Watercress beds at Stoke Charity
This apparently timeless scene no longer exists. These watercress beds, that were fed by the River Dever have been replaced with a pond.
Watercresses are fast-growing, aquatic or semi-aquatic, perennial plants native from Europe to central Asia, and one of the oldest known leaf vegetables consumed by human beings. These plants are members of the Family Brassicaceae or cabbage family, botanically related to garden cress, mustard and radish — all noteworthy for a peppery, tangy flavour.
Cultivation of watercress is practical on both a large scale and a garden scale. Being semi-aquatic, watercress is well-suited to hydroponic cultivation, thriving best in water that is slightly alkaline. That is why Hampshire is famous for it's watercress thanks to it's abundant chalk streams. It is frequently produced around the headwaters of chalk streams. In many local markets, the demand for hydroponically grown watercress exceeds supply, partly because cress
leaves are unsuitable for distribution in dried form, and can only be stored fresh for a short period.
Watercress can be sold in supermarkets inside sealed plastic bags, containing a little moisture and lightly pressurised to prevent crushing of contents. This has allowed national availability with a once-purchased storage life of one to two days in chilled/refrigerated storage.
Also sold as sprouts, the edible shoots are harvested days after germination. If unharvested, watercress can grow to a height of 50–120 cm. Like many plants in this family, the foliage of watercress becomes bitter when the plants begin producing flowers.
Watercress is grown in a number of counties of the United Kingdom, most notably here in Hampshire, Hertfordshire, Wiltshire and Dorset, although the first commercial cultivation was along the River Ebbsfleet in Kent grown by William Bradbery (horticulturist) in 1808. Alresford (7.5 miles to the south-east), near Winchester, is often considered the watercress capital of Britain (to the extent that a steam railway line is named after the famous local crop). In recent years,watercre ss has become more widely available in the UK, at least in the South-East, being stocked pre-packed in some supermarkets, as well as fresh by the bunch at farmers' markets and greengrocers. Value-added products, such as the traditional watercress soup and pesto, are increasingly easy to source.
The church in the background is St Mary & St Michael, which is uncommonly well restored and kept. The church sits in the middle of a field, surrounded by a scatter of cottages, woods, and a pond where these watercress bed were. The exterior is flint with a tile-hung tower and splayed spire. The interior is, brightly scrubbed Norman, not over-restored and with a wealth of medieval monuments. The principal feature is an early Norman arcade of two wide bays divided by a huge pier with a scalloped capital. The chancel arch is later but still Norman, with zigzag moulding and foliated capitals. The arch dividing the north aisle from the Hampton Chapel, next to the chancel, appears to be Saxon.
Stoke Charity is a small village that lies within the Wonston civil parish in the City of Winchester district of Hampshire. Its nearest town is Winchester, which lies approximately 6.1 miles (9.9 km) south-west from the village.
The River Dever is a tributary of the River Test. The river rises alongside the A33 at around grid reference SU535402 (51º 09' 22" N, 1º 14' 23" W, 3 miles to the east) and flows west through the villages of Micheldever, Weston Colley, Stoke Charity, Wonston, Sutton Scotney, Upper and Lower Bullington, Barton Stacey, and flows into the Test near Wherwell (6.4 miles to the west).