The man who kept Hampton Court Palace’s gardens looking fit for royalty was honoured in the New Year’s Honours list in 1989.

George Cooke, then 58, the gardens and estates manager, was awarded the Royal Victoria Medal for his hard work.

He was described as being modest about his honour and said that “it is quite nice” and that he and his wife had “a bit of a drink” to celebrate.

Mr Cooke had been working at the palace since 1974.

He was originally from Wales, where he played rugby for Wales schoolboys and at senior level for Bridgend and Northampton.

He started his career as a gardener with the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester at Barnwell Manor, Northamptonshire, before moving on to Windsor Castle.

He also studied horticulture and parks administration at Wisley Royal Horticultural College before going on to train as a teacher of agricultural science for two years.

He also worked as deputy superintendent of Central Royal Parks.

Asked why he had stayed so long, he said: “Probably because it is the nicest place to manage.”

His most impressive task was reported by the Comet as he replaced all of the trees on the Lime Avenue at the east front of the park.

All 201 limes planted in 1662 had to be replaced with trees from the same parent so they would grow at the same rate.

The new trees came from Italy and cost £50,000 to transport by lorry back to England. They were 23ft tall and weighed half a ton each.

Once planted, they had to be held in place by three anchor cables.

None of the originals had been knocked down in the storm of 1987.

50 YEARS AGO: January 8, 1964

The designer and builder of the Surbiton lagoon died in this week of 1964 of ill health. Raymond Thirlway, 64, of Thames Ditton, died in Surbiton Hospital on January 5. He dealt with repairs to World War II bomb damaged property in his career.

25 YEARS AGO: January 13, 1989

The search for a man who murdered 22-year-old Lorraine Benson near Raynes Park station on December 20 was on the front page of the Comet. Police said there was no link between the murder and attempted rapes in Malden Manor.

10 YEARS AGO: January 9, 2004

If your new year’s resolution was to be more punctual in 2004 you were ruined within a week. January began with the “worst traffic jams in recent history”, according to some, as commuters experienced four days of jams, despair and train delays.