Early location of Caldwells nursery
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.
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 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.