When my father-in-law Chris last visited us, we shared a fun discovery about one of his ancestors: an incredible 1897 interview in Gardeners’ Chronicle with his great-grandfather William George Turner, who was the head gardener at The Rookery on Streatham Common (just south of London) for half a century. Read it in its entirety in this previous post: 1897 Interview with William George Turner.
Chris’s grandfather, Frank Nicholas Turner, was born in The Gardener’s Cottage at The Rookery on Streatham Common in 1864. Frank was the son of The Rookery’s head gardener, William George Turner, and his wife Ann Field (Macpherson) Turner. At the time of Frank’s birth, The Rookery was owned by tobacco manufacturer James Hill and his wife Jane Adams (Addy) Hill, who later married Sir Kingsmill Grove Key. William George Turner was a gardener at The Rookery for half a century, from 1852 until the death of the widowed Jane Adams (Addy Hill) Key in 1901.
Frank N. Turner was likely the last baby born on The Rookery estate, since Jane Adams (Addy) Hill gave birth to her daughters Ann in 1845 and Florence in 1857, and no other married servants had children on the estate after Frank’s birth (Frank’s younger sister Helen was born two years later off site in Rainham, Kent). Following the death of Lady Jane Key, the main house of The Rookery was sold to community organizers in 1910 who wanted to preserve the property from development. The house was demolished in 1912, and the property with three acres of gardens designed in part by William George Turner was then donated to the London City Council. It has been a public garden space ever since. The gardens have subsquently been transformed over the years, but some of the original hardscaping and even specimens planted by William George Turner remain on the site. An active community of paid and volunteer gardeners have cared for The Rookery Gardens to the present-day.
William George Turner’s Garden Training at Althorp, home of the Earls of Spencer
William George Turner was baptized at St. Peter’s Church in Wormleighton, Warwickshire, England on 28 May 1833, the son of carpenter Thomas Turner and his wife Jane Marriott of Wormleighton. As a teenager, he went to live in the Gardener’s Bothy at Althorp where he worked as a gardener for Frederick Spencer, the 4th Earl of Spencer, at the impressive Althorp estate in Northamptonshire (later the childhood home of Princess Diana).
While at Althorp, William Turner worked under head gardener Daniel Judd. In an interview in The Gardeners’ Chronicle (19 June 1875) p. 784-785, Daniel Judd recalled of his time at Althorp:
“On February 16, 1848, I was engaged by the late Earl Spencer, Althorp Park, Northampton, and remained with him ten years until his death, and with the present Earl five years. Here my motto was – “Onwards,” and I succeeded in growing some Figs, which much pleased his Lordship (he being very fond of that fruit), and took several prizes at the Horticultural Society’s garden at Chiswick with them, as also with Peaches, British Queen Strawberries, Melons, &c. But the greatest triumph I achieved at Althorp happened in the year of the termination of the Crimean War . On January 1 of that year I placed new and old Black Hamburgh Grapes on the table for dessert, and so good were they that the guests (amongst whome was the late Earl Cardigan) paid me a very high compliment, as they did not think such a thing could have been accomplished. I claim no credit for this achievement further than that of having taken advantage of Nature’s teachings. In the June of the year preceding, the Vines in my early vinery were as bare of leaves and as dormant as any Vines could be in mid-winter; I pruned them the first week in June (they did not bleed), closed the house, and treated them exactly as I should a spring crop. The result was, a good crop of Grapes; so much so, that a brother gardener who came to see them told the late Mr. Forbes, of Woburn, that the worst bunch in my house was better than the best in his, he having some at the same time which were making a great noise in the gardening world. This state of things was brought about by the continual early forcing, which caused the Vines, as it were, to gain a season; and so soon as I saw Nature determined to assert her rights I used all my efforts to assist her. Such should be the object of all young gardeners, and if it were we should by that means get far better men.”
Daniel Judd did not stay on as head gardener under the 5th Earl of Spencer. Today, the estate is well-known for it’s beautiful gardens dating to the 1860s. But apparently Daniel Judd did not think the new design was particularly tasteful, and reflected about the 1860s garden: “For the present Earl, at Althorp, I laid out a new flower-garden, a portion of which consisted of one of those fanciful foolish polychrome gardens, with monograms, butterflies’ wings, &c., planned by Mr. Thomas, the landscape gardener. Certainly there is no accounting for taste, but it is a delusion to think that broken bricks, slates, &c., can vie with or harmonize with the beautiful colours Nature has implanted in flowers, or produce such pleasing and softening influences. On March 1, 1864, I entered on my present situation – Hawkstone Park, Shropshire.”
