George Maw: correspondence (catalogued)

Scope and Content

The archive comprises around 335 letters sent to George Maw, along with four sent to his father, John Hornby Maw. The majority of the correspondence is botanical or geological in nature, and reflects George Maw's passion and renown in these fields. His correspondents include Charles Darwin and other fellow scientists at the Royal Society (Michael Foster, J.D. Hooker, Thomas Henry Huxley and Henry Baker Tristram), fellow horticulturalists (Gertrude Jekyll, Dorothy Nevill, Horace P. White, Mary L. Wynne, and the son of John Dillwyn Llewellyn with regard to his father's collection and garden at Penllergare, Swansea), fellow botanists (Giles Munby, William D'Arcy Godolphin Osborne and Anthony Hurt Wolley-Dod), fellow artists (Charles West Cope and John Ruskin), and those who collected botanical specimens for Maw, particularly abroad (W.L. Adamthwaite, Joseph Cranage, Robert Drummond Hay, Austen Henry Layard, Mariano de la Paz Graells, Max Leichtlin and Charles William Louis Merlin).

The archive includes 15 letters from Charles Darwin, written between 1861 and 1880, which show that Darwin invited Maw's observations on his theories, and incorporated some of them into his work. Around 200 letters in the archive are from Joseph Dalton Hooker, director at the Royal Gardens, Kew, who wrote about the development of the Royal Gardens, contemporary practices there, and anxieties and problems around the management of the gardens. Hooker wrote candidly to Maw of his frustration and despondency at the time of the 'Ayrton controversy' in the early 1870s. Maw and Hooker developed terracotta plant labels for use at Kew Gardens and many letters reflect the refinement of these. The letters reveal the two men's passion for plants, especially the genus Crocus, and a good number detail the equipment Hooker and Maw were sourcing in preparation for their plant collecting expedition to Morocco in 1871. Hooker's letters include references to his private life, family and friends. Ruskin's letters to Maw include the lines, 'The little pet you sent today is put into water very tenderly', and 'The gardener nursed me through my illness as carefully as if I had been a crocus'. Maw sent gifts of plants to Gertrude Jekyll after they met in 1880, and in 1886 Jekyll wrote that she wished that they lived 'within neighbourly distance'. Across the correspondence as a whole, other topics include plant collecting, gifts of plants, bulbs and porcelain, geological finds, and Maw's work on 'A Monograph of the Genus Crocus', published in 1886.

Photocopies of 13 letters from George Maw to Charles Darwin were found with the archive and catalogued as an associated archive (MAW/Z1).

Administrative / Biographical History

George Maw (1832-1912), son of John Hornby Maw and Mary Ann Johnson, was born in Aldermanbury, London, on 10 Dec 1832. The family moved to West Hill House, Hastings, in 1838, and to 1 London Road, Worcester, in 1849. Maw attended the Royal Agricultural College where he studied botany, archaeology and geology. He was awarded a diploma with honours in 1852.

In 1849 George Maw's father purchased a disused encaustic tile factory in Worcester as a potential business opportunity for his sons to combine their artistic and entrepreneurial skills. In 1850, Maw and his brother Arthur established Maw and Company, producing encaustic, mock-medieval floor tiles. In 1852 Maw and Company and its workforce moved to Broseley, Shropshire, as the clays there were of a higher quality. The brothers took on the tenancy of Benthall Hall, Broseley, Shropshire, in 1860. George Maw married Frederica Mary Brown in 1861, and they had nine children, all born at Benthall Hall.

The company grew to become the largest floor tile producer worldwide, and later added art pottery to its repertoire. In the late 1860s Maw agreed that the company would produce terracotta plant labels for Kew Gardens, for which he was granted a patent in 1868. When the Hookers moved to Sunningdale, Maw gave them a large number of decorative tiles for their new house.

Maw was a Fellow of the Linnean Society, the Society of Antiquaries, and the Royal Historical Society. He became a Fellow of the Geological Society in 1864. He was a member of the RHS Scientific Committee during the 1880s, and served brief terms on the Floral Committee, Daffodil Committee and Library Committee.

Maw made frequent plant collecting trips including to the Mediterranean and Eastern Europe. In 1871 he accompanied Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker and John Ball on a plant collecting expedition to Morocco and the Atlas Mountains, and letters from Hooker to Maw give details of their preparations. A full account of the trip was published in 'Journal of a Tour in Marocco and the Atlas Mountains'. Maw wrote occasional articles for the garden press and was an accomplished artist: John Ruskin wrote of his crocus drawings that they were 'most exquisite […] and quite beyond criticism'.

