Tag Archives: Gardening

Humphrey Repton (1752 – 1818)

Detail from the title page of ‘The Landscape Gardening and Landscape Architecture of the late Humphrey Repton, Esq.’ by J.L.C. Loudon, 1840, [Ref JL22]

24 March, 2018 marks the bicentenary of the death of Humphrey Repton, the first person to use the title of ‘Landscape Gardener.’

Matthew Boulton wrote ‘Landskip Gardener’ on the docket of a letter from Repton dated 21 September 1789 [Ref. no. MS 3782/12/34/17/1].

Portrait of Repton in ‘The Landscape Gardening and Landscape Architecture of the late Humphrey Repton, Esq.’ by J.L.C. Loudon, 1840, [Ref JL22]

Repton had visited Boulton’s estate at Soho, Birmingham, and seen how the steam engine of the Soho Manufactory was being employed to raise water to flood areas to create pools and to water trees in Boulton’s gardens. He asks Boulton for information on the quantity of water which could be delivered by a steam engine at any given height from 10 to 20 yards, and the probable expense of erecting such a machine:

This sort of general idea is very necessary for me to be acquainted with as Great Men are very apt to ask what it will cost?

There are a couple of other letters from Repton to Matthew Robinson Boulton in 1795. On 6 December 1795, he wrote from his home at Hare Street by Romford, explaining that he had been absent from home for some weeks so had not been available to receive the copying press which had obviously been reserved for him: Continue reading


August in the Garden

The Ladies' Flower-Garden of Ornamental Annuals JL58

The Ladies’ Flower-Garden of Ornamental Annuals [JL 58]

31 August 2016 marks the tercentenary of the baptism of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, (1716-1783) in Northumberland. That’s a long way from Birmingham, but there is a connection – Henry Gough, owner of Edgbaston Hall and Park, employed Brown to landscape his Park sixty years later in 1776.

No reference to this, however, has yet been found in manuscript collections at Archives & Collections. Edgbaston Park is now a private golf course, but to admire Brown’s landscape gardens near Birmingham you can venture to Charlecote, Coombe Abbey, Compton Verney or Warwick Castle in Warwickshire; Croome Court in Worcestershire and Trentham Gardens or Weston Park in Staffordshire.

There are numerous other records about gardens and gardening in Archives & Collections, and one of the most interesting is a special collection of the publications of Jane and John Claudius Loudon.

Jane Wells Webb (1807- 1858) was the daughter of Thomas Webb, manufacturer in Birmingham. Her family lived in Edgbaston until the death of her mother in 1819. She and her father then travelled to Europe for a year where she learned German, French and Italian, taking in the culture of those countries.

After their return to Birmingham they lived at Kitwell House, Bartley Green (now demolished), and Jane began to write. Her father died in 1824, after severe financial losses, and writing was to earn her a living. Her second publication, ‘The Mummy’, a pioneering work of early science fiction describing advances in technology, society and fashion was published anonymously in 1827. Jane said it was: “a strange, wild novel,….  in which I had laid the scene in the twenty-second century, and attempted to predict the state of improvement to which this country might possibly arrive…”. Continue reading

‘Allotments for the unemployed’

WK-M6-49 Moorgreen allotments 1933

Moor Green allotments 1933 (WK/M6/49)

During the inter-war years, when unemployment was rising, one method of support to unemployed men and their families came from the Religious Society of Friends. The ‘allotments for the unemployed’ scheme was set up in South Wales in 1926 to allow unemployed miners to provide fresh vegetables for their families, as well as providing them with a sense of purpose and what Joan Mary Fry, clerk of the Central Friends Allotment Committee described as ‘useful creative interests’ (Report of some of the work of the Society of Friends in distressed areas in Great Britain, 1926-1932).

The scheme proved extremely popular, and supported by a government grant, spread throughout deprived areas of Great Britain. However, in 1931, the scheme came under threat when financial support from the government ceased. The Central Friends Allotments Committee issued an appeal for funds. In December 1931 in Birmingham, in response to the appeal, Hall Green Quaker meeting suggested to the regional Friends Warwickshire North Monthly Meeting that a local appeal could be made via a radio broadcast. The Monthly Meeting asked Florence Barrow (1876 – 1964), a Quaker relief worker who was involved in many social welfare activities in the city in this period, to arrange the radio appeal.

Hall Green PM minutes Dec 6 1931 re allotments

Hall Green Preparative Meeting minute concerning a radio broadcast appeal, 6 December 1931 (SF/3/12/1/1)

In the same month, Alderman Thomas Quinney, a member of the Society of Friends and also chair of Birmingham City Council’s Allotments Committee, proposed to that Committee that they discuss how the council could help unemployed men establish themselves as allotment gardeners. He put forward the idea that ‘an unemployed man should be assisted in connection with his rent for a period or that he might be helped with the provision of tools at a moderate cost’ (Birmingham City Council Allotments Committee minute 2594, 10th December 1931, BCC/1/CA/1/1/4). Continue reading

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness

It’s been a fine autumn so far for all of us, what with having a new building with its lovely roof gardens (shown here with local celebrity Alys Fowler) and we’re heading back into our collections to inspire us in our gardening endeavours.

Pomona Britannica - George Brookshaw (AF096/1817)

Pomona Britannica – George Brookshaw (AF096/1817)

These lovely illustrations come from the wonderfully illustrated book “Pomona Britannica” by Birmingham-born artist George Brookshaw (1751-1823).    Brookshaw was from an artistic family – his brother Richard became a noted engraver.  For a time George was apprenticed to the japanner Samuel Troughton but eventually George set up in business as a cabinet maker in London and sold painted furniture to the great and the good of London high society, including supplying a commode to the Prince of Wales.

