And no I’m not being rude just for the sake of it! As I said in a recent post I’ve been doing some research over the past few years into the gardening interests of the Hatton family who were prominent royalists and had extensive estates in Northamptonshire particularly around Kirby Hall.
By the end of the 17th century the gardens there were amongst the most impressive in the country, largely because of the partnership between the first Viscount Hatton and his younger brother Charles who acted as his agent in London, supplying seeds, plants and gardening supplies of all kinds, as well as almost everything else that a country house and its family might require.
This is just one story that I’ve uncovered in their extensive correspondence and tells how some unusual citrus trees arrived at Kirby. Although that might sound a bit dull, let Charles tell the story which begins in 1680… and discover the constraints under which 17th gardeners worked and how enterprising and resourceful they had to be to overcome them.
The punctuation and spelling have been corrected wherever necessary to make things clearer, because they were always not Charles’s strong point!
Although oranges were said to have reached Europe as early as the thirteenth century and were being raised outdoors in Italian Courts during the fifteenth century, it wasn’t until the last quarter of the seventeenth century, when the ability to protect them during harsh winters had become widespread that they became a necessary ingredient of an elite garden in northern Europe. John Parkinson noted that “if any be desirous to keepe this tree, he must so provide for it, that it be preserved from any cold in the winter or spring, and exposed to the comfort of the sunne in summer. And for that purpose some keepe them in great square boxes, and lift them to and fro by iron hooks on the sides, or cause them to be rowled by trundles, or small wheels under them, to place them in a house, or close gallerie for the winter time: others plant them against a bricke wall in the ground, and defend them with a shed of boardes covered with seare-cloth in the winter, and by a warmth of a stove, or other such thing.”
Charles Hatton spent a lot of time trying to persuade his brother to invest some money and build himself a ‘stove’, and although Lord Hatton seems to have resisted for a while, he must have succumbed to the pressure in the end. Charles eventually sends him two unusual citrus trees – probably crosses between an orange and a lemon – to add to his collection. But where did they come from? How did they get from where they were grown to a country estate in the East Midlands?
Charles wrote regularly to his brother and his letters form part of the Finch-Hatton archives in the British Library. It is however a one-sided correspondence because letters back from the Viscount have not survived. A heavily edited selection, Correspondence of the Family of Hatton : being chiefly letters addressed to Christopher, First Viscount Hatton, A.D. 1601-1704, was edited by Edward Maunde Thompson and published by the Camden Society in 1878. This concentrated on political and military issues, but as you would expect the other manuscript letters also cover many other things of concern or interest to the brothers: family matters, and business and estate affairs, as well as gardening.
April 30, 1680, “I here enclose some few seeds. The book for ordering of orange trees I shall give you at your return. At present I am sure you cannot peruse it.”
Viscount Hatton must have perused it eventually and made a decision to buy some citrus trees because two years later Charles wrote:
June 8, 1682. “Yesterday it rained so much in the afternoon that… I went out with Mr Ashmole to Captain Fosters, and had paid for your two orange trees…”
[Mr Ashmole is Elias Ashmole the antiquarian, alchemist and founding member of the Royal Society whose collections, in part obtained from the Tradescants, were to form the basis the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.
Captain Foster was a Lambeth nurseryman whose garden sounds like an early version of a modern garden centre. A visitor reported that it “has many curiosities in it. His greenhouse is full of fresh and flourishing plants, and before it is the finest striped holly hedge that perhaps is in England. He has many myrtles, not the greatest, but of the most fanciful shapes that are anywhere else.
He has a framed walk of timber covered with vines, which, with others, running most of his walls without prejudice to his lower trees, yield him a deal of wine. Of flowers he has good choice, and his Virginia and other birds in a great variety, with his glass hive, add much to the pleasure of his garden.” (J. Gibson, ‘An account of several gardens near London’, Archaeologia, 12 (1796), p190)
June 8th 1682 continued…”yet I would not have ventured to send them down. Had they been put up wet into the buckets, 10 for one it would not only make them lose their leaves, but killed them, which would be no unwelcome news to Capt Foster for then he might engross all that species to himself, and then sell for which price he pleases.”
Captain Foster was obviously a shrewd, even sharp, salesman who recognized that for once he was in danger of being outmaneovered.
“I find he is much troubled that he parted with them at so easy a rate. He thought, with great subtlety, to have persuaded me that I mistook them, and they were only bastard trees, and therefore kindly offered to exchange them both or at least one of them.
