William Barron – Gardner
William Barron was born into a gardening family in Eccles, Scotland on the 7th of September. The exact year of his birth is a little uncertain because while many assume that he was born in 1800, others believe this to be due to a mistake in his obituary and that he was actually born five years later. William continued in his father’s footsteps and took up horticulture at a young age but, as his skills developed, he left Scotland and made a successful life for himself in the town of Barrowash and the gardens of Elvaston Castle.
William Barron’s experience and career at Elvaston.
William first trained in his native Scotland with an apprenticeship in Blackadder before taking on a managerial role at the glasshouses of the Royal Botanical Gardens in Edinburgh. He later moved to England to help with a new conservatory at Syon House, Middlesex but his most famous and successful role began when he was twenty five and was hired as the gardener for the fourth Earl of Harrington, Charles Stanhope, at Elvaston Castle. He was instructed to renovate the grounds – apparently as a tribute to the earl’s actress wife Maria Foote – and with acres of land and 90 gardeners on staff to assist him Barron had a large project on his hands; however, he succeeded in creating new gardens from 1830 until the Earl’s death that greatly satisfied his employer. When the fifth earl, Leicester Stanhope, took over in 1851, William was kept on and told to continue his work with a commercial nursery. While his first garden had been a private sanctuary for the lovers, the fifth earl took a different approach and let the public enjoy Barron’s work.
Throughout his career in horticulture, Barron showed a clear love of all things green and skills with many different plants. He could create grand features with topiary, rock work and water features and transport them with ease and was just as at home in the nurseries as at his desk designing. There was, however, one specific area where he took an even greater interest – trees. While he was working on the extraordinary garden at Elvaston he took a particular interest in growing evergreens, apparently with a special fondness for the yew tree, and made a point of using them in his designs. By 1850, Barron had succeeded in planting every known species of European conifer in the grounds along with an avenue of lime trees. Two years later, he confirmed his position as Britain’s leading arboricultural figure with his publication, “The British Winter Garden: A Practical Treatise on Evergreens”.
Moving away from the estates into a family business.
In 1844, William and his wife, Elizabeth Ashby, had their only son John and in 1862, when the fifth earl of Harrington died, he decided that the time had come to bring his son into the trade and start his own family business. With the unsurprising name of William Barron and Son, the pair quickly built up a business at a 40 acre nursery site in Barrowash from 1865 and gained a reputation as excellent landscape designers, businessman and gardeners. Together they did it all, from the designing of public parks to the sale of the plants and the transportation of large trees – something William already had some experience with. This partnership continued until William’s death in 1891 when his son continued alone.
The legacy of William Barron.
The work of William Barron can still be admired today, in particular many of the trees he chose and transplanted, and his impact on the area is still felt by the community he left behind. The knowledge that his was one of the many graves that could be lost in the untended graveyard at Barrowash spurred people on to restore it because – as they put it – he was one of “Barrowash’s most famous sons”. Additionally, he was also awarded a prestigious blue plaque from Derbyshire council at his former home in the town.
There are, of course, many comparisons made between William Barron and Joseph Paxton that will ensure that his name and creations are remembered. For many, Paxton’s name is more familiar but this is mostly due to his work on The Crystal Palace over any horticultural recognition. Paxton may have been the celebrity gardener of the Victorian era but he was arguably just a designer with a impressive knowledge of gardening while Barron was a true gardener with a talent for design.