Speaker: Francesca Murray (Queen Mary University London)

My paper seeks to present a brief overview of the brotherly networks and associations of the nineteenth century gardening trade.  The migration of gardeners from the rural landed estates to the employment opportunities of the industrialised urban landscape and new villa gardens of the middle classes led to the trade becoming a distinct profession. Gardeners were still subject to the vicissitudes of Victorian domestic service, as well as poor wages and an absence of employment rights.  In the latter years of a hard worn career there was little state support, except for the workhouse, when injured, aged, or chronically ill. 

Evidence suggests the gardening community sought to look after its own. They cultivated structures of conviviality, brotherhood, and mutual association to offer mechanisms of financial and fraternal support within their growing profession. Using the friendly society model, the Gardeners’ Royal Benevolent Institution was established in 1839 to provide its first gardeners’ pension in 1840 and still exists today in the form of the gardening charity ‘Perennial’. Annual fundraising dinners, sales of exotic fruit and garden openings sustained its subscribers throughout the century and provided altruistic networks that exemplified the philanthropic energy of the period.  These networks crossed boundaries between the working gardener, nurserymen, garden owner and the gardening elite. Its activities and specific examples of the indigent and elderly gardeners will be used as evidence to examine its networks of influence and benevolent aims. 

Francesca Murray a second-year PhD Student at QMUL under Dr Richard Coulton researching Nineteenth-century gardeners, nurserymen, and the associations that came to their aid specifically the Gardeners Royal Benevolent Institution. 

IHR Seminar SeriesHistory of Gardens and Landscapes