Gertrude Jekyll: papers, c.1860s-1941

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

The archive comprises letters from Gertrude Jekyll and, after her death, from her nephew, Francis Jekyll, to Amy Barnes Brand relating to the development of the latter's garden at Woodhouse Copse, Holmbury St Mary, Surrey, and a single letter from Jekyll to Mrs Furze at Camberley. The catalogue includes 'ghost records' of Jekyll's workbook of drawings and album of campanulas, which are held in the Lindley Library art collection.

Administrative / Biographical History

Gertrude Jekyll (1843-1932) was born in London, the fifth of seven children. The family moved in 1848 to Bramley House, Bramley, Surrey, where Jekyll was educated by her parents and by governesses. In 1861 she enrolled at the National School of Art in Kensington, where she learned botanical drawing and other disciplines. She exhibited her paintings from 1865 at the Royal Academy and her work was commended by John Ruskin.

The family moved in 1868 to Wargrave Hill, Berkshire. Jekyll spent time with William Morris, G.F. Watts, and other prominent artists, and her artistic services were increasingly in demand. She produced plans and planting designs for Phillimore’s Spring near Wargrave, and a wide range of work including table cloths, quilts and window boxes, for individuals such as Lord Leighton. She received interior design commissions from the Duke of Westminster, Lord Ducie, Jacques Blumenthal and others, designing gates, door panels, tapestries, wall and ceiling decorations, quilted curtains, inlay work and furnishing arrangements.

In 1876 her father died and the family moved to a specially commissioned house on Munstead Heath, Surrey. Jekyll designed and laid out the gardens, which were to be visited and acclaimed by notable horticulturists such as William Robinson, Sir Joseph Hooker, George Fergusson Wilson, Sir Thomas Hanbury and many more. In 1896 she moved across the road to Munstead Wood, to a house designed for her by Edwin Lutyens, and she laid out the gardens there to similar acclaim.

Jekyll travelled to Turkey in 1863-1864, Italy in 1872 and 1876, Algiers in 1873-1874, and Capri in 1883. She was much influenced by her trips to the Mediterranean. She brought back plants from these trips, and also collected plants from the wild and from cottage gardens in Britain. She received awards for her plant breeding, including a bronze Banksian medal in 1900. Some of these plants were introduced commercially by friends in the industry. She was awarded the Victoria Medal of Honour in 1897 and the Veitch gold medal in 1929.

Jekyll’s eyesight began to deteriorate at quite a young age, over time leading her to abandon art and craft work that required close-up attention to detail, and instead to specialise in art through garden design and creation, and through writing and photography. Between 1881 and 1932 she wrote 1138 articles for the garden press, including William Robinson’s weekly journal, ‘The Garden’. She wrote and published 13 books. Jekyll carried out more than 400 commissions for garden designs, many direct from clients, others in collaboration with her friend Edwin Lutyens and with other distinguished architects of the time. In 1908 she established a plant nursery at Munstead Wood, supplying plants and plans to her clients for 35 years until her death in 1932. Thousands of plants were dispatched every year and she took pride in supplying better plants at cheaper prices than the larger nurseries. Despite ill health, she continued to work into her 89th year. Following her death the nursery was run for nine years by her nephew, Francis Jekyll.

Source: 'Oxford Dictionary of National Biography' and letters in the archive.

Arrangement

Items in JEK/1/- are held in the Lindley Library art collection and will be catalogued as part of the art collection in due course. The letters to Amy Barnes Brand have been ordered chronologically; envelopes had been separated from the letters and have been rearranged to sit with the corresponding letter. Dates had been written in pencil on the envelopes, possibly by Library staff in the 1970s; these have been left in place in case they reflect an original pairing of letters and envelopes.

Conditions Governing Access

Please note the workbook of drawings is currently awaiting conservation. Digitised images of the volume can be accessed in the Research Room by appointment. A paper surrogate is currently being produced. The campanula drawings and photographs are fragile and may only be handled by staff on behalf of readers, for which a minimum of two weeks' notice is required. The letters are open for consultation. It is essential to check opening hours and make an appointment. Please email library.london@rhs.org.uk.

Acquisition Information

Gertrude Jekyll's workbook of drawings was purchased on 1 November 1993 at auction at Phillips in Bond Street. Jekyll's album of campanulas was donated to the Lindley Library by her nephew, Francis Jekyll. Letters to Amy Barnes Brand were donated to the Lindley Library by Mrs Barnes Brand's brother Mr J.H. Brandon-Thomas, in March 1975. The provenance of the letter to Mrs Furze is not known.

Other Finding Aids

The Lindley Library descriptive catalogue, available on-line via the Archives Hub, and as a paper copy in the Research Room.

Archivist's Note

Catalogued by Liz Taylor, RHS Lindley Libraries archivist, in June 2014. Research and other assistance given by Jennian Geddes and Ann Thornham, RHS Lindley Libraries volunteers.

Separated Material

An article by Peter Stageman, Librarian at the Lindley Library, published in the 'Journal of the RHS' (1975) refers to an item which is no longer with the collection. The article reads: 'Written on an envelope in these papers is a memorandum of the brief badinage between Miss Jekyll and Mrs Barnes Brand, already recorded in Mrs Massingham's biography of Gertrude Jekyll. "I once asked how she managed to do so much work. Miss Jekyll replied, "By not going to tea parties." I said, "I don't go to tea parties either": she said, "Ah, but you are married and that is one person's occupation."' This item is also referred to in a letter from the donor, J.R. Brandon-Thomas, 20 Mar 1975: 'There is also on the envelope in my sister Amy's handwriting, a remark Miss Jekyll made to her which might be of interest to you.' The whereabouts of this item is not known.

Conditions Governing Use

Please contact the Lindley Library for conditions governing reproduction.

Related Material

For 14 letters from Gertrude Jekyll to William Robinson, 1875-1919, held at the Lindley Library, see WRO/2/076-89. 41 booklets relating to commissions undertaken by Gertrude Jekyll and including extensive plant lists are held at Godalming Museum. The manuscript of Gertrude Jekyll's Old West Surrey (London, 1904) with publisher’s proofs, related correspondence, press reviews, a large collection of Jekyll's photographs, two albums of watercolours by Jekyll (comprising views taken during her tours of North Africa, the South of France and Italy as well as designs for inn signs and other undertakings) listed in the sale catalogue of 1946, are held by Surrey History Centre, reference 6521/-. Plans and correspondence relating to garden designs by Jekyll, 1890-c.1925, are held by Surrey History Centre, reference 4113/-. 12 letters from Gertrude Jekyll to successive Directors of the Royal Botanical Society are held in the archive at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Correspondence between Gertrude Jekyll and Lady Frances Wolvesey, founder of the Glynde School for Lady Gardeners, is held at Hove Central Library. Letters written by Gertrude Jekyll to Dr A W Rowe between 1904 and 1910 are held in the Sherborne Bequest at the British Library, Additional MS 4592. Plans and correspondence of Gertrude Jekyll, and six albums of photographs taken by Jekyll between c.1885 and 1914, are held at University of California Reef Point Gardens Collection.

Bibliography

An article based on Jekyll's letters to Amy Barnes Brand was published in 'The Garden', Jul 1975, p310. An article based on Jekyll's workbook of drawings was published in 'The Garden', Jun 1994, p250.