In the 1851 Census, 17 year old garden laborer William Turner resided at the Gardener’s Bothy at Althorp Park with another young gardener, 25 year old George Wheatley. Next to the Gardener’s Bothy (an old Scottish term for a small outbuilding where servants lived on large estates) was a cottage for the head gardener where the family of Daniel Judd resided. Althorp was a large enough estate that five pages of servants were enumerated there.
1852. William G. Turner: Gardener at The Rookery, Streatham Common.
In 1897, William George Turner said in his interview with Gardeners’ Chronicle that he “has been gardener at [The Rookery] for about forty five years” [since circa 1852]. At 18 or 19 years old, William George Turner left his position at Althorp to join the much smaller staff at The Rookery on Streatham Common, where he joined head gardener William Lushey. Lushey had won several gardening prizes at Regent’s Park for his fruit growing endeavors at the Rookery in the late 1840s and early 1850s.
At the Royal Botanic Society, Regent’s Park Exhibition held July 4, 1849, a silver medal was awarded “To Mr. Lushey, Gardener to James Hill, Esq., The Rookery, Streatham, for a dish of black Grapes (Black Prince).” In 1852, The Certificate of Excellence was granted to “To Mr. Lushey, Gardener to J. Hill, Esq., of the Rookery, Streatham Common, for Black Prince Grapes.”
In the 1851 Census, The Rookery estate consisted of the family of tobacco manufacturer James Hill, his wife Jane, their daughter Ann, a visitor, and 12 servants.
William George Turner trained under William Lushey for two years at The Rookery, learning the layout of the property and its garden routines, until tragedy struck in the winter of 1854, when both William Lushey and his wife Mary Ann passed away just before and after Christmas of an illness. 35 year old William Lushey was buried 24 December 1854, and 44 year old Mary Ann Lushey was buried at St. Leonard’s Streatham on 21 January 1855.
The Hill family must have been impressed by William George Turner’s gardening skills, and at the young age of 22, he became the head gardener of The Rookery in 1855, a position he served in for the rest of his life.
1855 Penge Wood Planting and Awards. William Turner reflected in 1897: “Some of the younger of the fruit trees [at The Rookery] I grafted or budded in Penge Wood about forty two years ago [ca. 1855]. I worked them in the spring of one year and the next, such as had taken were removed to the garden here.”
“Royal Botanic Gardens, Regent’s Park, List of Prizes Awarded at the Exhibition held on Wednesday, June 13, 1855. Bronze Medal to Mr. Turner, gardener to J. Hill, Esq., Streatham, for 1 dish of Black Hamburgh Grapes.”
1856. During the 1850s, William George Turner joined the Streatham Gardeners’ Society which held lectures and exhibitions on horticultural techniques, technologies, and advice on how to grow specific varieties of plants. William George Turner provided a first-hand report from one of these sessions to The Gardener’s Chronicle. Feb. 9, 1856, p. 86: “Winter Covering. As it is admitted that gardeners generally require some kind of waterproof covering for the protection of plants in pits, frames, houses &c., in winter, permit me to direct attention to Mr. Lancaster’s “Lignum Textile,” an example of which was exhibited at the Streatham Gardeners’ Society’s Rooms, on Thursday week, and after a discussion of two hours’ duration on the subject, it was admitted by all present to be a desirable and useful article. The model submitted for inspection was a “pit,” for the covering of which several modes were offered, one in the shape of a shutter, the whole length and width of the light; another divided across the centre, where there was a lap enabling the covering to be drawn off at back and front; a third divided from the back to front, and likewise supplied with a lap. The material itself is woven wood or veneer, dressed with some waterproof composition which, after being passes between heavy rollers, and exposed to the atmosphere, is said to become nearly as hard as metal. This material is also intended for the purpose of roofing, &c., &c. W. G. Turner, the Rookery Gardens, Streatham. [When we saw this material some months since we thought it promised to be very useful.]”
At a meeting of the British Pomological Society held Nov. 6, 1856 “Mr. Turner, gardener to J. Hill, Esq., Streatham, produced a handsome bunch of Barbarossa Grapes, weight 5 lbs. 7 oz.”, according to The Florist, Fruitist, and Garden Miscellany, Vol. 6.
1857. William George Turner won awards for his melons and apples grown at The Rookery at the Second Grand Flower Show. “Crystal Palace, [Penge] Award of the Judges at the Second Grand Flower Show, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, September 9th, 10th, 11th, 1857. Class R. Melons, green-fleshed, single fruit. Second prize to William Turner, gardener to James Hill Esq., The Rookery, Streatham Common.” “Crystal Palace List of Prizes. Class Y. Apples, kitchen, 6 dishes, distinct varieties, 12 fruits each. Fourth prize to W. Turner, gardener to James Hill, Esq., The Rookery, Streatham Common.”
