Cullen’s seeds and family


Cullen’s beautiful seed trial grounds are shown in photos M3127 to M3137. These are pioneering photographs taken by Angela and Ted Dersley in the 1950s and ’60s, when they worked for Cullen’s. They deserve great praise both for taking the photos in those unusual surroundings, and for keeping them safely ever since. Many of the pictures also show interesting features in the background, such as Crittall’s metal window factory.

Angela Dersley tending sweet peas in 1959 (photo M3127)

Some of the ground is now occupied by houses, such as those in Walnut Drive and thereabouts. And the part which is now the allotments, used to be the HQ for the workers and also their sandwich-eating space.

The plants and flowers which were grown there, and also their seeds, had to be minutely examined as they grew. This was to find any defects, and to reveal any invasion by other species, which would make the seeds corrupted and worthless.
Above. The former Cullen’s seed warehouses in White Horse Lane. The white one was built in the 1890s, and the other in 1908. The photograph was taken in September 2022.

Then in due course, the seeds were checked and packed for sale. For this they were taken to Cullen’s warehouses in White Horse Lane, shown above.  The checking was an arduous job in itself, and in addition Mr Cullen was very particular. For instance, Sellotape was banned. All the fastening and fixing was done with sealing wax.

After 1975 the company was involved in a series of mergers, which entailed moving to Leicester during the 1980s. After that the warehouse buildings in Witham were used for various purposes including the Witham Technology Centre. They are now (2022) occupied by flats.


Below are the two pages about Thomas Cullen’s business from the book “The Pictorial Record: Special Local Edition for Witham and District”, published c.1899.

As you can see, only the white warehouse was here at this time. When it was built, in the 1890s, Thomas Cullen was just setting up on his own. Sadly, the name which was painted on the front of the building has been obliterated in relatively recent times.

Above: Thomas Cullen, the founder of the firm. I have taken this photo from the late Elinor Roper’s book ‘Seedtime’; she took it from ‘Dorothy Taber’s collection’.

The second warehouse, in brick, was added in 1908. They were actually at the end of Thomas Cullen’s very long garden, which stretched all the way from his house in Chipping Hill along White Horse Lane. The house is the one known as “Bramstons”, now 16 Chipping Hill, on the left of the map. The first warehouse is on the right. There was a gate in the centre.

Above: From the O.S. 2nd edition 1:2500 map, dated 1897.
The distance between the house and the
warehouse is about 200 yards (c.180 metres).

Thomas Cullen died in 1935. At his funeral his friendliness was widely praised and he was referred to as a “wonderful personality” and a “doyen of the seed trade”. His son Frank Cullen took charge of the seed business; he farmed at Cressing Temple. Then Frank’s son Tony took over. Violet Cullen, who was so well-known in Witham, and lived to be 108, was married to Thomas William, Frank’s brother.

In those days of the early 20th century, people didn’t think to take photos of the actual seed trial grounds like the Dersleys did, and if they had tried, their cameras would have been unwieldy and expensive. But in the official railway photo below, taken in 1911, the flowers have crept in by accident (on the left) (my ref. M2787, from the late John Newman’s impressive collection of railway photos). The Braintree railway line adjoins them.

Above: a corner of the seed trial grounds is at the front left.
The rails next to them are the Braintree branch line.

Angela explains:
“You are right about the bottom left being part of the trial ground, We worked in that field a lot which was called The bottom field. I had the job of riding back along the lane, through the crossing gate to lock up two gates, one gate near the crossing gate and the other gate right on the corner which is now the car park. All the straight lines [behind the shed] are the Allotments with a fence across from the old lane to the main railway line. Our greenhouse was about where you can see the sheds. The first railway track near the trial ground, bottom left, led into Crittalls.”

For a detailed and interesting account which includes all the seed companies in and around Witham, including Cullen’s, do read the book Seed Time: The History of Essex Seeds, by the late Elinor M C Roper, published in 1989 by Phillimore. At the moment (November 2020) it’s available for about £6 – a bargain.


See also INTERVIEWS for oral history tape 56 and oral history files for Mrs Violet Cullen

Sources of Information include the Braintree and Witham Times, and the book Seedtime by Elinor Roper.

homas Cullen

Born c.1846

Assistant to George Taber in seed business. Partner 1881

To Rose Cottage, Rivenhall, after George Taber left.

Left business 1894 – not keen on merge with Cooper

By 1894 at Bramstons, 16 Chipping Hill, Witham, and seed warehouse behind, facing Braintree Road (now 41 Braintree Road).

Died 1935 at Bramstons, 16 Chipping Hill, Witham



Frank Cullen
1894 Director of business
1909 Partner, Thomas Cullen and sons
1912 to Cressing Temple

Thomas William Cullen

1909 Partner, Thomas Cullen and sons

1918 To Ulting after army in First World War

1924 married Violet Grout of Ulting


L J Cullen

of Clarks Farm, Kelvedon


Capt. Leonard Cullen

1923 Died. IARO


GRANDSONS included:

Anthony L Cullen (Tony)
Thomas H Cullen

Michael [?[Cullen. 1944. Killed in Italy.




