Horticultural discoveries in Guildhall Library

126One would think that a volume offering the results of a series of experiments on the nutritional quality of animal fodder would be a book for the interested minority – not so as I recently discovered on a visit to our underground store. A colleague was shelf checking items from the Gardeners’ Company Library and called me over to take a look at this remarkable volume:

Hortus Gramineus Woburnensis: Or, An Account of the Results of Experiments on the Produce, and Nutritive Qualities of Different Grasses, and Other Plants, used as the Food of the more Valuable Domestic Animals: Instituted by John Duke Of Bedford; By George Sinclair

112

This 1st edition copy was published at the Duke’s expense in 1816.

The title page tells us that it is “Illustrated with dried specimens of the plants upon which these experiments have been made, and practical observations on their natural habits, and the soils best adapted to their growth; pointing out the kinds most profitable for permanent pasture, irrigated meadows, dry or upland pasture, and the alternate husbandry; accompanied with the discriminating characters of the species, and varieties.”

It is an example of ‘natural illustration’ i.e. the volume is illustrated with 123 dried specimens and 35 samples of seeds mounted on blank leaves. The Latin and English names are printed on small labels and attached to the illustration. This was a common way of labelling natural illustrations as it was simpler to allow plenty of space on the mount for variation in the size of the plants across the volumes.

151This ‘herbarium’ (collection of dried preserved specimens that document the identity of plants and fungi) is an early 19th century ecological experiment. The work was directed by Sinclair and was highly regarded by Charles Darwin who made use of it for his Origin of Species.

It is difficult to assess the Duke’s expectation of interest and sales of the volume. The Duke’s herbarium was attractive but not economically viable and later editions were printed with conventional illustrations.

It is not surprising that the production and the subsequent preservation of this type of volume presented challenges for bookbinders and conservators. Common problems with herbariums are distortion of the binding owing to the thickness of the specimens, keeping the specimens attached to the mount and staining from the plants resulting in a transferred image on the facing verso.

131Fortunately Hortus Gramineus Woburnensis is interspersed with tissue guards offering some protection to both plant and page. The tissue guards carry imprints from the plants and are also a feature of interest.

George Sinclair (1786-1834) was born in Berwickshire and his father and uncle were professional gardeners to the nobility. He superintended the gardens at Woburn Abbey for the Sixth Duke of Bedford for about seventeen years.

The sixth Duke went on to produce Salicetum Woburnense (1829) and Pinetum Woburnense (1839) with the assistance of his later Head Gardener, James Forbes.

George Sinclair went into business with Cormack & Son, nurserymen and seedsmen at New Cross. He became a fellow of both the Linnean Society and of the Horticultural Society.

The Library of the Worshipful Company of Gardeners has been housed at Guildhall Library since 1891. Library users are welcome to consult volumes from this library by signing in at the enquiry desk and showing proof of name and address (passport, utility bill, driving licence etc.) All of the Gardeners’ Library Collection can be found on the library catalogue at http://capitadiscovery.co.uk/cityoflondon/

Jeanie Smith
Assistant Librarian

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One thought on “Horticultural discoveries in Guildhall Library

  1. This entry is extremely interesting as George Sinclair was an ancestor of mine. I have done a lot of research on his work ( see Wikipedia entry) and wondered if he was in fact a member of the Gardener’s Company.

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