One of ten children, my Grandfather, Arthur Cooling (Pictured Left), was born in 1894. As an enterprising teenager, Arthur had a full time job at the Post Office, but the morning shifts (beginning at 4.30am) and the afternoon shifts (ending at 10pm) allowed a few spare hours in the middle of the day.
The first photographic evidence of any horticultural under taking is a picture of Arthur behind a borrowed horse and plough on land behind what is now Belmont Parade in Chislehurst. It was several years before he bought his own land – an acre set back behind the High Street.
In order to get ahead in life, Arthur took out a mortgage to buy several small houses, which he let out. These eventually provided sufficient funds to enable him to build his own house on the land he had bought.
In 1953, following a year at the Kent Horticultural Institute and two years National Service in Germany, Arthur’s son, Michael (Pictured Below), joined him and doubled the workforce! He had many new ideas which did not always find favour with Arthur. When the village ironmongers and hardware store closed, it was suggested that a small area in one of the greenhouses could be given over to gardening sundries, which my Grandfather regarded as a highly risky venture. Little did he know at that time that Coolings was about to become one of the first Garden Centres in the country! Dad continued to innovate, including giving talks to customers on various gardening topics. These have evolved over time to become the wide range of courses (many accredited) that are now available at Coolings.
With the end of the 1980’s came the realisation that the one acre site in Chislehurst was cramping our potential and when an offer was made the site was sold for housing development. Mum and Dad reinvested the money into the 14 acres on Rushmore Hill that we have today. The “new” shop was opened in 1992 and became the catalyst for a long period of rapid growth, and the winning of many awards.
In 2004 we decided to buy the site on Main Road in Knockholt from our nearest competitor to allow us to diversify our product range and give more scope for the future. The site was redeveloped and reopened as Coolings Green & Pleasant in 2009. The new site has won awards in its own right, too.
With the current state of the world economy it is impossible to predict where Coolings will be in the next five years, let alone the next generation; however, plans are in hand for an improvement to the Rushmore Hill shop, which after 22 years is in need of a face-lift. We have also set out the credentials for what might be required if a third site were to present itself to us. With Jessica and Thomas Cooling as the fourth generation now aged 14 and 12 years, we are keeping an open mind!
Watch this space!