The Caldwell’s Nurseries Project

A project to enable access and improve awareness of the heritage of Caldwell’s Nurseries, Knutsford

This project has come into being due to the interest and concern of the Cheshire Gardens Trust to share and record aspects of our local horticultural heritage. The Trust knows the importance of the surviving early nursery ledgers belonging to Caldwell’s Nurseries and is conscious of Cheshire’s nursery heritage.  It is keen to record the memories of nurserymen and gardeners recalling an era of family run plant nurseries which had largely disappeared by the end of the 20th century.

Caldwell’s Nurseries operated in Knutsford, Cheshire from around 1759 until 1991, supplying plants not only locally, but also nationally and internationally. Seventeen of their business ledgers have survived, covering various periods from 1789-1837 and from 1912-1926. Of these, eight include important information about plants and seeds supplied (and to whom), and include cost and transportation details. The ledgers are currently held by Cheshire Archives and Local Studies in Chester. Several are extremely fragile.

Page from a caldwell ledger

Our intentions are to:

Scan the ledgers and transcribe them into a searchable database;

Collect the memories of Caldwell’s family, staff and customers;

Undertake documentary research into a range of Caldwell’s customers and their gardens or grounds;

And make all this information available on a publicly accessible website;

In addition we intend to create an exhibition about the project and hope to publish an illustrated book about Caldwell’s Nurseries.

In 2012 we will create a garden at RHS Tatton Flower Show themed on Caldwell’s nurseries to raise awareness of the project and inspire interest in our local heritage.

The project has a number of benefits. It will:

Enable information to be easily accessed and widely shared so that it can be used in restoration, conservation, garden history, local history and educational projects;

Allow access and interpretation of the ledger information while conserving the original records;

Record memories of a family run plant nursery;

Provide volunteer training and increase skills in documentary research and oral history recording;

Involve local people in their heritage.

Progress and review

Initial applications for funding were unsuccessful. This led to a review of the project. It was decided to make progress in stages, and to start by collecting people’s memories of the nursery as this is the heritage most at risk of being lost.

In March 2011 nine volunteers undertook oral history training with an accredited oral history trainer. It was a very enjoyable day. The training and acquisition of appropriate recording equipment was funded by Cheshire Gardens Trust. A new garden trust member kindly undertook the task of creating master copies of the recordings and creating digital copies for interviewees and for interviewers so that they could make summaries of the recordings.

By December 2011 ten recordings of family, customers and employees had been completed. These include some delightful memories and are full of information about people, plants and horticultural practice. Further recordings are planned. It is intended to have some recorded excerpts available for listening to at the RHS Tatton Flower Show 2012 and at subsequent exhibition venues.

Funding for a pilot study

The most expensive part of the original project was the transcription of the ledgers by paid specialists.  When the early funding applications were unsuccessful (due, not to a lack of interest, but to a lack of funds), it was decided to seek funding for a pilot project.

In December 2011 the Royal Botanical and Horticultural Society of Manchester and the Northern Counties made a grant to the Trust which will enable the pilot work on the Caldwell’s Nurseries Project to go ahead!

This funding will enable us to set up the searchable database and to train volunteers to transcribe the information from an initial ledger.  This will enable us to assess the challenges, time and cost involved, which would inform future activities and funding applications.

So at the beginning of 2012 we are at last able to move forward with the archival element of the project, and are looking for volunteers keen to share in the project and take part in the pilot study.

If you are interested, or require further information, please contact barbara.moth@btinternet.com