Brown’s of Stamford
Richard Brown started his nursery business on 11th April (Easter Monday) 1830, when he took over the Tea Gardens and Nursery in Wothorpe, a village a mile outside Stamford. The Tea Gardens, for ‘Tea and Card Assemblies…’, and its 3 acre nursery had existed since at least 1820 and under Richard Brown it grew to cover 8 acres. Richard lived and worked in Wothorpe all his life, but in 1845 he opened his first shop in nearby Stamford, in Ironmonger Street, and also opened a seed warehouse, in St. Peter’s Street. By 1854 he had left Ironmonger Street for premises at 39 Broad Street. In 1869 Richard and his sons, William and James, took over Wharflands’ Nursery Grounds in Oakham, in neighbouring Rutland. Brown’s of Stamford
By the time of his retirement, in 1871, Richard had built up a successful business as a seedsman, nurseryman and florist. Under his stewardship Brown’s Nursery received many prizes and awards for their plants. Fruit trees, in particular apples, were a speciality. The eponymous Brown’s Seedling, a long-keeping dual-use apple, was raised by the nursery sometime before 1874, and survives today. The nursery also popularised local varieties Barnack Beauty, Schoolmaster and Peasgood’s Nonsuch. These varieties are now available from EEAOP. Brown’s also introduced the apple varieties Wharfland Beauty and Stamford Wonder, which are now considered lost, but may still survive as old trees.
Only two of Richard’s three sons joined the business. His eldest son William, lived and worked his apprenticeship at the seed shop at 39 Broad Street, Stamford, but by 1875 he had moved the shop to a more prominent position at 56 High Street and by 1881 he was employing five men and two boys.
It was during the mid 1870s that another locally-born nurseryman, Thomas Laxton, left Stamford with his family to develop his business in Bedford, going on to create a world-renowned nursery and plant breeding operation. Laxton’s departure coincided with the expansion of the Browns’ business, first in 1876, when younger son. James, and William, took over 12 acres of nursery grounds on Tinwell Road. Then in 1888 they took over three Peterborough-based nurseries, one in North Road, one in Eastgate and the third, a rose nursery, in Eastfield. They also opened a shop at 94a Westgate, Grantham, and in future years they added two more shops, one at 12, Narrow Bridge Street, Peterborough and another near the Market Place in Oundle.
As well as shops and nurseries the Brown brothers also attended various local markets – Grantham, Peterborough, Spalding, Bourne and Sleaford – and had a sales point on the platform at the Great Northern Station in Peterborough. They also held an annual tree sale at Spilsby in Lincolnshire.
In the 1880s eldest son William left Stamford for Leamington Spa in Warwickshire, where local census records list him as “a merchant”. He retired around 1911 and died there in 1925. Meanwhile, his younger brother James, who by the 1881 and 1891 Stamford censuses was listed as “a nurseryman”, was known to be in America in 1911, possibly looking for new plants and fruits. In the 1891 census his son Richard was listed as “an apprentice nurseryman”. James continued the family business until his death in 1931, after which there was a sale of all greenhouses and stock on nursery sites in Stamford, Wothorpe and Peterborough. The company’s flagship store, at 56 High Street in Stamford, was bought by the then manager and his family and it continued to trade as ’Brown’s’ until it closed in 1985.
In its heyday Brown’s Nursery was a successful provincial nursery business serving south Lincolnshire, Rutland, parts of Northants and Cambridgeshire. Like so many independent family-run nurseries across the region, its closure was probably inevitable, given changing customer lifestyles and the arrival of larger out-of-town, car-friendly, self-service garden centres. Brown’s Nursery’s lasting legacy lies in the apple varieties they raised and introduced, and which can still be enjoyed by us today, just as the Brown family would have wished.
Sally Uttley, Stamford Community Orchard Group.