The Elphick family ran Elphick & Son Ltd as a horticultural business in Sussex for almost 200 years, passing it down from father to son for five generations. At its height there were five branches but the original store was located at 18 Cliffe High Street in Lewes, where its neo-classical shopfront still stands. Elphick’s were local specialists in seeds, serving many high profile customers such as famous actresses Peggie Ashcroft and Gracie Fields, and members of the Bloomsbury Group Duncan Grant and Leonard Woolf.
Elphick’s closure was a consequence of the floods in the town in 2000 but, more deeply, because of competition from out-of-town superstores with car parks. There was once a seed shop like Elphick’s in every country town, but this is a heritage which has all but vanished.
Discover the story of Elphick’s in this issue of the Museum Journal, which celebrates the Elphick’s archive, donated to the Museum by Tony Elphick in 2003. Written by Garden Museum Archivist Rosie Vizor, this journal includes original research based on the archive, supported by materials held at The Keep centre for archives, and reminiscences by Tony Elphick. It highlights the preciousness of seed, at a time when seed diversity is at a critical point.
Ben Weaver’s design brings to life the visual relish of the collection; the family had a very strong sense of graphic design, and chose the best local photographers. Together with the journal is a facsimile of an Elphick’s Seeds catalogue, showcasing a selection of pages from the catalogues over the years and recreating the feeling of browsing through one of these beautiful booklets.