Pomona Britannica - George Brookshaw (AF096/1817)

Pomona Britannica – George Brookshaw (AF096/1817)

Brookshaw’s furniture was the very last word in regency style and they graced the interior’s of the best homes. You can see examples of his work at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Many of his designs were inspired by the artist Angelica Kauffman who was also popular with Matthew Boulton and members of the Lunar Society.

In the  mid 1790’s Brookshaw disappeared from public view, only to re-emerge ten years later with the publication of Pomona Britannica in 1804, dedicated to his erstwhile patron the Prince of Wales. There is speculation that there was some sort of scandal associated with him perhaps linked to his marriage which broke down some time during this period.  Whilst his botanical drawings were widely praised, he never again achieved the heights of success that he had with his furniture.

Rachel MacGregor

Bloomin’ marvellous!

Botanical Drawings by Luke Linnaeus Pope, c.1825 (Ref: MS 2138)

Botanical Drawings by Luke Linnaeus Pope, c.1825 (Ref: MS 2138)

Spring may have got off to a slow start (brrr!) but now it’s here we in the Iron Room are all getting very excited about gardens and gardening!  First we had fantastic success at the Chelsea Flower Show with Birmingham City Council’s Library of Birmingham themed display “Enlightenment” which won a gold medal.  If you missed it at Chelsea, you can catch it again at the BBC’s Gardener’s World Live event.  If all that wasn’t exciting enough the Library is looking for volunteers to help with the outdoor beds in the new Library’s terrace gardens.  We can’t wait to move to the new Library to enjoy the new outdoor spaces.

Meanwhile we’ve been digging around, if you’ll excuse the pun, to look at some of the many archive collections we have relating to gardens and gardening and one of my favourites is the volume known as “Select Flowers, Vol. III”.  It doesn’t sound much but it contains some exquisite botanical illustrations dating from about 1825.

Botanical Drawings by Luke Linnaeus Pope, c.1825 (Ref: MS 2138)

Botanical Drawings by Luke Linnaeus Pope, c.1825 (Ref: MS 2138)

Botanical Drawings by Luke Linnaeus Pope, c.1825 (Ref: MS 2138)

Botanical Drawings by Luke Linnaeus Pope, c.1825 (Ref: MS 2138)

There are more images from this volume in a previous post

It was created by the Handsworth-based draftsman and botanical artist Luke Linnaeus Pope. Named after the great Swedish biologist and botanist of the eighteenth century Carl LinnaeusBloomin who developed a scientific classification system still used today.

Luke Linnaeus Pope worked for the family nursery which had been established by his grandfather, Luke, in about 1786 and then passed to Luke Linnaeus’ father John Pope (1772-1850).  John’s three sons Luke Linnaeus, Alexander and Leonard were also in the nursery business and at its height sold plants to many prestigious customers including James Watt junior, son of James Watt the engineer, who lived at Aston Hall between 1818 and 1848.  We are lucky enough to be able to trace exactly which plants were bought because of the rich survival of records from the Watt family which are in the archive collections in the Library.

James Watt jnr notebook

James Watt jnr notebook (MS 32196/20-12)

Aston Hall was subsequently acquired by the City and you can now visit the Aston Hall and Gardens and get some garden inspiration for yourself!

aston hall


Rachel MacGregor

Allotments; then and now…

Prof Harry Thorpe

Prof Harry Thorpe. Courtesy of Cadbury Research Library: Special Collections, University of Birmingham [UA10/10]

As we enter the New Year, thoughts turn to healthier diets, fruit and veg, more exercise, meeting like-minded people – and allotments might just fit the bill nicely?

A recent visit to the Special Collections at the University of Birmingham brought it all back to me. A vacation job in the 1970s had provided much needed cash when, as a student, I was employed to interview residents of Selly Oak on their understanding of allotments and their potential interest in ‘Leisure Gardens’. Leisure gardens were very much a continental trend whereby allotments had ceased to be considered as merely food gardens and had become garden-based opportunities for families to enjoy a range of leisure activities.  The project was run by Prof Harry Thorpe, Geography, on behalf of the Birmingham City Council (BCC) who were finding that the interest in allotments was waning. Whilst many Selly Oak residents were keen on the idea of leisure gardens and this was reported by Prof Thorpe, BCC sadly did not pursue Prof Thorpe’s recommendations. 

The opportunity to see a number of photographs from this research, and many other archives, emerged from a project being run by colleagues at the University of Birmingham – Helen Fisher, Archivist at the Cadbury Research Library, Special Collections, and Malcolm Dick, Director of the Centre for West Midlands History.

Continue reading

Giant Puffball

Sketch of puffball from the archive of Boulton and Watt

Sketch of puffball from the archive of Boulton and Watt (Ref: MS 3147/4/4)

The serendipity of finding the unexpected in a document is always a pleasure. Recently a researcher came upon a wonderful drawing of a giant mushroom ‘found in Mr Watt’s field, Soho and sent to James Lawson Esq. F.R.S.’ The mushroom, probably a puffball, measured 10 by 13 inches and weighed 6 lb 1 oz.

It was found on folio 267 of Soho Memoranda (Blotting Book No. 1), circa 1786-1803. This large book is almost entirely composed of entries by John Southern, with only a few by James Watt. It contains a wealth of rough notes, ideas, calculations and tables, mostly for engines and machinery to be made for customers. It also contains general thoughts on engine production, experiments on wood and iron, coal prices, weights and measures, accounts of agreements, reports on factories and other engines, thoughts on a boat engine, and so on.   Continue reading