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The Old Vicarage, 47 Shirley Church Road
Reverend William Wilks 1843-1923
William Wilks propagator of the Shirley poppy was educated at Oxford, ordained in 1866 and was curate at the Croydon Parish Church until 1879, when Archbishop Tait offered him the vicarage of Shirley. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Horticultural Society in 1867 and in 1912 he was awarded their highest honour of the Society for his work.
In 1880 Rev Wilks "noticed in a waste corner of my garden abutting on the fields a patch of the common wild field poppy [Papaver rhoeas], one solitary flower of which had a very narrow edge of white". By selection and elimination over several years he developed the famous Shirley poppy from this seed.
The Shirley poppy with its white base, yellow or white stamens, anthers and pollen and no trace of black is now known worldwide and is carved on the mace of Croydon's mayor. Wilks' garden at the vicarage became a showpiece with plants from all over the world. Before his retirement in 1912 he built 'The Wilderness' on seven acres of ground adjoining the vicarage.
When William Wilks died on 2nd March 1923, the Wilderness was bought by the Methodist Society for use as an Old People's Home. The house was extended and renamed Hall Grange. Shirley Vicarage was listed in 1983 because of its historical importance.
Thursday, 23 October, 2014