Rare ‘Jackie Milburn’ orchid blooms on New Year’s Day
A rare orchid created in honour of Newcastle United footballing legend Jackie Milburn, housed at Woodhorn Museum in Northumberland, has blossomed on the first day of the New Year.
Originally part of an exhibition by artist Matt Stokes celebrating extraordinary and little-known stories from across the county, the ‘Jackie Milburn’ orchid – named after the footballer by Northumbrian orchid grower, W J Stables, in 1953 – has been on display at Woodhorn Museum for 18 months.
The specially donated living example of the ‘Jackie Milburn’ orchid, which featured in Stokes’ 2019 ‘Soundmirror’ exhibition, finally bloomed on 01 January 2021.
Rowan Brown, chief executive of Museums Northumberland, said: “In 2018, Matt Stokes worked with us to research our museum collections and find stories from the county that had gone untold or undiscovered.
“Whilst exploring a new collection of family memorabilia kindly gifted to Woodhorn Museum by the Milburn family, Matt discovered the amazing story of the ‘Jackie Milburn’ orchid.”
Artist Matt Stokes said: “When I was going through the collection I found newspaper cuttings showing Jackie Milburn and his wife Laura being presented with an orchid, named in his honour.
“I’d never heard the story before and was fascinated to know more. The plant had been part of the Newcastle and District Late Chrysanthemum Show before its grower, W J Stables, gifted it to the Milburns.
“It turns out the Mayor of Newcastle at time called for the plant’s Latin name, x Brassocattleya Heatonensis, to be the new chant on the terraces at St James’ Park. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it didn’t take off and the story disappeared along with the chant.”
Stokes’ ‘Soundmirror’ exhibition opened at Woodhorn Museum in July 2019 and used audio, sculpture, paintings and curated objects to tell the story of the ‘Jackie Milburn’ orchid.
As well as the orchid itself, the exhibition also featured a commissioned watercolour of the Jackie Milburn orchid by RHS botanical artist, Deborah Lambkin; paintings loaned from the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) that showed the results of earlier crosses of the parent orchids to produce x Brassocattleya Heatonensis, also known as the ‘Jackie Milburn’ orchid; and home recordings made by the Milburn family.
With the help of voices from local communities in Northumberland, Stokes also recreated the Mayor of Newcastle’s imagined ‘x Brassocattleya Heatonensis’ football chant.
Rowan continued: “After 18 months of care and attention from the staff at Woodhorn Museum we were absolutely delighted to find the orchid had finally flowered on 01 January 2021.
“It’s very symbolic of the new start many of us are looking forward to in 2021, and a sign of brighter things to come.”
Matt Stokes and Museums Northumberland would particularly like to thank the following people in realising the exhibition: Jack Milburn for his support and time, Julian Shaw at the RHS Orchid Committee for his advice, Sabine Furtwängler for her generous gift of a x Brassocattleya Heatonensis, Deborah Lambkin for tackling the painting of the ‘Milburn Orchid’, Ian Watson at Open Format for fabricating the orchidarium, and Charlotte Brooks at RHS Lindley Library. Also for assistance from Chris Barker at the British Orchid Council, North East of England Orchid Society, John Allan, Sarah Burham, Jan Hrolv Larsen at the Danish Orchid Society, André Schuiteman at Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, Christine Nicholson at Glasgow Botanic Gardens, Philip Esseen at Chester Zoo, John Gay, Mike Armstrong, Philip Seaton, Gunnar Ovstebo at Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, Stefan Reisch at Mainau Park Garden & Forest in Germany, Eric Young Orchid Foundation in Jersey, Iain Wheeldon, Jordan Miller, Arthur Chadwick at Chadwick Orchids, USA and all those who participated in recording the ‘Milburn Orchid’ chant.
‘Soundmirror’ has been supported with generous public funds from Arts Council England and Northumberland Country Council.