Guildhall Library has been the home of the Library of the Worshipful Company of Gardeners since 1891. In April of that year, the Company passed a resolution to grant funds for the purchase of books to develop a library of horticulture at Guildhall Library, for the use of City workers. The sum granted was five guineas and three guineas per year thereafter.
The Company’s collection has offered horticultural reading pleasure to our library users ever since and now contains over five hundred volumes. To these are added volumes from our own London history collections, celebrating the history of gardening in the capital.
William Curtis (1746–1799) was apprenticed as an apothecary. He established a reputation as a botanist, which by the 1770s led to his appointment as Demonstrator of Plants and Director of the Society of Apothecaries’ Chelsea Physic Garden. Curtis’ own garden was at Lambeth, situated near the present Old Vic Theatre.
This image is from Curtis’ “Flora Londinensis: Containing a History of the Plants Indigenous to Great Britain, Illustrated by Figures of the Natural Size.”
In this lavishly illustrated series, Curtis attempted to document all the flowering species within a ten-mile radius of London. Later bound in six volumes, “Flora” was first published in seventy-two parts. Descriptions of the plants in each issue were accompanied by six copperplate prints by botanical artists such as Sydenham Edwards (1768– 1819), James Sowerby (1757–1822) and William Kilburn (1745–1818). Issues sold with uncoloured plates cost two shillings and six pence, one with hand coloured plates cost five shillings and “special care in colouring” could be purchased for seven shillings and sixpence per issue.
The first volume of “Flora Londinensis” was produced in 1777 but the final volume was published over 20 years later (1798). Despite acclaim for his achievement, only three hundred copies of “Flora” were printed owing to the expense of producing them.
The Gardeners’ Collection includes several botanical periodicals from the 18th & 19th centuries including Curtis’ “Botanical Magazine” which first appeared in 1787 and is still being published.
Guildhall Library holds Curtis’ “Botanical Magazine” from the first volume in 1787 to Volume 114 in 1888.
This image is from the first volume, of the “Botanical Magazine” and depicts a scarlet bizarre carnation called Franklin’s Tartar, so named because the seedling was raised by a Mr Franklin of Lambeth Marsh. It is by Sydenham Edwards who was talent spotted and introduced to Curtis when he was just nineteen years old. This was his first illustration for Curtis, but he became a key illustrator for the “Flora Londinensis” creating twenty-one of the plates (including Leontodon Taraxacum shown above).
The “Botanical Magazine” was issued on the first day of the month priced at one shilling which included three hand coloured engravings so was more affordable than “Flora Londinensis.”
Here is another illustration from the “Botanical Magazine” showing geranium peltatum or the ivy leafed geranium. The artist is James Sowerby.
No artist is named for this common passionflower which just states “Published by W Curtis, Botanic Garden, Lambeth Marsh” at the foot of the page.
Production of the two publications I have highlighted overlapped, but it was “The Botanical Magazine” which brought commercial success for Curtis. He is said to have commented that “Flora Londinensis” brought him praise but the “Botanical Magazine” brought him pudding!
Jeanie Smith, Assistant Librarian.