11th May 2021 – Crowdsourcing Enquiries

The Museum is asked to help on all kinds of enquiries – and the most satisfying kind are the ones when multiple organisations and individuals work together to pool all knowledge resources.

In December we received a mail from Joanna Miles, who is a volunteer at Clumber Park

“I am researching the history of the gardens (and gardeners) here. I am particularly interested to trace the history of some of the key individuals who worked in the gardens.  We were very fortunate to find a diary written by a journeyman gardener there, Noah Shaw.

Noah Shaw, worked as a journeyman gardener in the Walled Kitchen Garden in 1888. The diary begins on Christmas Eve 1887 and runs until early May 1888, and provides quite detailed accounts of Noah’s daily activities in the gardens and the plants grown there, along with notes of occasional weekend and other visits.

I am trying to track Noah, but he’s quite elusive!  I have found a Noah Shaw in the 1881 Census at Powderham Castle Gardens in Devon, aged 20, who may well be the same as my Noah.  Taking this Noah’s birth details (1860, Macclesfield), he may be the same Noah Shaw who died in 1899 aged just 38 at Bury Hill, Westcott, Surrey”

Bury Hill
Bury Hill House
© Dorking Museum

Our archives don’t contain the details of the individuals who worked at Bury Hill, so we reached out to John Clachan at Westcott Local History Group to see what they had – and also sent the enquiry off to Capel historian Mary Day, who studied Bury Hill Estate for a Landscape Studies degree.

Noah and Charlotte Shaw and Sarah Ann Gamble in Westcott Churchyard
Photo courtesy of WLHG

John tracked down Noah’s grave in Westcott Churchyard and was able to send a photo of that off to Jo, and Mary was able to provide lots of information from her research.

Deepdene Gardens 1899 © Dorking Museum

We found out that Noah had changed his name to James and worked as Head Gardener at the Deepdene from 1890 to 1894. He and his wife, Charlotte lived at 10 Moores Road, Dorking, which, at that time may have been part of the Deepdene Estate. In 1894, the Duchess of Marlborough moved into the Deepdene, but unfortunately for Noah, she had her own Head Gardener, which meant Noah lost his job and his house.

Mowing the lawn at Bury Hill, c1910 Image: Dorking Museum
Mowing the lawn at Bury Hill, c1910
Image: Dorking Museum

The next report of Noah is his death notice. He had been employed by the Barclays at Bury Hill, not as a Head Gardener, but as a more lowly domestic gardener. Noah died on 17th March 1899 aged 38. His wife Charlotte gave birth to their son, Charles only a few days later. Robert Barclay allowed Charlotte, accompanied by her sister, Sarah Ann, and Charles to stay on the Bury Hill Estate living in “The Mount”, Westcott until at least 1911.

Another enquiry came in at the same time from Liz Croft who has family links to Croft Castle in Herefordshire.

She wrote “We are trying to re-establish Croft Castle pear trees at Croft Castle in Herefordshire. I have just learnt that the most recent sighting was at the National Pear Conference at Chiswick in 1885, when it was exhibited by J. Burnett of The Gardens, The Deepdene, Dorking. I wonder if any pear trees still remain at Deepdene?”

Museum volunteer, Sue Tombs, who also volunteers at the Deepdene Trail, wrote to Liz “We have not yet managed to find any old Croft Castle pear trees, but there is an appeal out for any information to residents of Deepdene Gardens. Deepdene Gardens now covers the area of the old kitchen gardens to Deepdene House. We are pretty certain that any pear trees would have been in the kitchen gardens, rather than in the gardens to the House.”

We wondered if possibly Noah may have bought any pear tree cuttings with him when he travelled from Clumber Park (via Welbeck Abbey) to the Deepdene – and contacted Jo to see if Clumber Park had any trees. Sadly, they don’t have that variety of pear – but it started a conversation between Liz and Jo for potential new places to look for the pears.

The Museum is so happy to be able to help out with queries such as this one – and we are so lucky to have experts and organisations in the surrounding areas that we are able to reach out to.

Thanks to Joanna Miles, Liz Croft, John Clachan and Mary Day, we are now able to add the story of Noah Shaw and his wife Charlotte to our archive.

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