Agricultural and Horticultural Writer
Born in Rivenhall into a family of little distinction, little fortune, but rather too many children, Thomas was sent as a chorister to the collegiate chapel of Wallingford, Berkshire and thence to St Paul’s and Eton. Patronage by Lord Paget ensured him a place at Trinity Hall, Cambridge followed by a post as musician at Lord Paget’s household in Staffordshire. Saving enough money to marry and set up in his own farm, Tusser moved to Cattiwade, just over the border in Suffolk. Ill-health combined with ‘loss and paine, to little gaine’ (as he later recorded in his autobiographical poem) resulted in a move to Ipswich, and then on again (following the death of his wife) to West Dereham in Norfolk. Turning his back on farming he tried music and poetry again, first in the patronage of Sir Richard Southwell, an East Anglian grandee and courtier, and then in Norwich.
Finally, in c1564 he moved back to his homeland of Essex and took a farm at Fairstead (the glebe land). It was whilst at Fairstead that he composed and printed his Five Hundred Good Pints of Husbandry. He appears to have started an early version (A Hundred Good Points) whilst still farming in Cattiwade in 1557, but the full Five Hundred Points was produced in 1573. Written in doggerel rhyme the Points take us through the year, month by month, instructing and reminding the estate holder and his wife in their duties. Although much is dedicated to agriculture (‘Reape barley with sickle, that lies in ill pickle, let greenest stand, for making of band’), reference is often made to the garden. In August for example we find, ‘Good Housewifes in summer will save their own seeds against the nest year, as occasion needs. One seed for another, to make an exchange with fellowlie neighbourhood seemeth not strange’. In addition to the monthly tasks are a series of ‘dialogues’ and rhyming instructions on subjects such as physick, brewing and ‘huswifere’.
Alas Tusser was not as successful in his Fairstead home as he hoped others might be by his instruction, and he returned to London again, where he died in 1580.
Taken from: Twigs Way, Ed., Rooted in Essex (Essex Garden Trust, 2006).