The warmth of Martin Stewart’s tribute to Eddie Topping at the service celebrating the founder of the Barton Grange Group’s life was a moving testimony to the deep affection in which Eddie was held throughout the garden industry.
Martin told how his own father had been the first to pick up on the concept of garden centres, but Eddie had “all the skills, energy and ambition required to do it better”.
His father, an RAF pilot in World War II, had been reluctant to return to the Stewart family’s “dark, dingey and basically bankrupt” nursery business after the war but wrote home before returning from a trip delivering a plane to the United States in 1955: “I have seen the future – they are called Garden Centres.” The subsequently converted Stewart potting sheds became what was almost certainly the UK’s first embryonic garden centre.
It was in that same year that Eddie Topping took over the Rochdale Market fruit and veg stall from his father who (with his wife Ada) was by then busy building up business at the newly-developed hotel at Barton near Preston, adding a modest landscaping business two years later. Over the decades ahead, Eddie (helped by his three sons, Guy, Peter and Ian) moulded the flourishing Barton Grange Group we know today, with the flagship multi-award winning Brock garden centre at its core, augmented more recently by the enterprising Flower Bowl leisure and entertainment centre. By any measure, it became one of the UK’s most spectacular garden retail, landscaping and leisure businesses.
When Martin Stewart’s father, Edward, was elected president of the Horticultural Trades Association in 1960, he would have met Eddie, 12 years his junior. Twenty-two years later, in the year of Edward Stewart’s death, Eddie was also to become HTA president. “He was a huge support to me at that time,” Martin recalled in his tribute. “For those of you not familiar with our trade, it is the most extraordinarily open, warm and friendly industry imaginable. It is now and it was then.”
“What a proper pioneering spirit. The finest example of his legacy can be seen within his offspring and the enterprises that they are involved with now. The Barton Grange business with its unique culture has Eddie written right through it like a stick of rock. What an extraordinary legacy.”
Martin summed up Eddie Topping as “amazing – a proper entrepreneurial pioneer, someone loved and respected more than anyone I have met in our trade. He earnt his reputation in the most beautiful, calm unruffled manner….”
Perhaps the last word should go to one of Eddie’s grandsons, Andrew, who said at the service: “I won the lottery having Eddie as our grandad.”
Read a fuller version of Martin Stewarts tribute to Eddie Topping in the upcoming October issue of GTN.