Mrs W Taber
Mrs A Taber

Miss E M Cullen
Mrs Fairweather







Year Commercial Residential
1895 Cullen Thomas, Chipping hill
1899 Cullen Thomas, seed grower & merchant Cullen Thomas, Chipping hill


1901 census, RG 13/1725, folio 55, page 2, Chipping Hill [now no. 16]

Thomas Cullen Head M 55 Seed grower and merchant, employer born Somerset, Wearne
Elizabeth Cullen Wife M 51 born Wiltshire, Box
Francis J Cullen Son S 26 Clerk to seed merchant born Essex, Rivenhall
Maud Cullen Dau S 16 born Essex, Rivenhall
Leonard Cullen Son S 14 Junior clerk to seed merchant born Essex, Rivenhall
Ella Cullen Dau 9 born Essex, Rivenhall
Beatrice A Richards Niece S 22 Lady Help (domestic) born Wiltshire, Box
Ethel Smith Ser S 17 General servant (domestic) born Essex, Wickham


C/DF 11 /7 Motorbikes, first register, 1904-1905

Sixth Witham one in the list is:

F1064, 25 June 1904

Leonard Cullen, Chipping Hill, Witham

Cycle, “Brown” 2¾ HP, 1 cwt, for private and trade.

In 1912 to Archibald William Alliston, Chipping Hill, Witham.



Year Commercial Residential
1902 Cullen Thomas, seed grower & mercht Cullen Thomas, Chipping Hill
1902 Cullen Francis John frmr. Oliver’s frm Cullen Francis John. Oliver’s farm
1906 Cullen Thomas seed grower & mercht Cullen Thomas, Chipping Hill
1906 Cullen Francis John, frmr. Olivers frm Cullen Francis John, Oliver’s farm
1908 Cullen Thomas, seed grower & mercht Cullen Thomas, Chipping Hill
1908 Cullen Francis John, frmr. Oliver’s frm Cullen Francis John, Oliver’s farm


Building plans in ERO

(190, 242 and 249 are ref D/UWi/Pb1, rest are Acc A7280)

(haven’t found a plan for the first warehouse, weatherboarded; this here is the second one in brick)

No Description Address given People Year of consent Probable address today Comment
190 Seed Warehouse White Horse Lane Thomas Cullen, Witham (O) 1908 49 Braintree Road, fronting White Horse Lane Nice elevations and plans



1910 Cullen Thomas, seed grower & merchant Cullen Thomas, Chipping Hill
1910 Cullen Leonard, motor carriage & engineering works, High street. Tel. P.O. 27; Telegrams, “Karworks, Witham”



Building plans in ERO

(190, 242 and 249 are ref D/UWi/Pb1, rest are Acc A7280)

No Description Address given People Year of consent Probable address today Comment
242 Office Newland Street Messrs Cullen & Nicholls, Witham (O); Joseph Smith and Son, Witham (B) 1911 97 Newland Street Layout of forge, paint shop etc (C and N were motor engineers)
249 Additions to house Chipping Hill T Cullen (O); H W Mann (A) 1912 16 Chipping Hill



1912 Cullen Thomas & Sons, seed growers Cullen Thomas Chipping Hill
1912 Cullen Leonard, motor body & carriage builder, High street
1912 Cullen & Nicholls, motor engineers, High street. Tel. P.O. 27; Telegrams, ” Karworks, Witham”


Essex Weekly News, 28 March and 4 April 1913 et al., page 1

Advert for ‘Cullen and Nicholls, Witham. Re ‘All British Car, Swift’. Different sizes. ‘Ready for the Road’. Trial run can be arranged. No picture.



1914 Cullen Thomas & Sons, seed growers Cullen Thomas. Chipping Hill
1914 Cullen Leonard, motor body & carriage builder, High street
1914 Cullen & Nicholls, motor engineers, High street. Tel. P.O. 27; Telegrams “Karworks, Witham”
1917 Cullen Thomas & Sons, seed growers Cullen Thomas, Chipping Hill
1917 Cullen Leonard, Row cottage


Building plans in ERO

(190, 242 and 249 are ref D/UWi/Pb1, rest are Acc A7280)

No Description Address given People Year of consent Probable address today Comment
300 Offices Braintree Road Messrs T Cullen and Sons (O); C Blade Wenden, Witham (B) 1920 Part of 49 Braintree Road (single storey building on Braintree Road frontage)
319 Seed warehouse Braintree Road Messrs Thomas Cullen and Sons (O); J D Dean, Witham (B) 1921 Part of 49 Braintree Road (in yard, in front of entrance from Braintree Road.