In 1886 Maw published 'A Monograph of the Genus Crocus', the result of over ten years of collecting and research, illustrated using his own watercolours. Many of the bulbs and plants he collected on his plant collecting expeditions were planted in the garden at Benthall Hall, later owned by the National Trust. Correspondence between Maw and the friends and contacts who helped to collect the 67 species of Crocus detailed in his work forms a significant part of the archive.

Maw retired in 1886 due to ill health, and moved to live at Rangemore in Kenley, Surrey, changing the house name to Benthall. Frederica Mary died on 6 Feb 1894. George Maw died on the 7 Feb 1912.

Source: Online birth, marriage, census and probate records,, and Desmond

John Hornby Maw (1800-1885), father of George Maw, was born in Owston Ferry, Lincolnshire, on 12 Apr 1800. The family moved to London in 1807. In 1815 John Hornby Maw was placed with a chemist at Croydon for two years, after which he studied under Abernethy and Stanley at St Bartholomew's Hospital in order to understand the requirements of surgeons. He joined his father's company manufacturing surgical instruments and pharmaceutical products, which moved to 56 Aldersgate Street, London, in 1825. He became a partner in the company in 1826. The factory moved into larger premises at 7-12 Aldersgate Street, London, in 1835.

J.H. Maw married Mary Ann Johnson in 1825 and they had three children, Anne Mary, George, and Arthur. London Electoral Registers show the family living at 11 Aldersgate Street from 1834 to 1835. J.H. Maw retired from the company in 1835 due to ill health, and the family moved to Hastings in 1838. Maw became a member of the Society of Painters in Water Colour and received tutoring from artist Peter de Wint. He exhibited in the Royal Academy summer exhibitions of 1840, 1841, 1842 and 1844. The 1841 census shows the family living at West Hill House, Hastings, occupation 'independent'. The 1851 census shows the family living at 1 London Road, Worcester, occupation 'husband absent'. Mary Ann Maw died in 1853. The 1861 census shows J.H. Maw and his daughter living at 47 Bernard Road, Bloomsbury, London, occupation 'proprietor of houses'. The 1871 census shows J.H. Maw living at Barrat's Hill, Broseley, Shropshire, occupation 'retired manufacturer'. He married Susannah Newman on 16 Nov 1874. Probate records show John Hornby Maw of Broseley died on 28 Jun 1885.

Source: Source: Online birth, marriage, census and probate records, London Electoral Records, The Pharmaceutical Industry, a Guide to Historic Records by Lesley Richmond and Julie Stephenson, Royal Academy Index to Exhibitors


Prior to cataloguing the letters were stored in two albums, arranged largely alphabetically with some omissions and mis-filings, however there was no evidence this was Maw's own order. The letters have been arranged alphabetically by correspondent according to the naming rules of the National Council on Archives, and within that alphabetical arrangement, multiple letters from the same correspondent have been arranged chronologically as far as dates are known. Letters from family and close associates of each main correspondent have been arranged chronologically within the main correspondent's letters.

Access Information


This archive is held at the Lindley Library, London. Open for consultation. It is essential to check opening hours and make an appointment.

Acquisition Information

It is not known how the papers came to be in the Library's collections. A letter from Douglas Clayton to N.D. Sprague, 31 Aug 1939, discusses the placing of the letters in the light of growing hostilities. A sheet of notes, c.1950s, relating to the papers gives the following name and address: Miss A.D. Maw, Feldwicks, Merstham, Surrey. George Maw's spinster daughters, Helen and Margaret, lived at Feldwicks until their respective deaths in 1946 and 1951. These items are stored in the MAW acquisition file.

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 Library archivist, in February 2019, with documentation and packaging assistance given by Helen Taylor, packaging assistance by Annie Johns, and research assistance by Helen Taylor, Brent Elliott and Ann Thornham, RHS Lindley Library volunteers.

Appraisal Information

A series of older lists and wrappings relating to the letters is stored in the MAW acquisition file, along with a letter from Douglas Clayton to N.D. Sprague, 31 Aug 1939, in which the placing of the letters was discussed in the light of growing hostilities. A letter from W.G.[?] Blake to John Weather at the RHS, 16 May 1892, was removed from the archive in May 2014 as it bore no relation to the Maw archive; it is survey listed as RHS/VS/hist/21.23.

Related Material

A journal of George Maw relating to a visit to Morocco and ascent of the Great Atlas, 1871, is held at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Library and Archives; original drawings by George Maw for 'Monograph of the genus Crocus' (1886), are held at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Library and Archives; correspondence of George Maw (146 letters from 12 correspondents including 66 from Thomas Davidson) relating to brachiopods, 1880-1883, is held at British Geological Survey Archives. Field notebooks of George Maw, 1856-1883, are held at British Geological Survey Archives.