George ‘Lupinseed’ Staunton of Kessingland

John Chapman, known to the world as ‘Johnny Appleseed’, was an American pioneer nurseryman who introduced apple trees to large parts of the USA but have you heard of George ‘Lupinseed’ Staunton?

Kessingland was once marketed as Lupinland and it all came about because of this man.  It is said that his ‘obsession’ started when he was given two unusual lupins by the Rev John Cossham Vawdrey, and this planted the seed of an idea to turn the beach and dunes into a mass of colour.

Extract from the Ordnance Survey Map of 1927 showing Clare House
(Sheet 19/4)

He had noted that the lupins flourished in the sandy soil of his garden at Clare House, Kessingland and as his house was located on the beach it was a natural progression that they would thrive on the beach and dunes.  It is said that year after year ‘Lupinseed’ thrashed out the seed and sowed acres of the foreshore where he noted that the lupins helped to bind together the shifting sands and worked as a form of natural sea defence.  However apart from being practical they produced a brilliant scented display and for a while in the early 20th century visitors flocked to Lupinland to see the flowers.  As with all success stories there was a darker side for poor George as the visitors departed with armfuls of the beautiful flowers and it is said that ‘Lupinseed’ lost heart on seeing the destruction of ‘his’ flowers and gave up his annual sowing.

As to the man behind the story there is no trace of a George Staunton living in Kessingland on the census returns but Rev John Cossham Vawdry, who is credited with sparking the lupin ‘obsession’, was the Rector of Kessingland 1900-1909 so ‘Lupinseed’ had to be connected to the parish at some point between those dates. A George William Staunton is recorded in the 1909 Kelly’s Lowestoft Directory as living at The Beach (having arrived in the village sometime between 1904 and 1909) and is recorded at Clare House, The Beach between 1913 and Spring 1925.  It must have initially been a summer home as George William Staunton, a director of public companies, and his wife Cassandra are recorded in 1911 as resident at Clare Hall, Clare, Suffolk along with a governess, two daughters and three servants.

The Staunton surname and the name of Clare House disappear from the electoral registers after Spring 1925 but Clare House is still in evidence on the 1927 Ordnance Survey sheet. The couple however appear in 1939 living at Staunton Hall, Newark, Nottinghamshire with one son and three servants.  Along with a change of county George has had a change of occupation as in 1939 he is listed as a clergyman.

Lupins in bloom alongside the path at the edge of Kessingland beach, 1978
(1176/1/13/9/6/8)

Articles published on George Staunton are scant in number but they all record that his house was later the home of Colonel Lancelot and Lady Violet Gregson. This couple appear for the first time in the electoral register of 1933/34 living at the White House having changed the name of Clare House.  Unfortunately, the house has not survived the ravages of the sea.  When fierce storms and high tides struck in January 1937 the house was in imminent danger of destruction and was put up for sale as it was no longer possible for the owners to rent out the house.  It was quickly purchased by William and Vera Sampson for just £40 on the condition that it was removed within six weeks and they set to and removed the White House piece by piece and rebuilt in Wash Lane, Kessingland.

The name however lingers on in Kessingland as it is now the site of the White House Beach Caravan Club, but the lupins proved to be a much hardier lot and today there are still masses of them at Kessingland making a wonderful colourful memorial to the man who loved them.