1922 Cullen Thomas & Sons, seed growers Cullen Thomas, Chipping Hill
1926 Cullen Thomas & Sons, seed growers. TN 7 Cullen Thomas, Chipping Hill
1926 Cullen Mrs. Avenue road
1929 Cullen Thomas & Sons, seed growers. TN 7 Cullen Thomas Chipping Hill
1933 Cullen Thomas & Sons, seed growers. TN 7 Cullen Thomas Chipping Hill


Braintree and Witham Times, 29 March 1934

page 8 ‘The Editor’s letter bag. A “Fountain” of Free Speech’. Lot of letters including:

‘The Discipline of Fascism’, from ‘A L Cullen, Acting Asst Propaganda Officer, Witham Branch’. “A Young Worker” seems to be under the impression that Fascism is a protégé of the present uncontrolled capitalism. If that were so we could not stand as we do, for the control and transformation of the capitalist system, for the mastery of that which has demoralised the nation. Capitalism is in its fundamentals un-national and international, and Fascism to combat it has of necessity adopted a strictly national basis, demanding the organisation and control of the nation as a unit of disciplined life.


Braintree and Witham Times, 10 May 1934

page 8. See xerox on newspaper file. ‘What our readers think. Letters to the editor which reflect the views of the “Man in the Street”. Fascism, Communism, Fire Precautions and many divers subjects’. Include:

‘Pride in Fascism’ from ‘Witham Fascist. ‘May I quote the names of A L Cullen, E P R Allen, and Malcolm MacPherson, a at least three valiant champions of Fascism who have most certainly revealed their names in your columns? I shall soon grow tired of telling Mr Barnard he is wrong – it is growing so obvious !  As for myself, it may seem strange to Mr Barnard to learn that I take no pleasure in seeing my name constantly “in the paper”; and further, as one engaged in business, I believe the latter and politics are better kept apart. Nevertheless, this noble and incoherent defender of democracy throws down the challenge, and I take pleasure to inform him that my name is Robert East (Junior) and that in common with all Blackshirts, I am passionately proud to be a Fascist. Once again, Mr Barnard’s criticisms of our policy are so fatuous as to be unworthy of consideration, but I should like to point out that our foreign policy is embodied in our motto: “Britain buys from those who buy from Britain,” thus using for the first time our vast buying power as a commercial asset. With regard to Russia, she would be treated commercially on the same basis as every other country, while we should at the same time insist upon straight dealing and commercial integrity comparable to our own’.

‘Fox-Trotski?’ from ‘Britain for Britons’. ‘Mr Barnard states that: “Not one of the valiant champions of Fascism in your columns reveal their identity”. This is a lie. Mr Cullen, M Allen and Mr Blind all append their names. Some of us do not, for very good reasons, but not because we are ashamed of Fascism.’

‘When the world is united?’ from A L Cullen, Witham. Fascism will get country to adapt, not stay same as Conservatives wish. Various detailed points, answer to Mr Turnbull.


Braintree and Witham Times, 20 September 1934

page 4. Robbery at ‘North Corner’ residence of Mrs L Cullen, jewellery worth about £100 missing in break-in. Also new suit of clothing belonging to Mr Anthony Cullen. Mrs Cullen is widow of late Mr L Cullen former well known Witham resident. Two sons Anthony and Michael. Window on ground floor. Witham Stock market in progress c 50 yards away and some stockmen and farmers had parked on either side of the house.


Braintree and Witham Times, 28 March 1935 [see xerox for complete report]  

(page 7) ‘Doyen of seed trade. Death of merchant with world-wide business connections.’ ‘Senior partner of Thomas Cullen and Sons, wholesale seed growers and merchants of Witham.’ In his 90th year. Born at Huish in Somerset in 1846. Apprenticed to London wholesaler then to Rivenhall in 1864 to partnership with late Mr George Tabor. Founded his own firm at Witham in 1894, ‘with two of his sons, Mr F J Cullen, now of Cressing Temple, and Mr T W Cullen, now of The Elms, Ulting. The business, now of world-wide repute, has been built up greatly on its founder’s sterling business quality’ and tireless work. ‘Wonderful personality’. ‘Affectionate regard by his staff and workmen’. Mrs Cullen died in 1922. Youngest son Capt Leonard Cullen IARO died in 1923. Third surviving Son is L J Cullen of Clarks Farm, Kelvedon. Four daughters are Mrs W Taber, Mrs A Taber, Miss E M Cullen and Mrs Fairweather. Mourners at funeral were Frank J Cullen and L J Cullen (sons), Anthony L Cullen and Thomas H Cullen (grandsons), Mr W Taber, Mr A G Taber, Mr F H Fairweather (sons in law). T W Cullen (son) absent through illness.





Year Commercial Residential
1937 Cullen Thomas & Sons, seed growers. T A “Cullen, Witham” T N 7
1937 Cullen Miss E M, Chipping hill



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