Royal Horticultural Society: records relating to Oakwood Garden, Wisley, and G.F. Wilson

Scope and Content

This part of the RHS archive consists of records relating to Oakwood, the predecessor garden to RHS Garden Wisley, including journals relating to Wisley maintained by G.F. Wilson's head gardener, Alfred Tatnall, 1888-1902, seed bed records in Wilson's own hand, 1878-1902, a volume recording signatures of several thousand visitors to the garden, 1884-1902, and deeds and papers relating to the estate, 1878-1903. Visitors to Oakwood included Gertrude Jekyll, William Robinson, Alfred Wallace, Edwin Lutyens, E.A. Bowles, Constance Lytton and many others.

Administrative / Biographical History

George Fergusson Wilson (1822-1902) was born in Wandsworth, one of 13 children born to William Wilson and his wife Margaret. In 1840 he joined the family firm, E. Price & Co, later Price's Patent Candle Company, developing the technical side of the business. In 1858 he patented Gishurst Compound, an important insecticide in use for a century. He held office at the Society of Arts, was a fellow of the Royal Society and of the Chemical Society. He retired from Prices in 1863 but he maintained his involvement in the company for the rest of his life. He was a member of the RHS Fruit & Vegetable, Floral, and Scientific Committees, Treasurer of the Society from 1866-1868, and a member of Council.

Wilson married Ellen Barchard in 1862 and they had three children: Scott Barchard, born in 1864, Herman George, born in 1866, and Alice Charlotte, born in 1869.

Wilson had a garden at Heatherbank, Weybridge, and in 1878 he purchased Glebe Farm and 60 acres of farmland at nearby Wisley, where he created an experimental garden he called Oakwood, trying plants in the various soils and conditions there. He published the results of his experiments in articles in the horticultural press, along with updates on the development of his Wisley garden. He began with the development of the area known as the Wild Garden, in the shade of an old oak wood, and the slope beside it, introducing lilies in the wood and colourful blooms on the hillside. He went on to develop a field garden, where deep drainage ditches were filled with iris, and lupins grew on the mounds of earth dug from the ditches. He established a pinetum in the north of the garden, where lilies also grew, two vegetable gardens and an avenue of flowering trees along the approach road to the garden. He was renowned for his cultivation of lilies and breeding of primroses, one of which he named 'Oakwood Blue'. Wilson had a number of gardeners at Wisley, headed by Alfred Tatnall. Many prominent horticulturists and dignitaries visited the garden, and private events were held there such as an annual garden party.

Wilson was one of the original 60 recipients of the Victoria Medal of Honour. He died at Heatherbank on 28 Mar 1902. His wife survived him. The following year his garden at Wisley was bought by Sir Thomas Hanbury and presented to the RHS as an experimental garden.

Alfred Tatnall (1860-1943), son of James Tatnall and his wife Jane Chapman, was born in Dormansland, Lingfield, Surrey. By 1881 he was working as a gardener, living at Nobles, Lingfield. In Jul 1887 while living at Slaugham, Sussex, he married Alice Sarah Marchant in Walton on Thames. By 1888 the couple were living at Oakwood, Wisley, where Tatnall was head gardener, and where he maintained the series of garden journals kept from 1888 to 1902. He was not kept on after the garden was taken over by the RHS, and in 1911 the couple were living at East Lodge, Market Bosworth, Nuneaton, Leicestershire, where Tatnall was head gardener. The Surrey Electoral Registers show them living between 1915 and 1936 at Gardener's Cottage, Ranelagh Club, Kingston upon Thames, at The Nursery, Lingfield, and at Oakdale Road, Weybridge.

Alice Tatnall died in 1936. After her death Tatnall lived with his sister-in-law Winifred in Hersham. He died in Horsham aged 83 and was buried at Horsham St Peter, Surrey.


Records were arranged chronologically within series. This is a temporary catalogue of a discrete part of the RHS archive.

Summary of contents:

RHS/WY/Owd/1 Garden journals

RHS/WY/Owd/2 Seed bed records

RHS/WY/Owd/3 Visitors' book

RHS/WY/Owd/4 Deeds and papers

RHS/WY/Owd/5 Copies of articles relating to Oakwood and obituaries of G.F. Wilson

Access Information


Partially open for consultation at Wisley Library. Many items are closed to public access until conservation has been carried out, due to being fragile and unfit for production. Some material has been digitised and surrogates are available for consultation. It is essential to check opening hours and make an appointment. Readers are asked to take care due to the fragile nature of the original material.

Acquisition Information

Records are understood to have remained at Wisley garden following the death of George Fergusson Wilson, with the exception of the visitors' book, which was purchased from Dr Richard L. Press, antiquarian bookseller of Sacramento, California, United States of America, in 1999. Press obtained it at a private estate sale in Palm Springs, California. It is known that G.F. Wilson's son, Herman George Wilson, emigrated to Riverside, California

Other Finding Aids

The Lindley Library descriptive catalogue, available online via the Lindley Library archive catalogue and the Archives Hub, and as a paper copy in the research room.

Appraisal Information

All papers were retained

Custodial History

Records were stored at Wisley Garden and Lindley Library, London, and brought together in 2017. Copies of articles relating to Oakwood were made in 2016-2017 by Lorna McGregor, RHS Lindley Library volunteer

Related Material

Photographs of Oakwood are held in the Lindley Library's heritage collections, and were in the process of being catalogued as at Aug 2017. For a letter from G.F. Wilson to William Robinson arranging a visit to Oakwood with Gertrude Jekyll, 23 Aug 1884, see WRO/2/112.