1858. “List of the Award of Prizes at the Third Exhibition, Royal Botanic Gardens, Regent’s Park, June 23, 1858. Silver Medal. Mr. [W.] G. Turner, gardener to J. Hill, Esq., Streatham, for 1 dish Black Prince grapes.”
1858 Marriage of William G. Turner and Annie F. Macpherson
On 27 December 1858, at the parish church at St. Peter’s Thanet, Kent, by Rev. S. [Robins?] William George Turner (of full age, bachelor, gardener, resident of St. Peter’s Thanet, Kent, son of carpenter Thomas Turner) married Annie Field Macpherson (of full age, spinster, resident of St. Peter’s Thanet, daughter of piano forte maker Neil Macpherson), with witnesses Isaac and Harriet Busbridge. Harriet Busbridge was about Ann’s age and thus was likely a friend of Ann Macpherson’s.
Ann Field Macpherson was born in Birmingham, Warwickshire, 31 January 1820, daughter of Neil and Mary (Field) Macpherson. She was baptized 8 April 1821 at the Carrs Lane Independent Church in Birmingham. Her father Neil Macpherson was a cabinet maker and a piano-forte maker. At the time of her marriage, Ann Field Macpherson was likely visiting Broadstairs in Thanet, Kent since her mother Mary (Field) Macpherson was originally from and had family living there. Ann’s parents were living in Haggerston in East London in 1858.
It is not certain how William and Ann met, nor is it clear if William George Turner was truly a resident of St. Peter’s Parish in Thanet in December 1858, or just residing there over the Christmas holiday in preparation for his wedding to Ann. No obvious family connections have yet been identified between either William George Turner and Broadstairs (although a few years later his brother Samuel moved to the area) or James and Jane Addy (Adams) Hill and Broadstairs.
1859. “List of the Award of Prizes at the Second Exhibition, Royal Botanic Gardens, Regent’s Park, June 15, 1859. Silver Medal. Mr. Turner, gardener to J. Hill, Esq., the Rookery, Streatham, for dish of Black Prince [grapes].”
1860 Birth of Mary Kate Turner
William and Ann Turner settled into the Gardener’s Cottage at the Rookery, where they had their first child born, a daughter Mary Kate Turner, who was born in the the Gardener’s Cottage on 18 January 1860.
1861 Census. William Turner (27, head gardener, b. Wormleighton, Warwick) and his wife Annie Turner (30, b. Birmingham) and daughter Kate Turner (1, b. Streatham) resided in the Gardener’s Cottage of The Rookery, Streatham Common, working for tobacco manufacturer James Hill and his wife Jane A. Hill.
Birth of Son William George Turner Jr. 1861. William George Turner Jr. was born 24 November 1861 at The Rookery Gardener’s Cottage, Streatham Common, the son of gardener William Turner and his wife Ann Field Macpherson Turner (domestic servant). William Turner, the father, resident of The Rookery Gardener’s Cottage, Streatham Common, registered the birth 21 December 1861 with Streatham Registrar Henry Withal.
Birth of Son Frank Nicholas Turner. Frank Nicholas Turner was born 16 July 1864 in “The Rookery Cottage” on “Streatham Common”, the son of William Turner, “gardener domestic servant” and his wife “Ann Field Turner formerly Macpherson”. His father William Turner of “The Rookery Cottage” registered the birth on 27 August 1864 with registrar Henry Withall.
1865. At the United Horticultural Society’s Flower and Fruit Show, held “November 14th and 15th, 1865… Mr. Turner, gardener to J. Hill, Esq., Streatham and others had fine examples of Chaumontel, Easter Beurre, Knight’s Monarch, Bergamotte d’Esperen, Glen Morceau, Burre Clairgean, Ne Plus Meuris &c. pears.”
Birth of Daughter Helen Rainham Turner. 1866. William Turner (a gardener/domestic servant) and Ann Field Macpherson Turner gave birth to an unnamed daughter (later christened Helen Rainham Turner) on 29 June 1866 in Rainham, Kent. Mother Ann Field Turner, resident of Rainham, registered the birth on 9 July 1866 with Milton registrar John Jackson.
1866. At the United Horticultural Society, held November 14 to Nov 17, 1866 in Guildhall and opened by the Duke of Edinburgh. “Very fine Dessert pears came from Mr. Turner, gardener to J. Hill, Streatham. From Mr. Turner, Streatham, came collections of baking pears. Apples were shown in excellent condition. The President’s prize for the best dish of apples was awarded equally to Mr. Turner, gardener to J. Hill Esq., and Mr. Parsons, gardener to R. Attenborough, Esq. Turnham Green.”
