The Wonders of George Loddiges’ Botanical Cabinet

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Botanical Cabinet Title Page (Reference Volume 2, GC 1.4)

George Loddiges (1786–1846) was a nurseryman who publicised his collections of plants and ferns in a publication called The Botanical Cabinet. The serial which ran from 1817-1833 was essentially a business sale catalogue, but one of great beauty, which eventually included around 2000 coloured plates of rare plants from around the world.

The Loddiges’ Hackney business was founded by George’s father, Conrad, a native of Hanover, and their nursery was on the site of the current Hackney Town Hall (Mare Street). The family firm was already thriving but George was to be an innovative businessman in his use of this publication and in the development of an unusual and very special collection of plants.

The arboretum at the Hackney site was begun in 1816 and a decade later Loddiges were offering 2600 hardy trees and shrubs in their catalogue but there were more innovations to come.

By the 1820s The Conrad Loddiges & Sons Nursery had also established an international reputation for the growing of tropical orchids and they were probably the first British firm to cultivate them commercially. Many of these orchids were to appear in ‘The Botanical Cabinet’ and by 1839 George Loddiges was able to produce the firm’s first catalogue devoted to their sale. In honour of his achievements, two orchids were named after him, Acropera Loddigesii which he introduced from Mexico and Cattleya Loddigesii from Brazil.

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Botanical Cabinet No.78 ‘Orchis Spectabilis’. George Loddiges designed this illustration and George Cooke engraved it. (Reference Volume 1, GC 1.4).

The collection of palms established by the nursery was extraordinary, mostly owing to George’s innovative use and development of hot houses. By the early 1830s his Grand Palm House was bursting to the frame with palms, ferns and orchids. The structure was 80 feet long, 60 feet wide and 40 feet high, the air was warmed by steam and the building had a platform from which one could view the tropical plant collection. Loddiges were already at the centre of the fern craze, offering around eighty exotic specimens by the late 1820s.

Loddiges Nursery was a popular attraction and the collection received numerous visitors from across Europe. John Loudon called the Palm House the largest hot-house in the world and it was said to display the best collection of palms and orchids in Europe. Loddiges also offered a large collection of camellias. The scale of the Palm House was unrivalled at the time predating the stove conservatory at Chatsworth (1836-40) and Decimus Burton’s Palm House at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew (1848) demonstrating the innovative nature of Loddiges’ business.

In 1836 George Loddiges produced a catalogue which included 1549 roses alone and there were always potted plants for visitors to buy. ‘The Botanical Cabinet’ ran alongside the firm’s catalogues producing a colour guide to what could be seen and purchased at their Hackney botanic nursery garden. Many of the drawings were made by George himself and some by his daughter Jane and the young Edward Cooke (Jane’s husband) who became a leading Victorian artist. The publication is valued for its engravings, most of which are by Edward’s father, George Cooke. The engravings could not be reprinted because all 2000 of the copper plates were stolen.

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Botanical Cabinet No33 ‘Liparia Hirsuta’, a native of the Cape which was introduced in 1792. George Loddiges designed this particular illustration and George Cooke engraved it (Reference Volume 1, GC 1.4).

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Botanical Cabinet No.31 Crinum Erubescens. The artist was George Cooke (Reference Volume 1, GC 1.4).

George Loddiges died in Hackney on 5th June 1846 and was buried at St John-at-Hackney. His son Conrad continued to run the nurseries with his Uncle William Loddiges but rising land prices and increased pollution were factors in the final end of the nursery in 1852.

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Post Office London Directory for 1827

Jeanie Smith
Assistant Librarian

Find out more…

Guildhall Library holds a full run of The Botanical Cabinet 1817-1833 (Reference GC 1.4) which forms part of the Library of the Worshipful Company of Gardeners. If you would like to visit to look at these volumes do bring along proof of your name and address.

A.R.P. Hayden, ‘Loddiges, George (1786–1846)’, rev. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/37683, accessed 9 May 2016]
Access in the library or online with a City of London library card.

David Solman
Loddiges of Hackney: The Largest Hothouse in the World
The Hackney Society, 1995.
Reference SL 45.5

Feeding London: The Forgotten Market Gardens exhibition is at Guildhall Library until the 24th June.

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