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Early location of Caldwells nursery

shop front
Caldwells shop on Chelford Road. Courtesy of David Caldwell.

Very little is known about the earliest plant nurseries — and the Knutsford Nursery is one of the earliest known. It was founded (or taken over) by John Nickson in the middle of the 18th century. John Nickson, described as 'of Over Knutsford, Gardiner' on 27th September, 1759 when his son Joseph was baptised, was probably the son of Joseph Nixon of Over Knutsford, Gardiner who was buried on 21st June, 1755 and Sarah, his wife buried on Sept 25th, 1759. We know that the nursery was well established by 1784 when Bailey's British Directory listed John Nixon as Botanist, Gardener and Seedsman, but early nurserymen were often referred to simply as Gardeners, so it is possible that John Nickson was continuing his father's profession.

Four years before the 1784 directory was published, the first William Caldwell arrived in Knutsford., There, at the age of 14, he was apprenticed to John Nickson. William's father was a nurseryman at Knowsley in Lancashire and also had a business in Liverpool for the sale of flour. William was born at Radshaw Nook near Knowsley in 1766. Following his apprenticeship, he ran the Knowsley nursery until in 1797 he sold it to Thomas Caldwell of Wavertree for £100. He returned to Knutsford when John Nickson retired. John Carr (Nickson's junior partner) took Caldwell into partnership and the nursery name changed from Nickson & Carr to Carr & Caldwell.

Caldwell's nursery grounds in the 1840s

The Cheshire Tithe maps (which date from the 1840s) indicate that William Caldwell owned a great deal of land in the parishes of Nether Knutsford, Great Budworth, Rostherne, Middlewich, Davenham and Frodsham. Much of this land was tenanted by others. He owned nursery grounds in Nether Knutsford at Shaw Heath and at Ollerton. He rented nursery grounds either side of Chelford Road in Knutsford from Peter Legh of Booths Hall.

At Shaw Heath on the Mobberley Road, just beyond the fire station and road to Parkgate Industrial Estate, William Caldwell owned 5 plots of land totalling a little over 7 acres. About 4 acres of the middle and bottom nursery were laid to grass and nearly 2 acres were in use as a nursery at the time the Tithe Map was drawn (date unknown but likely to have been around 1848).

At Ollerton William Caldwell's nursery comprised 3 plots totalling nearly 4 acres of nursery grounds in 1848.

In Knutsford William Caldwell rented 4 plots of nursery grounds from Peter Legh north of Chelford Road where the nursery remained until it closed in 1992. These comprised: Nursery by Carriage Road — garden; Second Croft — meadow; House, building, yard and garden; and New nursery (situated to the south of the other plots and suggesting recent establishment). This land totalled just over 8 acres. On the opposite side of Chelford Road, a site later occupied by glasshouses and now by housing, William Caldwell rented three plots of ground — the old nursery, lower nursery and Bancroft pasture totalling about 6.75 acres. He also rented part of a triangular plot of ground at the junction of the Chelford and Mobberley Roads as nursery ground, about 1.5 acres.

So in the late 1840s the nurseries of William Caldwell occupied over 27 acres in Nether Knutsford, which makes for a substantial business. We know from writers that nurseries of up to 50 acres existed, but that between 4 and 20 acres was usual.

Caldwell's nursery grounds and shops in Knutsford post 1950

Caldwell's Nurseries and the main nursery on Chelford Road finally closed in January 1992. The tree nursery on Lord Egerton's land had been developed for housing by the 1970s. The flower shop passed from Caldwell's to the shop manager Jack Daniels in 1966, and he operated the business until his death in 1976. The images below are plans of Knutsford showing the nursery locations.

Ollerton nursery

When Caldwell's expected to move the centre of their business to a new base on the Ollerton site they intended to develop an Arboretum at the bottom of the Rose Nursery. The area had quite an interesting lily pond. The image below is a plan of the Ollerton Nursery location.

Barnshaw nursery

Orchard Farm was bought in 1958 and became the Barnshaw Nursery. Jim Stephens carried out drainage work at Orchard Farm, on the land rented from the Peover Estate and at the Rose nursery. When Barnshaw Nursery was sold the land had to be cleared. All remaining trees were pulled up and burnt. The image below is a plan of the Barnshaw Nursery location.

Historic images of Caldwell's shop and nurseries

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