In March last year a catalogue of the archive of William Robinson (1838–1935), held by the Lindley Library at Vincent Square, London, went online. It comprised descriptions of 240 items including letters from Charles Darwin, Joseph Hooker, and many legendary horticultural figures. The archive is a treasure trove, and is available for consultation.
The online archive catalogue is a recent venture for the library. Available via the Archives Hub, it has had over 1600 visits since March 2014. Each month through 2014, we put a new descriptive catalogue online, while the original records were packaged to archive standards and made available to members of the public in the Research Room.
Over the coming months I’ll be blogging about some of our newly catalogued archives. For this first blog, I’m starting at the beginning, with the archive of William Robinson.
Comprising over 220 letters spanning 70 years, William Robinson’s letters reveal a wide network of friends and acquaintances representing many different aspects of 19th and early 20th century society.
His correspondents include:
• Fellow horticulturists including E.A. Bowles, Gertrude Jekyll, Frank Crisp, Mrs C.W. Earle, Frances Wolseley, Arthur Bulley, Samuel Reynolds Hole, Robert Marnock, Ellen Willmott and Augustine Henry.
• Botanists including JD Hooker, Reginald Farrer, Frederick Hanbury, Arthur Hill, J.T. Boswell, George Maw and Henry Vilmorin.
• Scientists including Charles Darwin, Richard Owen and Oliver Lodge.
• Social reformers including Edwin Chadwick and John Hanham.
• Figures from the art world including Edward Burne-Jones, Frank Miles, John Ruskin, Carolus-Duran and Alfred Parsons.
• Writers and poets including Oliver Wendell Holmes, Francis Newman, Henry Avray Tipping, E.V. Lucas, Alfred Austin and Charles Reade.
• Well-known figures such as Joseph Chamberlain, Viscount Esher, Lord Ronald Gower, Lady Constance Lytton, Heinrich Schliemann, Émile Faguet, William Tegetmeier and Vernon Lushington.
Themes in the letters include gardening, plant hunting, cremation, the Franco-Prussian War, the First World War and taxation – a very broad canvas!
One of the most influential figures in British gardening, William Robinson started his career as a garden boy in Ireland, but soon moved to London, where he rapidly established himself as an authority on many aspects of horticulture.
He travelled widely and described his trips in articles in the garden press, promoting plant exchanges between gardeners as a way of improving their collections, and in 1871 founded The Garden, an influential weekly publication (with no relation to the RHS Member magazine) which he edited for nearly 30 years.
Robinson was vehemently opposed to the Victorian use of garishly coloured flowers to produce garden displays, and through his advocacy of a more subtle way of gardening, is credited with having invented the English cottage garden style of planting. The widely acclaimed gardens that he created on his estate at Gravetye Manor in Sussex encapsulated this approach.
Robinson’s correspondence forms part of the RHS archives in the Lindley Library at the Society’s Headquarters in Vincent Square, London. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to make an appointment to see the archive; browse the catalogue online via the Archives Hub.
*RHS members can borrow from the thousands of gardening books held in the Lindley Libraries – visit our online catalogue.
Even if you are not an RHS member, the Lindley Libraries are open to everyone and provide access to modern collections of books and journals on gardening and related topics. Our heritage collections of rare books, photographs, art and archives are accessible by appointment.*