Dr Adam Smith talks about “blessed plots”, gardening manuals and the 18th-century garden project at Furnace Park.
Selling ‘The Garden’ in Eighteenth-Century Print Culture
’In the first of two posts postgraduate researcher Adam J Smith discusses the impact that eighteenth-century print culture had upon conceptualisations of the garden.’
A few weeks ago Jane Withers introduced us to Adam’s Luxury and Eve’s Cookery; an ‘Idiot’s Guide’ to getting the most out of your kitchen garden first published in 1744. Jane discussed the text’s production and shared with us some of the timeless advice found within (if you haven’t yet read her post it is definitely worth a look, especially if you’ve yet to discover the secret of curing headaches with onions and string). The very existence of the text also intersects with a series of historical narratives crucial to an understanding of the eighteenth-century garden as a pragmatic (and gendered) domestic space, an important component of the popular imagination, and a physical landscape symbiotically connected to the rise, diversification and steady democratisation of print culture.
Adam’s Luxury and Eve’s Cookery opens with a prefatory claim that wouldn’t be out of place in the 2014 edition of the Gardener’s World annual (although, I would hope that Monty Don might articulate this point with fractionally more tact and sympathy than his eighteenth-century predecessor):
This little treatise of Kitchen-Gardening is chiefly designed for the instruction and benefit of country people, who most of them have a little garden spot belonging to their house, and at the same time let it lie useless, for want of knowing how properly to manage it; or otherwise, if they do attempt the cropping of it, ’tis at improper season, so that they have not the desire success, which discourages them from making any farther attempts.
Our author is informing us that though many ‘country people’ have ‘a little garden spot’ the majority ‘let it lie useless’ because they don’t know ‘how properly to manage it’ (and, those who have attempted to do something with their garden have made a simple mistake which has put them off trying again).
Although I can certainly relate to the situation being described here something that is harder to imagine is that in 1744 the idea of everyday people (by “everyday people” I of course mean: people who might not have owned a country estate but were certainly well off enough to buy this book which is no mean feat at a time when it is estimated that single-author novels were still out of the affordable price range of 90% of the population) having their own garden was a new idea. Suddenly more people do have ‘a little garden spot belonging to their house’, and, fortunately for the booksellers behind Adam’s Luxury and Eve’s Cookery, they haven’t yet figured out what to do with it.
Luckily there are lots of texts which are also suddenly on hand to provide just such advice, and for the price of such a tome new gardeners could find out what it was they were expected to with their garden and how to do it.
Which begs the question: to what extent is print culture creating the garden?
At the same time that more and more people are acquiring these ‘gardening spots’ the eighteenth century also saw the emergence of Britain’s first ever twenty-four hour consumer society and the invention of cheap print. This well-documented explosion of print culture saw the market flooded with books, pamphlets, newspapers, periodicals and magazines. For the first time the success of such texts was dependent on discerning readers of the public who could now access and buy these texts on the street, rather than the author’s ability to attract and attain the royal patronage of the courts.
Popular culture was born.
And, given the sheer quantity of gardening manuals acknowledged in Jane’s last post, it seems that the people were interested in gardening (or, perhaps more cynically, the market made sure readers were increasingly aware that they were interested in gardening).
Adam’s Luxury and Eve’s Cookery couches itself a response to an urgent need: there are gardens out there that are not being used. But, to what extent is it creating this need? Are texts like this prescribing and inventing the garden that we know today in order to sell books which prescribe and invent the garden we know today? To what extent is our idea of what a garden is and should be the consequence of an eighteenth-century commercial enterprise, in which Adam’s Luxury and Eve’s Cookery is just an example of a single participant? And, are assumptions being made in texts such as this (possibly with further commercial motivations) that have subsequently become embedded in our own cultural consciousness?
For instance, a most cursory glance at the title of this example, Adam’s Luxury and Eve’s Cookery, reveals a gendering of domestic space. Obviously, as Jane’s post stresses, the title capitalises on biblical associations. The implication is that the reader’s garden becomes an Edenic space, and like Adam and Eve, the garden’s owners will become stewards over their ‘little spot’ of nature (although, given the enduring impact of John Milton’s Paradise Lost 70 years previous it is hard to image that the target audience could have imagined Eden without also associating it with the fall of man).
