Recent and Forthcoming Publications
Volume XXXIX Cover

Volume XXXIX, William Wilshere’s Hitchin Farm And Garden 1809-1824

William Wilshere (1754-1824) was a Hitchin lawyer. In his later years he farmed about 120 acres of land, mainly to the east of the town of Hitchin, and mainly cultivated for arable crops. He kept several ‘Farm and Gardening Memoranda’, the two books covering the years 1809 to 1824 form this volume. They constitute an unusual and important source for students of both agricultural and garden history: indeed, few surviving journals or notebooks from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries manage to include an account of both the farming and the horticultural activities of a particular individual. This volume includes plans showing land occupied by Wilshere drawn up in c1808 and 1818 which, together with other evidence, allows the activities described to be placed within a secure spatial frame.

The notes on Wilshere’s farming are particularly interesting for the light they shed not simply on up-to-date agriculture on the Hertfordshire chalklands in the early nineteenth century but also because he was clearly farming with an eye to the local urban market, and thus grew not only wheat, barley and fodder crops but also large quantities of crops like carrots and potatoes, while pigs and poultry all loom large: aspects of contemporary agriculture all too frequently ignored by historians. The wealth of varieties named, especially of potatoes, is unusual and highly informative. His comments on such things as the cultivation of canary seed, and on keeping turkeys, are also of some significance not only in the context of Hertfordshire, but also more widely.

Regarding gardening, as well as providing useful lists of varieties (including fruit varieties), Wilshere also notes the local and London based nurseries from which his plants were obtained. This information can, moreover, be combined with the Journal kept by his gardener, James Bowie, from 1812 until 1814, and with a ‘List of Trees, Seeds etc Sown, planted etc in the Garden of William Wilshere Esq. at Hitchin, Herts, by James Bowie 1813’. James Bowie left Wilshere in August 1814 when he was sent by Sir Joseph Banks on a plant hunting expedition to Brazil. Both volumes were continued spasmodically by later gardeners. Two bills listing plants supplied by Robert Murray of Hertford and Henry Hodgson of Hitchin will also be included in this volume. Together, these sources provide vital insights into the gardening activities of a middle-class individual, at a time when most of our sources for garden history relate to the properties of large landowners.

  • Edited by Bridget Howlett, with an Introduction by Bridgett Howlett and Tom Williamson
  • xcv + 324pp
  • 21 illustrations, map on endpapers, plus illustrated jacket
  • ISBN 978-0-9501741-6-7

Non-Members: £22 • Members: £17.50
(+£4 p&p )

Order Form