Roy Lancaster: papers

Scope and Content

The catalogued archive to date consists of correspondence between Roy Lancaster and eminent botanists and horticulturists around the world, 1960s-2010s, papers reflecting Roy Lancaster's plant collecting trips, his books and articles, television work, botanical tours, note books, articles, scrap books, collected papers and audio recordings relating to his garden and interviews mainly with nursery owners, created in the course of research for articles in 'The Garden' journal.

Uncatalogued material comprises audios of interviews with nurseries, VHS tapes of television programmes in which Roy Lancaster has featured, and digital photographs.

Administrative / Biographical History

Charles Roy Lancaster (5 Dec 1937- ) was born in Bolton, Lancashire, to Charles and Norah Lancaster. His earliest recollections of garden plants were those grown by his father at home, and his own interest in plants began in his mid-teens, when as a keen birdwatcher he developed an eye for native flora. Leaving school at 15, his career in horticulture started at Bolton Parks Department, and his tour of national service in Malaya enriched his experience of tropical plants.

During the 1950s he embarked on correspondence with the British Museum (Natural History) and other institutions and individuals, relating to plants and in particular to the identification of specimens. In 1962, after two years as a student at Cambridge University Botanic Garden, he joined Messrs Hillier and Sons of Winchester, starting as catalogue compiler and horticultural botanist. In 1970 he was appointed the first curator of the Hillier Arboretum (later the Sir Harold Hillier Gardens), a post he held for ten years, and he played a major role in the preparation of Hillier's 'Manual of Trees and Shrubs', 1971.

During the 1970s, alongside his role as curator, Roy Lancaster was appointed to various advisory committees of the RHS. He participated in botanical and plant collecting expeditions, particularly to remote and mountainous regions of the world, including a three-month plant collecting expedition to Nepal in 1971 and a month in Iran in 1972. He married Sue Lloyd on 5 Nov 1977. They lived at Poets Way, Greenhill, Winchester, from 1977-1982, and at 58 Brownhill Road, Chandler's Ford, Eastleigh, Hampshire, from 1982.

Roy Lancaster's freelance career began in 1980, after 18 years at Hillier Nurseries and Arboretum. In the 1980s he worked on BBC 'Gardeners' World' programme (1982-1990), and had his own series with Granada ('In Search of the Wild Asparagus' and 'The Great Plant Collections'). During the 1990s he fronted Channel 4's 'Garden Club', and for seven years was a regular on BBC 'Gardeners' Question Time' (1998-2005). He frequently presented broadcasts from the Chelsea Flower Show and other horticultural shows. He wrote articles for specialist horticultural journals and popular gardening magazines. As preparation for writing a long-running series of articles for 'The Garden' magazine, he recorded interviews with specialist plant nursery owners and gardeners, the recordings of which are preserved in his archive. In addition to his work in journalism, he carried out consultancy work on the creation of private arboreta and the restoration of gardens.

His freelance work included leading botanical and horticultural tours in the United Kingdom and abroad, including to Georgia and the Caucasus, Turkey, South Africa, the United States of America, Brazil, Ecuador, Chile, Nepal, Bhutan, Kashmir, China, Japan, New Zealand and Tasmania. He was a member of botanical expeditions to Nepal and Yunnan, China, and published accounts of both in his books 'A Plantsman in Nepal' (1981) and 'Travels in China: a plantsman's paradise' (1989).

He continued to correspond widely throughout his career with botanists, dendrologists and horticulturists across the world, and in the United Kingdom particularly with the Natural History Museum, London, the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, and Cambridge University Botanic Garden.

Awards presented to Roy Lancaster included the Veitch Memorial Medal, 1972, Victoria Medal of Honour, 1989, Garden Writers' Guild TV Gardening Presenter of the Year, 1993, Institute of Horticulture Award, 1996, Garden Writers' Guild Lifetime Achievement Award, 2002, Kew Guild Medal, 2008, and Garden Media Guild Journalist of the Year, 2008. He was made Honorary Fellow of the Kew Guild in 2006, and Honorary Doctor of Science, University of Bolton, in 2010. He was awarded an OBE for services to horticulture in 1999, and a CBE in 2014. He was made Honorary Doctor of Science, University of Winchester, in 2017, and awarded the RHS Lifetime Achievement award in 2017.

Positions held by Roy Lancaster as at January 2016 included: founder member and vice president of the National Council for the Conservation of Plants and Gardens, later Plant Heritage, 1978- ; member of the Arboreta Advisory Committee, National Arboreta, 1990-2018; President of the Maple Society, 1990- ; Trustee of the Tree Register of British Isles, 2001- ; Vice President of the RHS, 2005- ; President of The Hardy Plant Society, 2007- ; Patron of the Sir Harold Hillier Gardens, 2007- ; Patron of the Society of Floral Painters, 2008-2016; and Patron of the Garden Media Guild, 2014- .

Source: Roy Lancaster; 'London Gazette', Supplement no 60895 page b10, 14 Jun 2014; Institute of Horticulture: citation for President's award, 2011


Pending receipt of the entire archive, folders were allocated to broad divisions as they came in and were given temporary reference numbers. These sections will be added to with each new accrual, resulting in arbitrary arrangement within sections. Final arrangement and reference numbers will be allocated when the last of the archive has been donated.

Summary of contents:

LAN/1 Correspondence folders (arranged by place or person), c.1960-2019

LAN/2 Correspondence folders (arranged by subject), 1860s-2019

LAN/3 Notebooks, 1982-2016

LAN/4 Articles and publications by and about Roy Lancaster, 1978-2018

LAN/5 Collected papers, 1925-1990

LAN/6 Roy Lancaster's audio recordings, 1999-2002

LAN/7 Note books and journals, c.1920-2013

LAN/8 Scrap books, 1919-2014

LAN/9 Miscellaneous, 1947-1997

Access Information


Open for consultation at the Lindley Library, London. Some items are closed to public access for a period. It is essential to check opening hours and make an appointment providing a minimum of 2 weeks' notice.

Acquisition Information

Donated by Roy Lancaster from 2015 onwards

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, from 2016 onwards, with assistance given by Mara Uzzell and Jane Cuckow, RHS Lindley Library volunteers.

Conditions Governing Use

Retained by Roy Lancaster.

Custodial History

The material was at Roy Lancaster's home prior to donation


Further accruals are expected

Related Material

Papers of Roy Lancaster relating to garden advisory work for Dunloe Castel Hotel and Ard-na-Sidhe, County Kerry, Ireland, 1974-2007, are held at the National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin, Ireland.