Autobiographical memoir of James Child, Fellow of the RHS

Scope and Content

Child began writing his retrospective memoir at the age of 70 in 1908 or 1909. He describes his childhood in Pyrford, his walks to and from Cobham Tilt National School, his childhood pastimes, his parents' occupations (his father was a boot maker, and his mother ran their farmstead and made hats and other items from straw), and his positions of employment:

Child worked at local farms where he learned a wide variety of farm work, including for a Mr Napier on a cattle farm near Pyrford, where he also worked in the garden. He refers to the use of farm implements such as a horse thrasher, winnowing machine and turnip cutter

At the age of 15 he went to Middlesex where he took several temporary jobs including for florists and nurserymen, and tried the building trade which he found did not suit him. He was apprenticed for three years to his uncle, Charles Woolven, a nurseryman, seedsman and florist at Langhedge Nursery, Upper Edmonton, Middlesex, where he learned budding, grafting and other methods of propagation. The nursery grew fruit trees, shrubs and flowers, and Child lists by name 11 plants supplied including those grown in greenhouses. Child went to Covent Garden and Farendon Markets as salesman, and describes the markets at that time [c.1850s].

In the late 1850s he was taken on as under-gardener with Mr Dawson at Woodside, Esher, and during his 18 months there he met Fanny Youatt, who was to become his wife

At the age of 20 he obtained employment at the Royal Gardens, Claremont, Esher, where he served for five years under two head gardeners, Mr Maleson and William Gregory. He worked his way through the departments starting in the pleasure grounds, where he often met Queen Amelia (exiled from France with Louis Philippe - Child describes himself as 'the servant of His Majesty the King of the Belgians'), then in the flower and kitchen garden, the nurseries (propagating 'forest trees' for the plantations on the royal estate, trees and shrubs for the pleasure grounds, and forced flowers and shrubs for decoration of the palace; flowers were sent every week to Queen Victoria), and the fruit and forcing department where he served as foreman. Grapes, melons, pineapples, cucumbers, peaches and nectarines were grown in the greenhouses. 21 gardeners worked at Claremont, including two head gardeners and four foremen

Child was appointed head gardener to Killingworth Hedges, a solicitor at Thames Villa, Sunbury, Middlesex. He had four men under him, and managed vineries, greenhouses, conservatories and a large kitchen and flower garden. He recalls the 100-year-old vinery was destroyed during his tenure, and flower beds and a croquet lawn and rosary were established

He then worked as head gardener and bailiff to Samuel G. Sheppard at Brackley Lodge, Oatlands Park, Weybridge, Surrey. He managed greenhouses, a conservatory and vinery, and a flower and kitchen garden

A year later Child was appointed head gardener at Lebanon House, Twickenham, Middlesex, residence of the Prince of Joinville. He remained there for five years. The garden included fine cedar trees, pleasure grounds and flower garden, greenhouses, fruit houses, pits, frames, a kitchen and fruit garden, and asparagus beds. He grew grapes, peaches, nectarines, apples, pears and the 'French rock canteloupe' variety of melon. Child makes mention of the Franco-Prussian War and its effect on the French royal family

James Child was head gardener for 14 years at Garbrand Hall, Ewell, Surrey, for Mrs Torr. The estate included greenhouses, orchard house, vineries, orchid house, cucumber and melon houses, pineapple pit and a collection of azaleas. He exhibited plants, fruit and vegetables and won prizes. When the estate was broken up the plant sale realised nearly £1000, with some specimens of orchid fetching up to 80 guineas

Thereafter Child worked for W. Bailey Hawkins at Houndswood, St Albans, Hertfordshire, as head gardener and bailiff, managing garden, farmland, stock and model farm. Grapes, peaches, cucumbers and melons were grown under glass. After five years the family moved to Epsom so education and apprenticeships were more readily available to their children

Child bought a piece of land and built a house in Epsom, and for 17 years he 'yarded as landscape gardener and florist'

At this point, at the age of 70, his memoir based on earlier memories ends, and the remainder of the volume is made up of intermittent journal-style entries. He comments on the effects of ageing, family news and events such as the death of his daughter and his 50th wedding anniversary, the weather, crops of named varieties of vegetables, the reign of Queen Victoria, the proliferation of bicycles, motor vehicles and buses, the outbreak and his shock at the effects of the First World War, prices of food and fuel, his health, the end of the First World War and resulting celebrations, continuing war abroad, strikes and unemployment, the death of his wife, and the housing shortage

The memoir includes references to Child's marriage and the birth of his children

The final entry in the journal is dated 1 Sep 1921. James Child died on 4 Jun 1924, aged 85. His family understand that he died of heart strain following an attempt to lift an over-loaded garden wheel barrow

Conservation work was undertaken in Jan 2015 to reattach the pages of the volume, and clean, consolidate and repair the pages. A surrogate copy of the volume is available to reduce wear and tear on the original