next few years the area did indeed develop into a large industrial estate with 750,000 feet of office and warehousing space and the original office being used as the headquarters of Sir Alexander Gibb and Jacob’s Food.

The name Sutton Seeds did indeed survive, and the seed business moved (along with its existing staff and management) to Torquay in Devon, and subsequently transferred to Paignton, where it remains to this day.