The title does more than this though. It situates Adam (the first man) in the garden, and Eve (the first woman) in the Kitchen; a divide which is emphasised further within the text, as the first half of the book instructs male readers on the labour necessary to create and sustain the garden where the crops will be grown and the second telling male readers what their wives must do in order to transform these crops into food.
Not only do such texts prescribe such assumptions, but as we tend to access the past through the written word they can also propagate preconceptions in our minds about what the eighteenth century was like. Just because the text genders the garden in this way (possibly for no other reason than that the readership it targets is one of fairly affluent men) was this necessarily reflected in lived reality? And if readers did not strictly adhere to the behaviour prescribed to them by print culture and market forces, how can we ever really appreciate the role of the garden in the eighteenth century?
One solution might be to access the period through texts which were not written for sale or publication, such as private letters, diaries or journals (if you haven’t seen it yet Thomas Flint is currently examining just such a journal in a series of posts examining the private writings of Parson Woodford).
In my next post I will be reflecting on the utility of findings made by the recent Nostell Priory Library Project when addressing exactly these questions. The project, which was a collaboration between the University of Sheffield’s School of English and the National Trust (directed by Dr Hamish Mathison and Dr Joe Bray), sought to contextualise a selection of medical and veterinary texts stored within the house’s magnificent and extensive eighteenth-century library using letters, receipts, invoices and other forms of ephemera. As a researcher on the project I was privileged enough to catalogue much of this material, and next time I will share some of the correspondences of two of the house’s eighteenth-century owners, Sir Rowland and Lady Sabine Winn, with a view to better understanding (and complicating) our notions of the eighteenth-century garden.
‘Post-graduate researcher and current School of English MA student, Thomas Flint, who is working on the heritage garden at Furnace Park, casts the spotlight on the diary of Parson James Woodforde: a clergyman with an inclination towards medicine and a tendency to prescribe a ‘dram of gin’ as a cure to the ailments of his congregation.’ – Adam J Smith
We might think that we know the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Much of our knowledge, however, comes from the history books; texts written much later with the benefit of considered and thoroughly informed hindsight. Some might thing they can come to know the past by observing its artefacts, now lying silently in museum cabinets or siting on display in stately homes, or by looking at paintings and drawings from the time. Historians might look to the record keepers of the past for this crucial insight, poring over accounts, ledgers, census information, marriage and death certificates or army & navy muster rolls. For those of us concerned with literature, the novels or poetry of the time promise an glimpse of the social concerns of authors and readers, as do newspapers, letters, pamphlets, and, occasionally, diaries.
It is the diary that I want to consider in this post. Diaries offer an unparalleled utility to those interested in the everyday lived life of our ancestors, and perhaps one such diary is that of James Woodforde; a pastor of a tiny parish of about thirty homes in Norfolk from 1775 to 1803.
Fascinatingly, this wasn’t always the case. When Woodforde’s diary was first published in 1924 his editor, John Beresford, noted that “the [book’s] welcome was immediate and widespread”. Prior to this, though, Woodforde had lived a life of anonymity. He isn’t even recorded by the Historical Manuscripts Commission.
The diary itself amazes. Woodforde provides a new entry to his work every day for nearly fifty years. He keeps an immaculate record of his household finances and his activities as a parson, whilst also using it as private journal; recording all the rumours, gossip and criticisms that he likely would be unable to express elsewhere. His personal routine is recorded with frankness and fairness, as are interactions with his family and parishioners, details of the weather and, very prominently, his dearest hobbies: cards, drink (as often as not purchased illegally from the local moonshiner) and good food.
While gambling, gastronomy and bootleg booze were clearly among the man’s keenest interests (he records his daily meals and their various merits and shortcomings with gusto, and in intricate course-by-course detail) he also allows space for another fascinating pastime: treating his sick parishioners with home medicine. The concoctions he would feed his ailing flock (or force upon his servants) sound exotic (sometimes barbaric) to our ears. His enthusiasm, however, for doses of “tar water” to treat consumption, henna powder for fever, and a dram of gin for just about anything else, places him amidst the transition from medieval witchdoctory to the standardised, scientific, researched approach that characterises Western medicine today. Indeed, often his practices seem more akin to the folk remedies championed by the wise women and quack doctors of the middle ages: a brush with a black cat’s tail clears up a particularly nasty stymie, the horn of a red deer ground and mixed into water and imbibed combats numbness in his hand and tongue, but “it made me very low on occasion all the day long”.
