The owners of the Knutsford nurseries from the mid-18th century until its closure in 1992 are listed below. If you wish to find out more about any of them click on their name. Where there is an image click on it to enlarge it. As will be seen, a Caldwell was associated with the business from 1780, but did not become a partner until 1797. However, the business used the 1780 date for its advertising and celebrations. For more information on the anniversary celebrations of the company please see the Events and Celebrations page.
John Nickson's Will was witnessed by Samuel Hickson, John Hickson and Strethill Wright on 12 February 1809 and probate was issued on 15 April 1809. His death must therefore have been anticipated. His estate was valued at between £1,500 and £2,000. His executors were his wife Margaret Nickson and John Buckley of Over Peover. (Buckley was a relative, but the exact relationship is not given.) Nickson left:
Little is known of John Carr. He married Frances Gatley at Witton-cum-Twambrooks on 19 January 1792. He was a partner of John Nickson by 1791 and after Nickson's retirement he went into partnership with William Caldwell. He died around 1803 and his interest in the partnership was dealt with by Mr. Hollins on behalf of his daughter Mary, who had been born in 1795.
It would have been either this William or his son who took ten prizes for auriculas at the Knutsford Auricula show held at The Volunteer on 1 May 1824 and the same number of prizes at the Carnation show later that year at the same location.
When William went into partnership in Knutsford, the firm was known as Carr and Caldwell. Following Carr's death, Mr. Hollins was responsible for Carr's daughter Mary's financial interest in the partnership.
Joseph Pickin became a partner with William Caldwell (1766-1844) in September 1832, but he died suddenly, in Liverpool, on 16 October, 1835 aged 29. Mr. J.G. Greenbank sent a notice to The Gardener's Magazine which was published in the March 1836 edition. In this he described Pickin as 'a good man, of business habits, and a scientific practical botanist'.
Joseph's father (also Joseph) was the Head Gardener at Dunham Massey. Joseph junior married Sarah, the daughter of one of Caldwell's customers (Isaac Taylor of the Angel Inn, Knutsford). She was only 16 when they married and Joseph was 23. They had four children — another Joseph plus three daughters, Catherine, Mary and Amy. So Sarah was left a widow at the age of 23 with 4 children to care for. Sarah herself died only 3 years later and the children were split up, being cared for by different members of the family. The partnership of Caldwell and Pickin was not dissolved until after the second William Caldwell's death in 1852, at which time the youngest Joseph was 18 and in employment. He did not follow his father and grandfather into horticulture, instead joining Orrell's Mill in Stockport. He ended up as Manager of the Old Bank in Altrincham.
Joseph Pickin died intestate and his wife was required to fill in a form to administer his estate, which was reckoned at under £800. Pickin died 16 October, 1835 and the form was dated 18 May, 1836. Administration was granted on 8 August, 1836. Sarah Pickin, Isaac Taylor of Knutsford (inn-keeper) and John Goodier of Altringham (grocer) were bound over to pay £1,600 to the Bishop, the condition being that an inventory, etc was made of all his belongings. This was in accordance with an Act for the better settling of Intestates' estates which dated from the time of Charles II.
Following Joseph's death, his wife Sarah signed off the accounts each year until 1836 and after her death Joseph Pickin, senior did so until 1843. John Davies, MD took on the executor's role after that.
(Our thanks to Joseph Pickin's great-great-grandaughter for some of this information.)
The second William Caldwell was born when his father, who lived to be 78, was only 23, so they worked together for many years. This William was married twice and had children from each marriage. His sons were William George, from the first marriage and, from the second, John Thomas (who went on to become a surgeon and apothecary in Manchester, but died at the age of 30) and Herbert, who died aged 15. Of his daughters, Mary Jane married a local tanner/farmer Peter Walkden, and survived into the twentieth century, as did her half-sister, Anne Eliza. Emma was born in 1840 but died young. Louisa did not marry, and died at the age of 27.
When William Caldwell died, aged 63, on 12 May, 1852, he left a modest estate of less than £1,000. His will was witnessed by Francis Massey of Over Knutsford Labourer and William Alderson of Knutsford Agent on 8 May 1852. He died on 12 May 1852, so it looks as if he made his will anticipating his death. Probate was issued on 20 July 1852. Executors were his widow, Mary, son William George Caldwell and son-in-law John Siddeley, Bookseller. Value of property was under £1,000.