1871 Census. William Turner (37, domestic gardener, b. Wormleighton, married) was enumerated in the Rookery Cottage in Streatham daughter Mary K. Turner (11, scholar), William Turner (9), Frank N. Turner (6), and Ellen R. Turner (4). It is unclear where Ann was during this census, she may have been visiting elsewhere (although she has not yet been identified in any other 1871 England Census records) or the census enumerator may have mistakenly omitted her at The Rookery.
1875 Map of The Rookery
1881 Census. William Turner (47, domestic gardener, b. Wormleighton) was enumerated in the Gardener’s Cottage in the Rookery in Gardener’s Cottage with son William G. Turner (19, general clerk), son Frank N. Turner (16, carpenter), and daughter Helen R. Turner (14, scholar). It is unclear where Ann was during this census, she may have been visiting elsewhere (although she has not yet been identified in any other 1881 England Census records) or the census enumerator may have mistakenly omitted her at The Rookery.
1882. William Turner contributed the following story to The Gardeners’ Chronicle. May 6, 1882, p. 601: “Remarkable Growth of a Silver Birch. When I came here, twenty-nine years ago, I found a Silver Birch growing on the top of one of the garden walls, 9 feet from the ground, apparently many years old. During that time I never knew it in the least degree affected by the hottest season, as it held its foliage quite as well as other trees. Yesterday I removed it in consequence of the roots having forced down a quantity of the brickwork, and to my great surprise, in tracing the roots to their extremities, I found on one side that the leading root had run to the great length of 42 feet, and on the other side to about 15 feet immediately under the top course of bricks. To me this seems remarkable, and should any readers feel a curiosity to see it, I should be happy to show it to them. W. G. Turner, The Rookery, Streatham Common, May 2.”
Death of Annie (Macpherson) Turner. 1883. Ann Field (Macpherson) Turner died in the Gardener’s Cottage, The Rookery, Streatham Common, Streatham, 26 February 1883, aged 63 years old, and her husband William George Turner filed her probate, valued at 52 pounds, 9 shillings, 11 pence. She was buried at the West Norwood Cemetery (see her FindAGrave entry).
1891 Census. William Turner (widower, 56, gardener, b. Wormleighton) and his daughter Helen Rainham Turner (single, 24, b. Rainham, Kent), son Frank Nichol[as] Turner (single, 26, carpenter, employed, b. Streatham), and visitor Ellen Halman (single, 23, dressmaker, employed, b. West Norwood, Surrey) resided at the Gardener’s Cottage, “The Rookeries”, Streatham Common.
1897 Map of The Rookery
1897 Gardening Interview. Read it in its entirety in this previous post: 1897 Interview with William George Turner.
1901 Census. William Turner (widower, 67, gardener – domestic, worker, born Wormleighton, Warwick) and his daughter Helen R. Turner (34, housekeeper – domestic, b. Rainham, Kent) resided at the Rookery Gardens, Streatham Common. They resided in the Rookery Gardener’s Cottage, working for Lady Jane A. Key (widower, 85, b. Writtle, Essex), the owner of The Rookery property.
1901. Death of Lady Jane A. (Addy) Key.
Following the death of Lady Jane Key, the domestic staff workers likely stayed on the property for a short period of time. In 1903, however, William George Turner had heart problems, so he moved to live with his daughter Helen in Deal, Kent.
1904. Death of William George Turner.
William George Turner died 25 January 1904 at 177 High St., Deal, Kent, a “retired gardener”.
1913. Opening of The Rookery Garden to the Public.
The Rookery was sold in 1910 and the buildings were demolished, with the intention of using the beautiful gardens as a space for the public to enjoy. When The Rookery opened to the public in 1913, it had two newly laid-out garden spaces, the “Old English Garden” and the “White Garden”. A sign on The Rookery grounds states about the Old English Garden: “The Old English Garden was laid out in 1913 in the former walled kitchen garden as part of the new design created by the London City Council.”
Terka Acton, a White Garden volunteer at The Rookery reported to London Garden Trusts: “Streatham’s White Garden lies between a walled Old English garden and a small orchard in the Rookery, once the grounds of a large house dating back to 1786, and now an historic Grade II listed public garden. The elegant double borders, backed by trees and climbers and edged with lawn, echo each other down the length of the garden, with white benches marking each end,” noting the White Garden is “the only white garden in any of London’s public parks…”
The name and legacy of William George Turner’s half a century of garden design at The Rookery has been a bit forgotten on the site, but examples of his labor still survive to this day, and volunteer gardeners across multiple growing seasons have researched, designed, and planted historic and contemporary varieties of plants and flowers across the property for the public to enjoy.
1916 Map of The Rookery