fonds JR - Records of James Russell

Identity area

Reference code



Records of James Russell


  • c 1939-1996 (Creation)

Level of description


Extent and medium

2.22 cubic metres

72 boxes, 1 oversize box of plan folders, and 131 rolls

Context area

Name of creator


Biographical history

James Philip Cuming Russell was born on 3 April 1920 and educated at Eton College where he won the Harmsworth Memorial Prize for his botanical drawing in 1935. He had intended to read Botany at Cambridge University but after the outbreak of World War II he instead joined the Hertfordshire Yeomanry, being invalided out of the army in 1942. It was following his discharge that Russell became involved with Sunningdale Nurseries, founded in 1846 and acquired by Russell’s father and cousin before the war. In 1956 horticulturalist Graham Stuart Thomas joined Sunningdale as nursery manager, combining his work there with a role as gardens advisor to The National Trust. Famous for its rhododendrons and roses, the work of Russell and Thomas at Sunningdale is credited with restoring the nursery’s fortunes.

In 1968 Russell’s personal connection to Sunningdale came to an end when it was sold to Waterers, although he continued to work with Waterers in a consultancy role. Between 1968 and 1984 Russell was resident horticultural consultant to George Howard, Baron Howard of Henderskelfe, a close friend from his time at Eton and the owner of Castle Howard in Yorkshire. During his time at Castle Howard Russell oversaw the creation of the Rose Garden and Ray Wood and the beginning of the arboretum in the 1970s. Russell’s work at Castle Howard came to an end with the death of George Howard in 1984, although he continued to be involved with the Plant Centre he had established there.

Alongside his work at Sunningdale and Castle Howard Russell also undertook design and consultancy work for private clients. In 1950 Russell had been asked to design a landscape for Seaton Delaval Hall in Northumberland at the request of Lord Hastings, a fellow Eton pupil, and from there on he became principally concerned with garden design, designing and creating landscapes for a variety of high profile private clients both at home and abroad. These included Hugh and Gavin Astor, the Earl of Carnarvon, and the Duchess of Westminster in the UK, as well as Sir Nicholas Nuttall at Nassau in the Bahamas and Lady Wimborne in Normandy.

Russell also undertook a number of corporate projects, notably for architectural firm Arup Associates at Gateway House in Basingstoke, the headquarters of the paper merchants Wiggins Teape Ltd, in 1973-1981, and at the Colchester factory of the sweet manufacturer Trebor in 1978-1979. Between 1987 and 1991 he also acted as advisor to the Seiyo Corporation during the landscaping of the Mount Akagi Nature Observation Park in Japan. His work on the project necessitated several visits to the park and was covered in the newsletter of the Royal Horticultural Society of Japan.

Russell was recognised as an expert on botany and landscape design during his lifetime and made a number of contributions to that field of study. He travelled abroad on plant hunting expeditions, visiting America (1967), Madagascar (1979), Nassau, Georgia, the Bahamas, Martinique and France (1980), Sri Lanka (1981), and Mexico (1984). In 1985 he was part of the expedition led by John Simmons, a friend and then curator of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, to study plants in Guizhou, a province of the new People’s Republic of China that had previously been closed to Western visitors.

He also wrote or contributed to several published works. In 1955 he co-authored ‘Old Garden Roses’ with Wilfred Blunt and Sacheverell Sitwell; in 1960 he published 'Rhododendrons at Sunningdale' and in 1962 he became involved with the Shell Garden Scheme, drawing up a list of gardens for the ‘Shell Guide to English Gardens’ in 1977. Later he wrote about his work at Castle Howard, notably ‘The Dairies Castle Howard’ by James Russell in Interiors magazine (June, 1983) and ‘James Russell’ in The English Garden Room, edited by Emily Dickinson (London, 1986).

In 1981 Russell received the Royal Horticultural Society’s Gold Veitch Medal and in 1988 their highest award, the Victoria Medal of Honour, in recognition of his work. In 1994 he received an honorary doctorate from the University of York for his contribution to botany and conservation.

James Russell retired in 1992 and died on 28 April 1996, aged 76.

Archival history

Before the deposit of the archive in the University of York the papers appear to have been kept with James Russell, rather than having been lodged permanently with the business he was involved with. Many files relate to landscapes designed whilst Russell was connected with Sunningdale Nurseries, which he left following its acquisition by Waterers in 1968 (itself acquired by Northcutts Nurseries in 1982), and with Exotic Plants, Castle Howard. Following his departure from Castle Howard, the paperwork appears to have been kept at his other residences, with papers being shipped to the University of York from Scotland in a trunk.

Immediate source of acquisition or transfer

Russell deposited the papers before his retirement, via the Garden History Society.. The archive was deposited at the Borthwick Institute of Historical Research, University of York in June 1995, after being housed at the Institute of Advanced Architectural Studies, University of York since 1993. Further additions were made to the archive in 1996, 1997, 1999, 2003 and 2004.

Content and structure area

Scope and content

Files and rolled plans comprising correspondence, orders, quotations, invoices, confirmation and delivery notes, photographs, maps, plant lists and planting plans relating to work undertaken for individual clients, 1950-1992; Sunningdale Nurseries reports, 1939-1949, 1964-1965; correspondence, financial and business arrangements, plant lists, planting plans and sketches relating to Sunningdale Nurseries, 1952-1979 and its acquisition by Waterers, 1968-1970; correspondence, exhibition and planting plans, photographs, sketches and promotional literature concerning Russell's involvement with the Daily Mail Ideal Homes Exhibition, 1962-1963, 1973-1974; correspondence, book lists, plant lists and reports relating to the Royal Horticultural Society, 1970-1988; correspondence, plant lists, catalogues and plans concerning rhododendrons at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew and Wakehurst Place, and at Windsor Great Park, 1978-1987; correspondence, information booklets, plant lists, licenses and forms relating to the Ministry of Agriculture, 1979-1990; correspondence with and articles published by the American Magnolia Society, 1984-1985; correspondence, costings, import and export forms, invoices and plant lists relating to the establishment of the Plant Centre at Castle Howard, 1984-1990; photocopies of notes prepared by Russell regarding current ownership of properties on which he had worked and the condition of their gardens, whether work had been completed and reasons for the delay or abandonment of projects, [?1993]; sale catalogue of Russell's library, n.d.

Additional uncatalogued material, including correspondence, photographs and rolls of plans, 1947-1996.


Further accruals are not 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

Citation, quotation or reproduction of the papers must not identify extant gardens that are not accessible to the public, except with the written permission of the garden owner. A copy of this permission must be given to the Borthwick Institute in advance of any such citation, quotation or reproduction.

A reprographics service is available to researchers. 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
  • Japanese

Script of material

Language and script notes

Physical characteristics and technical requirements

Finding aids

A published catalogue, 'The Archive of James Russell, garden designer, deposited at the Borthwick Institute, University of York' by Katrina Legg (York, 2003) is available in the searchroom of the Borthwick Institute. Copies of the catalogue can also be purchased through the University of York's online shop. This does not include the 2004 deposit, which has not yet been catalogued.

Allied materials area

Existence and location of originals

Existence and location of copies

Related units of description

Related records are deposited at the Borthwick Institute as part of the Yorkshire Gardens Trust Archive.

Related descriptions

Notes area

Alternative identifier(s)

Access points

Place access points

Name 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 22.04.15. Revised 28.09.15.




Accession area