Despite his curious indebtedness to the arcane and his penchant for dosing the local farmers, the popularity of the complicated Parson Woodeford has dwindled in recent years. In some respects it is not hard to see why. His diary keeping was a miracle of self-discipline and consistency. Whether consumed by work or travelling or even on his death bed, Woodforde kept writing. Yet his life lacks the violence or excitement found in of those of Evelyn or Pepys. It contains no great events or tragedies that excite casual readers or thrill one to picture oneself in the place of the author.
As Virginia Woolf, who was fascinated by the books, put it:
“Looking through the eyes of Parson Woodforde, the different lives of men seem orderly and settled. Far away guns roar; a King falls; but the sound is not loud enough to scare the rooks here in Norfolk.”
His work was his diary, but his life he was neither adventurous nor ambitious. His diary is a record of everyday life in a small rural parish, in all seasons and moods, whether fearfully expectant of French invasion (the Parson himself comes across as remarkably unworried by the prospect) or facing the very real possibility of the assassination a revolt against the King. Woodforde is unmoved by the threat of bloody revolution and republicanism, concerned only with the daily life of a rural community in a time when technology was limited. Achieving an adequate harvest was the only thing that mattered.
Reading his work, one cannot help but better appreciate the perspective of these poor, struggling people as they battled weather, crop failure, decades of war-depleted national resources, and only the most limited understanding of (or interest in) what lies beyond the oceans, or indeed the village boundary. News travelled slowly. Travel was slow (17 hours in an uncomfortable coach to London) and a small cut could kill you (and a viral infection risked killing your whole family). Though not an exciting life, it is nonetheless a life worth reading of.
It is these challenges that the Parson reflects upon. Every ailment had a tried and tested cure, and more often than not he reports that the complaints of those subjected to his remedies recover (though perhaps more often despite his concoctions rather than thanks to them). And through all he finds his peace in a hefty three course meal, some decent plonk, a round of cards.
The importance of the lessons taught in the diary of James Woodforde bear great importance to the project unfolding in Furnace Park. His concern for the healing power of the natural world, and very real belief in the potions and powders with which he dosed his sickly neighbours, tell us of a time when man’s relationship with plants was unrecognisable to the one we share today. While the nobility of Europe laid out vast stately gardens to leisure in and spread court gossip, for the majority, in the countryside and the city, your garden was your pharmacy and your larder and not merely a pretty folly to swan around in. What your patch produced could and would extend your life. Physicians were distant, out of reach to all but the richest or those dwelling in the largest urban centres. Medicine was poorly understood and not to be trusted to your local barber or blacksmith.
This is the garden we are growing: one that would be recognisable to the everyman of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Sheffield. One familiar to the normal man or woman. A beautiful garden would be one with the potential for productivity, functionality and safeguarding your loved ones from sickness and hunger. This is the psychology of Parson Woodforde and his neighbours and it is what we seek to uncover in our project, two hundred and eleven years after his death.
Postgraduate researcher and current School of English MA Student, Jane Withers, who is working on the heritage garden at Furnace Park begins to dig up the history the allotment, unearthing as she does so its startling connection to the history of Sheffield. – Adam J Smith
Sheffield is a city to be envied. With its vast city centre parks and breath-taking views across South Yorkshire, it’s no wonder Sheffield has been branded ’the greenest city in the UK.’ But what of the less grand green spaces? What of the small patchwork quilt of humble allotments that blanket areas of the city?Peppered with private Edens of escapism, hidden away from the humdrum of city life, the industrial hub of Sheffield has shared over 300 years of its time with the lesser known history of the garden allotment.
The whereabouts of the first allotments is steeped in speculation. The exact time of their evolution from strip farming is thought to have occurred in the late seventeenth century, but strong claims have been laid to the origin of allotments en masse as having taken place here in Sheffield.
Ralph Gosling’s ‘Plan of Sheffield’
As shown in the above map (the Cathedral is circled in red), urban gardens dominated Sheffield city centre (seen by the yellow arrows radiating from the Cathedral). Although the gardens illustrated in 1736 cannot be proved as allotments (very little documentation survives alluding to the use of these plots) it was thought that the total number of gardens shown could be in excess of 200.