The will is complicated and repetitive, but the main points are:
The different approach to the children is because they had different mothers; hence the reference to the children of 'present' wife. William George, Sarah and Mary Jane were surviving children from the first marriage and Emma, John Thomas, Anne Eliza, Louisa and Herbert from the second marriage.
He had been married in 1848 to Mary Whittaker Lowe and they went on to have several children, the eldest surviving two, Alfred (born 1853) and William (born 1855), being taken into partnership with their father and although there is a record that the partnership was dissolved in 1877, four years after William George's death, for a while the company continued to be known as W. G. Caldwell & Sons. William George left nearly £7,000, a very substantial sum.
Of his children, Mary Sarah, his eldest, died aged only 11, and Annie, his second daughter in 1862. Of his sons, Alfred proved to be unreliable. He moved to Manchester, where he was a landscape gardener and then a horticultural traveller. Joseph and Frank both emigrated to Canada, but Arthur followed William's lead and joined the family firm. Of his other daughters, Hada never married and died on 27 May, 1933. Hannah followed her great-uncle into a medical career and in 1891 was a nurse at The Hospital for Sick Children in London.
William George died just as Alfred had turned 21 years of age. Within just over one year of his father's death Alfred had met his wife in London and they married in December 1874. Alfred's mother attended the marriage ceremony in London but was most likely concerned that she may have lost control over Alfred. Over the next few years Alfred proved that he did not have the maturity at such a young age to take on the responsibility of managing a business employing 40 men. His mother Mary overindulged him and records show that he was drawing £6 a week for salary which at that time was an extraordinarily high salary for a young and inexperienced nurseryman.
He then started to slip in to fraudulent activity and theft and he developed a serious drinking problem as a young man. Law suits ensued and Alfred and his family were excommunicated from the business. It appears that this was a slow and gradual process involving his mother giving him chance after chance to redeem himself. But it ended badly and finally after his mother's death in 1888 Alfred and his wife and children were severed from the business entirely. Alfred was not equipped to make a success of his life without the protective surrounds of his family and business and he led a miserable long and unfulfilled life with no doubt many regrets about his behaviour in his earlier adult years.
Alfred remained in the horticultural business. In 1881 he was described in the census as a landscape gardener, and in 1901 and 1911 as a horticultural traveller. During this period the family lived in the areas of Moss Side and Chorlton-on-Medlock in south Manchester. In 1881 there were a couple of newspaper reports regarding an Alfred Caldwell of Whalley Range, which must have referred to him (Whalley Range lies just south of Moss Side). In one, he was the victim of theft. A man named Samuel Lomax stole an ornamental shrub from Alfred's garden at Laurel Bank — a Japanese variety valued at 10 shillings and 6 pence. Mr. Lomax was found guilty and was liable to pay a fine of £20, but got off lightly, being ordered to pay just £5 plus reimburse the 10 shillings and 6 pence (although if he didn't pay he would get two months in prison).
Two years later Alfred was involved in a dispute between John Shaw and Altrincham Council. The Council had contracted with Shaw to create Stamford Park, but things didn't go smoothly and Shaw sued the Council for £700. Alfred was employed by the Council as an expert and ended up suing them for non-payment of his bill for £716 and 2 shillings. He had charged for 181 days and said the work couldn't possibly be done in the 54 days contended. Although he received some payment, he failed to win his case.
Alfred and Annie had two children. The eldest was a girl, Annie Mary Caldwell who became a school teacher and the youngest was named William George, after Alfred's father. Theirs was not a wealthy family; far from having servants, they had to take in lodgers.
This William was only 18 when his father died and, despite the dissolution of the partnership with his brother and father in 1877, the firm continued to be known as W. G. Caldwell & Sons. In 1874, advertisements appeared stating that the firm had been established in 1780, describing the range of plants they grew on 40 acres of nursery ground and stating that the company were 'prepared to furnish estimates for planting and laying out new grounds; also designs for laying out new and for renovating old-established gardens, parks, pleasure grounds, &c. &c.'
William was married (to Helen) and had two small children in 1881, when he was still only 26, at which time the firm was employing 41 men and 8 boys. William and Helen had several daughters before their son, William, was born in 1887. In addition to a large staff and growing family, William was also ensuring that the company was entering into flower shows, where several prizes were won at shows in local towns and even in north Wales from the late 1870s onwards.