Charles Hatton understood the nurseryman’s plan only too well and tried a ploy of his own
”I perceived his art and told him that to do him a kindness I would buy all his bastard trees of that kind (as he called them) have the same rate, which he confessed he was not willing to, but at £10 a tree I should have them, telling me in truth that he had refused seven guineas for a tree and very subtly he had hid all the rest of the trees of that kind but one”“And I, confident after the fruit is ripe on his bearing tree, he will raise his price then all our virtuosos in those kinds of plants will be very desirous of them, for yet they scarcely believe the fruit will be part orange and part lemon.
So… “since they are of value I hope you will not blame me for not sending you this week…But I will the next with the pots you desire. But in the interim I will acquaint you with an early receipt… To secure any trees against Ants or earwigs: rub the stock of the tree with chalk which will so stick to the feet of these insects they cannot pass over it.”15th of June 1682… “the weather has been so showery every day this week and more especially yesterday, that I could not without hazard send down your orange trees which must therefore stay till next Wednesday.
22nd of June, 1682….”the carrier sent to me yesterday to desire me not to send down the trees this week. I complied very willingly with his desire for it has rained every day this week and to send them wet will endanger the killing them.”
At this point it’s clear the trees must have still been in Fosters nursery in Lambeth because Charles goes on “Your lordship need not fear the changing them for I have marked them so as to know them from all the trees in the world, and they are already paid for so Capt Foster cannot go back on his bargain.29th of June 1682 …”it continues such wet weather I could not send down the orange trees, but if there happens any fair day betwixt this and Wednesday I will bring them to my house and there the day before they are sent away take care to shelter them… That they may be sent this day sennight. But the Ant-Pots are now sent. I was necessitated to … pay 13 shillings for the three dozen sent this day.”
5th of July 1682 …”yesterday continued so rainy I could not remove your orange trees, but this day has been so fair I hope you will yet have sunshine enough to make your hay and that your orange trees may be sent down next week…”
13th of July 1682… “the weather has remained rainy until yesterday and now is very clear and I removed your orange trees to Smithfield.” Unfortunately Charles couldn’t find a trust worthy carrier….”so I removed them again” to his own house. “All those in the house have promised to be very careful of the trees and I doubt not they will be very well. I was very careful to get them taken well this far … by porters who have been used to carry orange trees. Pray let me receive your lordships further directions.”
20th of July 1682 …”your trees were sent down with all the care I could possibly, and the Wagoner should be more careful. I promised him to write to your lordship to send him a reward if he carried them down carefully. He said he will be with you at Kettering on Saturday at two of the clock in the afternoon, which I hope you will send your gardener that with more care they may be conveyed to Kirby, where, before they are taken out of the baskets, he must be careful to cut the bands of lists of cloth with which they are tied to the basket to keep them firm that they do not rub against the sides of the baskets.”
The gardener at Kirby was John Simpson, who had previously been the gardener to Lord Peterborough. He was taken on in 1678 at £12 pa, £2 more than the former gardener, and an agreement survives from 1683 giving him £72 a year to maintain the garden. He was obviously a very popular and competent gardener, and the search for a replacement after his death in 1689 caused the family a great deal of heartache and difficulty as I’ll report in another post one day.
27th of July 1682 …”I’m very glad my lord to hear that the trees have come safe to you. I took all the care I possibly could, but the disappointment so often in sending them down made the removal of them much more chanceable.”
Then came the financial reckoning, which helps to show the various stages of the extended, indeed almost tortuous process.
“I received of Mr Monteage [Viscount Hatton’s steward and man of business] your note for £9 for the trees. I paid £6 for the Ant pots, hamper and porterage as per Bill, 16 shillings the baskets the trees were sent in, 10 shillings the going by water with porters to fetch them when disappointed by rain, two shillings and sixpence per boat hire and porterage in Smithfield, five shillings and sixpence to Captain Fosters gardener for porterage from the Inn to Mr Jordans, one shilling and sixpence for porterage from Mr Jordan’s to Smithfield, two shillings to the Wagoner’s man and the porter at the inn one shilling. In all, expended £7 . Shall I receive the 19 shillings and sixpence from Mr Wantage with whom I was the other day?
And to show that this was just one of many such transactions the letter continues with the start of what might well have been the next battle with 17th century logistics.
“There I saw some guinea hens which I remember to have heard your lordship wish for. I intimated to Mr Monteage, he told me they had been disposed of by promise, of which he would endeavour to be released, and if he could, he would send them down …”
One can only wonder how long this would have taken!