James Brown

James Brown was born around 1786. The only known record of his birthplace is the 1851 census where he is stated to have been born in Laughton (or possibly Loughton), Berwickshire in the Scottish Borders.

Details of his early life are, as yet, unknown.

However, by around 1810 he was head gardener to Richard Shawe, a wealthy lawyer at Casina House, Dulwich, Surrey where he developed a method for forcing pineapples using steam (On the Application of Steam, and its salutary Effects in Forcing, but particularly as applied to the Pine Apple by James Brown, Gardener to the late Richard Shawe Esq, at the Casino, Dulwich, Surrey, published in the Transactions of the Horticultural Society Vol 2, 1st Series, p320 - 323. Read 4th Feb 1817). He was awarded a silver medal by the Horticultural Society for this work. James also contributed a further paper to the Horticultural Society (On the Advantages of Span-roofed House for Forcing Peaches, Transactions of The Horticultural Society 1822, Vol IV, 1st Series p562/3). Casina House no longer stands, but remnants of the gardens do remain, and the site is now known as Sunray Gardens.

Richard Shawe died in 1816 and as his widow did not want to continue living at Casina House James needed to seek employment elsewhere. To this end he advertised in ‘The Times' for a position (The Times June 2nd 1817, p4 Issue 10161 Col A "WANT PLACES").

As one of James' daughters was born in Somerley, Hampshire in 1818 he may have been employed there for a short time.

However, certainly by 1819 James was employed as gardener to the Marquess of Buckingham (from 1822 1st Duke of Buckingham and Chandos) at Stowe, Buckingham where initially he was in charge of the kitchen gardens. In October 1824 a pineapple weighing 12lbs was cut by James at his Grace's pinery at Stowe (The Morning Post, Tuesday October 5th 1824). According to James' Obituary (The Gardner's Chronicle, September 21st 1878 p384) the Duke of Buckingham presented this pineapple to his majesty George IV.

In 1827 James was presented with a large silver medal for the best fruits (pineapples and grapes) at the Horticultural Society's Fête at Chiswick (The Standard, Saturday July 7th 1827). James was also Chairman of the Buckingham Horticultural Society (Jackson's Oxford Journal, Saturday July 29th 1826). Later he was in general charge of the gardens at Stowe and managed the accounts for work on the 17 acre extension of the Stowe estate into the Lamport Fields in 1826 and again in 1831 (personal communication with Michael Bevington, archivist at Stowe House). He was responsible for helping to design the Japanese Garden, remodelling of the eastern arm of the Octagon Lake and the creation of a cascade, sometimes referred to as "Brown's Cascade" situated beyond the Palladian Bridge. It is likely he may have had up to 40 men under him before the decline in the fortunes of the 1st Duke. The following is a quote from J.C. Loudon, writing about the Gardens at Stowe (J. C. Loudon 1831 {ed P. Boniface, In Search of English Gardens : The Travels of John Claudius Loudon and his wife Jane, 1987, p57}):

"...the present gardener, Mr Brown, who may justly said to have received the mantle of his great namesake and predecessor in the same garden, our common father in landscape gardening."

James' eldest son James Brown, who was born around 1811 in Dulwich, also worked at Stowe House as a gardener as the following extracts of newspaper articles testify:

• ..at the second annual meeting of The Buckingham Horticultural Society James Brown, son of the gardener to the Duke of Buckingham produced the four largest gooseberries, the aggregate weight of which was 71 dwts 3grs (Jackson's Oxford Journal, Sat Aug 4th 1827).

• Article on protecting peas from mice written by James Brown Jnr quoting a method used by his father at Stowe (The Gardener's Magazine, 1828 p117).

• Propagation and culture of common laurels by James Brown Jnr Stowe Gardens (The Horticultural Register, Volume 3 Feb 1834).

James Jnr later went on to be gardener to Sir Thomas Cartwright at Aynho Park, Northamptonshire.

The first Duke of Buckingham died in January 1839. When the second Duke moved into Stowe House he brought his own head gardener Mr Ferguson with him. James left Stowe in September 1839 to work for Charles Fitzroy, 3rd Baron of Southampton at Whittlebury Lodge Gardens, Northamptonshire, commencing October 1st 1839. His salary was £100 per annum plus benefits including vegetables from the gardens and coals for his estate cottage.

It has not been established exactly how long James worked for the Baron of Southampton. However in 1846 he took over the nursery business of Messrs Marnock and Manley in Hackney (The Gardner's Chronicle and Agricultural Gazette on 31st January 1846). He appears in the 1851 Directory for Hackney as ‘Jas Brown, Dalston Road north side florist' and in the 1851 Post Office Directory for the Home Counties as ‘James Brown nurseryman and florist Dalston Lane, Hackney'. In the 1851 census he is described as a ‘nurseryman employing 4 men'. In 1851 James' second eldest son Andrew Brown was also a gardener living in Hackney, so at this time he may have been employed by his father.

James' death was announced in the Bucks Herald Saturday 14th September 1878:

"BROWN at Delamere, Cheshire on the 9th instant, Mr James Brown for many years gardener to the late Duke of Buckingham..."

(Material contributed by Michael Statham, 01/01/2012)

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