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- J. Backhouse & Son
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The Backhouse Nursery of York was founded in 1815 by James Backhouse (1794-1869) and his brother Thomas (1792-1845). The brothers, who came from a family of naturalists and horticulturalists, had purchased the nursery business of John and George Telford, situated at Tanner Row, York.
The business was flourishing by 1821, its catalogue listing a wide variety of trees, shrubs, culinary and aquatic plants and gardening tools, as well as offering 'Plantations undertaken by the acre' and the service of 'experienced gardeners' to gentlemen.
In 1831 James travelled to Australia and Mauritius to carry out missionary and humanitarian work but whilst there he also collected plants and seeds which he sent back to the York nursery and to his friend, William Hooker, Professor of Botany at Glasgow University. He later described his travels in two books, 'Narrative of a Visit to the Australian Colonies', published in 1843, and 'Narrative of a Visit to Mauritius and South Africa', published in 1844.
In 1841 the building of York Railway Station forced the Backhouses to move the nursery to Fishergate, although the railway itself created new and lucrative opportunities for more efficient distribution of plants and seeds from York.
Thomas Backhouse died in 1845 and James' son, also called James (1825-1890), joined his father in the management of the business, overseeing the further relocation of the nursery to a 100 acre site at Holgate, York. Both had a keen interest in alpine plants and travelled together in the highlands of Britain and on the continent, collecting specimens.
Following James' death in 1869, the business was continued by his son, James, and grandson, also James. By 1890 the business maintained forty greenhouses and an underground fernery and was at the height of its prosperity. In 1891 the family formed a new company, Backhouse Nurseries (York) Ltd.
The difficult economic climate at the turn of the twentieth century however marked the beginning of the nursery's decline, exacerbated by the Land Tax of 1910 and the effects of the First World War. Demand for trained gardeners and expensive, labour intensive, estate gardens and plantations, had declined and the business faced competition from other nurserymen.
Much of the land had to be sold in 1921, and in 1955 The York Nursery ceased trading. The remaining 28 acres of land was bought by York City Corporation to be used as a public park.
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Jenny Asquith, 'The Backhouse Nursery of York, 1815-1955' (http://www.parksandgardens.org/explore/topics/176-historical-profiles/481-the-backhouse-nursery-of-york-1815-1955?showall=&limitstart=)
Peter Davis, ‘Backhouse family (per. c.1770–1945)’, in The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford 2004; online edn, May 2010 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/56500, accessed 17 Oct 2016]