item JHOR/1/1/2 - Formula to skeletonise leaves

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Formula to skeletonise leaves


  • c1870-c1902 (Creation)

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1 sheet.

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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 dome was passed down through the Elton family, and was briefly in the custody of Heslington horticulturalist, before its accidental destruction in 2016.

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A single sheet of notes containing Hornby's formula to skeletonise leaves. Skeletonising leaves was in vogue during Victorian times and involved soaking plant material, removing the fleshy parts and leaving the epidermis, or skeleton. James Hornby’s method for skeletonizing leaves included adding leaves to a boiling solution of washing soda and slaked lime. The leaves were then removed and rubbed between finger and thumb under clean water to separate the epidermis. Finally the epidermis was bleached, rinsed in cold water and floated onto slips of paper to dry. Using this method he produced an elaborate display of skeletonized leaves and plants, contained in a glass dome.


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