Obituary: Fred Daw

Tim Bullamore
Thursday 03 September 1998 23:02

FRED DAW did more than anyone else to bring to his adopted home of Bath its well-earned sobriquet, "the floral city".

As Bath's parks director from 1952 until 1973, he put flowers onto the pavements, built ornamental gardens on bomb sites, and led the city to the finals of the Britain in Bloom contest every year that the competition was held while he was parks director, celebrating four outright victories.

Daw was born on the Sandringham Estate in Norfolk, where his father was flock shepherd and butcher to no fewer than five monarchs, including George V. In old age, he relished his memories of those times: "I used to help my father kill and dress 21 Southdown sheep for the royal table each week. I also remember just before Christmas the King would give beef to all the estate workers and the poorer you were, the larger the piece of beef you got."

Leaving school at 14, Daw worked as a pony boy. "I started by leading the grass-cutting ponies on the golf course, as there were no motor mowers in those days," he said during an interview last year.

A scholarship took him to the John Innes Horticultural College, from where he took a job as gardening foreman at Himley House, home of the Earl of Dudley, in Worcester. It was there he met his wife of almost 60 years, Cath. He spent the war as a food production officer and horticultural adviser in Oldbury.

A position as parks superintendent in Stourbridge eventually led to the plum position of Parks Director in Bath in 1952, where Daw had the aftermath of the war years and his predecessor's long illness to contend with. He immediately landed in a storm when he lavishly decorated the city with blooms: "We put some in Abbey Church Yard, outside the Pump Room, for the Bath Festival. But there was such an outcry that I had to get my staff out at three in the morning to take all the flowers back to the nursery."

After this baptism of fire, Daw set about transforming the city. In 1953, when Bath won a silver medal at the Royal Horticultural Show, The Times noted "the glorious bank of cyclamens from the City of Bath Parks Department, staged so that the colours blend imperceptibly from one to another." The top award in the first Britain in Bloom contest followed in 1964. Daw's strategy in Bath, he said, was to adopt the same pastel colour schemes which Queen Mary had planned at Sandringham.

He would regale those who would listen with many tales of his life outdoors and particularly enjoyed recounting how, finding his orchard suffering badly from the attention of boys "scrumping" his apples, he had once set a trap at the foot of the 20ft wall they had to scale. He buried a large tank, filled it with a noxious mixture of water and tractor sump oil, and carefully covered it over. From his vantage point behind the runner beans, Daw watched and waited with the avid attention of a big game hunter. When the scavengers returned, their jump from the wall unfortunately cleared the concealed tank. Catching sight of their pursuer they beat a hasty retreat, missing the trap for a second time. In hot pursuit, Daw grabbed the fast-disappearing foot of one of the offenders. Down fell the lad onto firm soil; and down fell Daw into his own cocktail of water and oil.

Laying playing fields, landscaping cemeteries and transforming Bath's botanical gardens into a renowned centre of excellence were all fitted into the regular cycle of tending potting beds and flower boxes which to this day Daw's successors maintain.

The reorganisation of local government and the trimming of budgets were purportedly the cause of his premature retirement in 1973, but failed to change the colour of Daw's green fingers. He bought a parcel of land to the south-east of the city and invited his old friend Percy Thrower to open the Fred Daw Garden Centre. There he engaged in numerous minor skirmishes with local residents and the council, who nipped several planning applications in the bud as Daw tried to build golf courses and car parks for his customers.

Fred Daw became a familiar figure at shows and competitions across the country and was a judge for Britain in Bloom on several occasions. In 1968 he was created an associate of honour of the Royal Horticultural Society.

At home, in a little village to the east of Bath, Fred Daw tended his own garden with just as much devotion as he had the city's floral blooms. His views on pest control were forthright and uncompromising: "In all the work I have undertaken, from Sandringham to Bath, I have never used insecticides. I was taught the organic method of pest control and have promoted it all my life. If everyone grew their produce organically, all the fruit and vegetables would be much safer to eat."

Frederic Robert Daw, horticulturist: born West Newton, Sandringham 10 February 1913; Parks Director, City of Bath 1952-73; married 1938 (one son, one daughter); died Bath 28 August 1998.

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