fonds JHOR - James Hornby Archive

Identity area

Reference code



James Hornby Archive


  • 1854-2018 (Creation)

Level of description


Extent and medium

0.014 cubic metres

2 boxes

Context area

Name of creator


Biographical history

James Hornby was baptised at Paythorne, Gisburn, in June 1840. Born to weavers Richard and Mary Hornby, he was the eldest of five sons and by the age of 20 was working an an under gardener. In October 1867, he married Mary Milnes Cupit in Eckington, Derbyshire. At the time of their marriage he was living at Clifton Castle, the private estate of the Pulleine family, and presumably working on the estate's extensive landscaped pleasure grounds and gardens. Three years later in 1870, he became the head gardener at Heslington Hall which at that time was the seat of the Yarburgh family. Although they had no children of their own, for many years James and Mary Hornby shared their home with Mary’s neice, Annie Cupit, who lived them from a young age.

James Hornby was responsible for all aspects of the gardens at Heslington Hall and his early diary of operations includes details of fruits, vegetables and flowers grown in the gardens and greenhouses. In a 1900 article about Heslington Hall in Country Life it is noted that: “The gardens occupy a notable place in the history of English gardening”, “It is a garden of strange character, such as we like to linger in”, and “A quaint old garden, with the charms which belong to modern times, a placid lake and a splendid park, must needs (sic) be famous even among the great domains and fair gardens in which Yorkshire is so rich”. Aside from Hornby’s diary of operations, which covers the first 18 months of his 32 years service, little detailed information is available about his life and work but under his direction, a large specimen (approximately 8m tall) of Agave Americana Variegata was grown at Heslington and exhibited elsewhere. In 1896 he was awarded first prize for pears by the Darlington Gardeners’ Institute. James Hornby would remain at Heslington Hall for the rest of his life, dying there in August 1902 after 32 years service. He is buried in the parish church of St Paul, Heslington.

Archival history

The documents in the archive were in the custody of Annie Elton, and subsequently her descendants. Part of the archive, including two photographs and a glass dome of skeletonised leaves were temporarily in the custody of Heslington horticulturalist George Smith. The two photographs were transferred to the Hornby archive in June 2016. The glass dome, latterly returned to the custody of a descendant of the Elton family, was irreparably damaged in the same year.

Immediate source of acquisition or transfer

The archive was deposited with the Borthwick Institute by the Elton family in June 2016.

Content and structure area

Scope and content

Personal papers of James Hornby 1870-1872; birth and death certificates for the Elton family; Letters, predominantly to Mary Hornby after James Hornby's death, 1896-1913; Press article 1900; Photographs of James Hornby, the Elton family and Heslington Hall c1870-c1902; Artefacts including the medal for pears won by James Hornby in 1896 and an embroidered sampler and reproduction, made by Mary Cupit (later Hornby), c. 19th century.


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
  • Latin

Script of material

Language and script notes

Physical characteristics and technical requirements

Finding aids

A typescript finding aid, to item level, is available for consultation in the searchroom of the Borthwick Institute.

Allied materials area

Existence and location of originals

Existence and location of copies

Related units of description

Further material on Heslington Hall and the Yarburgh family is held by the Borthwick Institute as part of the Yarburgh Muniments collection.

Related descriptions

Notes area

Alternative identifier(s)

Access points

Genre access points

Description control area

Description identifier

Institution identifier

GB 193

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 26.07.16




Accession area