fonds BN - Backhouse Nursery Archive

Identity area

Reference code



Backhouse Nursery Archive


  • c 1815 - 2011 (Creation)

Level of description


Extent and medium

0.03 cubic metres

2 boxes

Context area

Name of creator


Administrative history

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.

Archival history

Immediate source of acquisition or transfer

The archive was deposited at the Borthwick Institute in 2010. Further additions were made to the archive in 2011 and 2013.

Content and structure area

Scope and content

Glass slides relating to the Backhouse Nursery, c.1815-c.1955; James Backhouse Erica Carnea Catalogue, 1911; wage slip for Miss V. Roberts (later Storr), Aug 1950; CD of oral history interview with Daphne Hamilton relating to the Backhouse Nursery slides deposited by the Yorkshire Gardens Trust, 2011.


Further accruals are expected.

System of arrangement

Conditions of access and use area

Conditions governing access

Records are open to the public, subject to the overriding provisions of relevant legislation, including data protection laws. 24 hours' notice is required to access photographic material.

Conditions governing reproduction

A reprographics service is available to researchers subject to the access restrictions outlined above. Copying will not be undertaken if there is any risk of damage to the document. Copies are supplied in accordance with the Borthwick Institute for Archives' terms and conditions for the supply of copies, and under provisions of any relevant copyright legislation. Permission to reproduce images of documents in the custody of the Borthwick Institute must be sought.

Language of material

  • English

Script of material

Language and script notes

Physical characteristics and technical requirements

Includes audio compact disc. Access to audiovisual material may be restricted due to technical requirements, please contact the Borthwick Institute for further information.

Finding aids

The archive has not yet been catalogued.

Allied materials area

Existence and location of originals

Existence and location of copies

The Backhouse Nursery slides listed above have been digitised and can be viewed online through the University of York Digital Library:

Related units of description

Related descriptions

Notes area

Alternative identifier(s)

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Subject access points

Name access points

Genre access points

Description control area

Description identifier

Institution identifier


Rules and/or conventions used

ISAD (G): General International Standard Archival Description, International Council on Archives (2nd edition, 2000); Rules for the construction of personal, place and corporate names, National Council on Archives (1997).

Level of detail

Dates of creation revision deletion

Created by S. A. Shearn, 17.10.16.




Accession area