The landed estate as patron of scientific innovation: Horticulture at Woburn Abbey, 1802-1839

Smith, Paul (1983). The landed estate as patron of scientific innovation: Horticulture at Woburn Abbey, 1802-1839. PhD thesis The Open University.



This thesis is concerned with the horticultural activities that took place in the early nineteenth century at Woburn Abbey, the stately home of John Russell, sixth Duke of Bedford (1766-1839). During the sixth Duke's reign the work undertaken at Woburn involved more than simply raising fruits and vegetables for the table and landscaping the grounds, creating different kinds of garden and cultivating trees, shrubs and flowers in order to provide pleasant vistas. Bedford was an important patron of scientific horticulture and the Abbey was a centre for innovative and experimental gardening. Under the Duke's direction investigations were carried out into various aspects of horticultural science. These enquiries contributed significantly to English scientific gardening during the first half of the nineteenth century.

I shall detail the sixth Duke's patronage of science, discuss his motives and consider the scientific work he inaugurated at Woburn in relation to the wider institutional context of horticulture. Nearly all of the horticultural investigations at the Abbey were conducted by the head gardeners. The different tasks they carried out will be examined. It was their skill and effort which ensured that the Duke's ideas were put into operation. They helped to create and maintain Woburn Abbey's reputation for horticultural excellence, innovation and experiment. There will also be an evaluation of the Duke's schemes at the Abbey. Besides looking at their effect locally, their influence nationally will be appraised.

The sixth Duke of Bedford's great predilection for gardening, the role played by his estate in the development of horticultural science at this time and his efforts to foster the growth of horticulture outside the confines of his stately home make Woburn a particularly useful point from which to explore some of the technical and social aspects of this scantily documented branch of nineteenth-century science.

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