These plots were popular with craftsmen of the time, whose green fingers itched with creativity and cultivation. The popularity of the city centre escapes grew, and by 1780, Flavell claims that there is evidence of between 1500 and 1800 allotments being leased within the city boundaries of Sheffield (see the ‘Further Reading’ section at the end of this post). This expansion could be accredited to the discovery of a more efficient crucible method for producing steel, thoroughly placing Sheffield on the industrial map and causing a need for an alternative past time, away from the grime and smoke of the industrial sites.
It was not only steel workers who realised a demand for these little plots of paradise, but their managers as well. Middle-class businessman, made up of merchants and industrialists, used the profits of their businesses to buy land, which they then divided and leased as allotment plots to workers.
Records from the mid eighteenth century give details of the occupations of the leaseholders of 43 manorial plots within the Sheffield boundaries. Each plot would average between 150-200 square yards at a price of 0.3d. per square yard – so in decimalised terms, factoring in inflation, a 200 square yard allotment would cost £56.09 per year. Not bad for a little place of one’s own?
The occupiers of these kitchen gardens are also listed in documents from the Sheffield archives. One plot of 43 different lease owners contained:
These records build an idyllic picture of city life. The individuals, all concerned with their own trades and occupations, are apparently brought together by the promise of blue sky and green grass. You can imagine it now, the stern Schoolmaster with his sleeves rolled to the elbow, puffing on a pipe in the afternoon sun. The Widow who leases the plot next to his walks past carrying her crop of rhubarb, the Schoolmaster tilts his cap, the Widow replies with a healthy, “How are you? Any luck with the peas?”
They then become engrossed in swapping stories of leek success and lettuce failure. The Grocer strides across the plots, his little dog in tow, clutching at his radishes with pride as they blush red in the South Yorkshire heat.
“Are they for the table, or the shop?” The Schoolmaster asks, lifting his cap to just above his bushy brows, and so on and so forth the image goes.
Whether events such as these happened is entirely left to speculation and creativity, but we can be assured in the knowledge that in the eighteenth century, the people of Sheffield loved their allotments, and why shouldn’t they?
As well as being a form of escape or relaxation allotments provided crucial sustenance for working families. Fresh produce was expensive to buy, and many families lived in houses without access to gardens. Renting a plot of land was seen as an investment, for not only could the family eat their produce at the cost of a pack of seeds and time, they could also supplement their household income by selling surplus produce at local markets, adding to the already thriving market gardening scene across England.
This romantic ideal of green England was not to last untouched, and in Sheffield, the vulnerable plots of earth and natural nourishment were to come under threat from the gluttonous industrial era that boomed in Sheffield in the nineteenth century.
That is the topic for my next post, where I shall discuss and illuminate the trials and tribulations of the allotment gardeners of Sheffield in the nineteenth century. However, for now, let us bask in the spring sunshine that has graced these seven hills in the last few days, and close our eyes. Imagine the breeze ruffling the stalks of the onions around you, making the pea pods dance and the spinach flutter. You’re sat in your allotment, you breathe in the beautifully clean air as you wiggle your toes in the turf around your makeshift chair. Eden has come again, and grown by your very own hands.
Flavell, N. 2003. ‘Urban Allotment Gardens in the Eighteenth Century: The Case of Sheffield’, The
Agricultural History Review, 51(1): 95-106
This article, along with many other documents detailing Sheffield’s past, can be found in the Local Studies section of the Sheffield public library in the City Centre. Information about the local studies archive can be found via this link:
We’re pleased to announce that a free magazine about the first year of Furnace Park is now available as a pdf download:
The magazine includes articles by Amanda Crawley Jackson, Matt Cheeseman, Luke Bennett, Ivan Rabodzeenko, Katja Porohina, Jane Hodson, Joseph Moore, Millie Travis and Nathan Adams.
After September 2nd, 2000 free print copies will be distributed across Sheffield. Watch this space for details of where you can get your hands on one!
If you’d like to volunteer at Furnace Park, please email Amanda Crawley Jackson (firstname.lastname@example.org) for more information or visit the Furnace Park website