Records of RHS Garden Harlow Carr, comprising records of the Northern Horticultural Society (catalogued)

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

This archive comprises the records of the Northern Horticultural Society dating principally from the 1940s-1970s. This represents approximately one half of the Harlow Carr archive as at Nov 2015. The remainder will be catalogued in due course. Much of this part of the archive is made up of files of Donald Ineson, described in 1949 as executive officer, who became chairman in 1955 following the death of Col Charles Grey, and served until his retirement in 1972.

Administrative / Biographical History

Northern Horticultural Society (1946- )

A preliminary meeting in connection with the proposed Northern Counties Horticultural Society was held on 6 November 1945, and the inaugural meeting of the Northern Horticultural Society took place in Manchester in March 1946. The Society's aims were to establish a northern trials station, and to facilitate horticultural cooperation across the north of England. J.H. Bell became pro tem chairman, and in 1947 Charles Grey was appointed chairman. Grey, a retired army colonel, wanted the proposed trial station to be non-commercial, and focussed on the trialling of newly raised hybrids, particularly with regard to hardiness in the northern climate. He used his personal means to further the work of the Society. A Board of Trustees and Council were formed, and sub-committees were appointed. Northern Horticultural Publications Ltd. was established in January 1947 to handle NHS publications, and the first issue of 'The Northern Gardener' appeared soon afterwards.

In 1948 Mrs Lane-Fox offered land at Bramham Park for a trials station but negotiations were not successful. In March 1949 the Parks Superintendent at Harrogate Corporation, W.V. Bishop, negotiated the lease of a 30-acre site at Harlow Carr (at that time spelt Harlow Car), later increased to 45 acres. The site included woodland, pastures and stream, 19th-century spa rooms and a bathhouse built in the 1840s.

The management committee for the garden comprised Sir William Milner, Robin Compton and Robert James. Charles Grey was responsible for first phase of the garden's development and design. Robert Hare was the first garden superintendent to take up duties, 1950-1953, followed by Geoffrey Smith, 1954-1975, a period which encompassed most of the garden's construction.

Grey's hopes for a membership of 10,000 were not realised until much later, in the 1980s. At the end of the 1950s membership of the Society stood at just over 3000. Grey died in 1955, and was succeeded in the chair by Donald Ineson, a local solicitor who had previously been executive officer in the NHS. William Milner became Director of Gardens, and the management committee was reconstituted, with separate sub-committees on rock gardens, woodlands and arboretum, and ornamental grounds, chaired by Barbara Clough, A. Sigston Thompson and George Knight respectively. As it grew, the Society's activities increased to include an open gardens scheme, a seed distribution scheme and a lecture series. In the 1950s a specialist group was initiated for irises, and other groups were established from the 1960s onwards for roses, lilies and alpines, delphiniums, edible plants and bonsais.

A rock garden was created in stages over Geoffrey Smith's time, and a rustic stone bridge constructed over the stream. Grey's original formal design was criticised in the 1960s for its regimented straight lines, so major redevelopments were carried out in the 1960s and 1970s including the creation of the informal Tarn Meadows and woodland areas.

In 1956 the derelict bathhouse was remodelled to house the library and was named the Charles Grey Memorial Building. It was altered again in 1983 to include an educational centre. In 1964 the Harrogate Spa Rooms were demolished, and the Doric columns erected as a feature in the woodland. A new entrance lodge was built in 1971, and a new office building in 1985.

John Main was appointed superintendent in 1975, and was succeeded in 1980 by Philip Swindells. They oversaw the creation of a winter garden, new trials gardens, herb garden, scented garden, foliage garden and perennials border.

The RHS was involved with the trials programme at Harlow Carr from the early years of the NHS, providing plants and financial assistance, and an interest in the Society's affairs. Over the course of the 1970s the NHS experienced increasing financial difficulty. John Main established a shop which closed in 1980 on his departure. A new shop opened in 1982 following the creation of Harlow Carr Enterprises, formed in February 1981. The late 1990s saw a period of instability in the NHS due to changes in administration, resignations and staff restructuring, along with a worsening financial situation. An approach was made to the RHS, and in 2001 NHS members voted in favour of amalgamation with the RHS. A programme of redevelopment was instituted, in which a new shop was created, car parking was improved, and 'The Northern Gardener' was discontinued.


Records were arranged to reflect the structure of the Society. Prior to cataloguing, some original arrangement had been lost as a result of earlier work on the records. This is recorded as far as possible in the descriptions.

Conditions Governing Access


Open for consultation at the Lindley Library, RHS Garden Harlow Carr. It is essential to check opening hours and make an appointment.

Acquisition Information

The archive was acquired following the RHS merger with the Northern Horticultural Society in 2001.

Other Finding Aids

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

Archivist's Note

Catalogued by Liz Taylor, RHS Lindley Libraries archivist, in Oct 2014 and Oct 2015. Packaging was carried out by Heather Martin, Christine Stone and Michele Cornwell, RHS Lindley Library volunteers at Harlow Carr.

Conditions Governing Use

Please contact the Lindley Library for conditions regarding reproduction.

Appraisal Information

Records of the Northern Horticultural Society from the period 1940s-1950s were deemed to be worthy of retention, and only duplicates were removed.

Custodial History

As far as is known, the records have been at Harlow Carr Gardens since their creation.


Records not included in this initial tranche will be added to the descriptive catalogues in due course.

Related Material

For records of the RHS relating to the Northern Horticultural Society and Harlow Carr Gardens, 1949-1993, see RHS/CC/013.