CALDWELL William of Chelford-road Knutsford Cheshire died 3 March 1918. Probate London 12 June to William Caldwell nurseryman and William Clayton clerk. Effects £7545 16s 6d.
Helen Mary Caldwell, wife of William Caldwell (1855-1918) drew up her will on 21 November, 1890. It is possible that she was very ill after the birth of her final child that year although her death was not until 7 November 1894. She left everything to her husband and for some reason probate was not issued until 1907. The witnesses to Helen Mary's will included Seward Snow Gardener Over Knutsford.
This family photograph was taken on the lawn at the Nurseries in 1817, and is courtesy of David Caldwell. Centre is William Caldwell (1855-1918); seated is his son, also William (1887-1953) and William's future bride (David Caldwell's grandparents). Standing on the right is Lance Corporal Tom Caldwell of the Canadian Princess Pat's Regiment. He was killed, most likely just a few weeks after this photograph was taken, at Vimy Ridge. Old William Caldwell died about 18 months later so this is possibly the last photograph of either of them.
They had a daughter, Mary Wilkinson Caldwell and a son, Arthur Davies Caldwell. Arthur worked in legal partnership with William until William's death in 1918. After that, Arthur became senior partner of the business with his nephew, William and 2 nieces until his death in 1939. In his will Arthur stipulated that he wanted both his son and daughter to continue his partnership in the business. At this point his nephew, William vetoed this wish of his late uncle. Arthur's son, Arthur Davies Caldwell went on to establish his own business and rose nursery which was situated on the opposite side of the road to the long established Caldwell's rose nursery at Ollerton.
The women in the Caldwell family have, like so many women in the nursery trade (and elsewhere), left little trace. Sarah Winifred (Aunt Winnie to later generations) wrote a short family history in 1964, but there was little mention of herself, her concern being to record the events and memories of the previous century which would otherwise be lost. Much of this was hearsay — stories that she would have heard as a child about her parents, grandparents, great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents — and not necessarily accurate information. As a child she had been told that William I (1766-1844) was tall and stout; that his son William II (1789-1852) fell into the coal cellar and broke his nose; that William III (1824-1873) had to be at the Rev Green's house at 6 in the morning for his Latin lessons; that a number of the family were in some way associated with the medical profession: Thomas (1802-1827, son of William I) was a chemist; Thomas, son of William II, became a doctor; Hannah Maud (1867-1895, daughter of William III) trained as a nurse at Great Ormond Street.
No doubt Aunt Winnie, daughter of William IV, worked on the nursery from a young age, although this was not recorded in the census of 1901 or 1911. But in 1918, before the end of a war which had brought about 'anxiety, food shortages, black-out and terrible casualty lists' Winnie's father died and she and Maud joined her young brother William (V) as partners to Arthur Caldwell. She remained an important part of the nursery until the end of the Second World War when she retired (aged 64), giving way to her nephew, William VI.
Like her elder sister, Maud was known in the family by her second name. With Winnie, she became a partner in 1918 and unlike Winnie, she married (in 1829). She withdrew from the partnership during the 1930s.
After the death of his father in 1918 William, with Sarah Winifred and Elizabeth Maud, became a junior partner with his uncle Arthur Caldwell. Elizabeth Maud dissolved her role in the partnership in 1934 some time after she married Robert Bateson, a farmer. Arthur Caldwell died in 1939.
Arthur's son never entered the business as a partner but started up his own Caldwells nursery at his father's original home at Holly House, Ollerton.
It is thought this had much to do with the belief held by William Caldwell that Arthur had married beneath his station. William Caldwell's only daughter, the late Margaret Chattell attributed this (in discussion with David Caldwell) to the uncalled for snobbery of the times. Consequently this caused a rift that extended through the next generation of Caldwells. By all accounts William Caldwell had a severe, disciplinarian side to him.
Throughout the years of World War II the business went into decline because some of the land had to be used to grow potatoes for the War effort. But the war years were not a good time for businesses and William's wife Margaret became ill and immobilised with osteoarthritis.
William went to Rydal School in Colwyn Bay until he was 15 in 1937. His parents then placed him with the nurserymen Coles of Leicester for 12 months. He was in digs there and he had a bicycle. He then returned to the Knutsford nursery. William spent 6 months in the Home Guard before volunteering for the Army. After a medical in Manchester, he joined the Queens Bays Regiment which was based in Warminster and had 6 months training and learned to drive tanks.
In Egypt he drove a Crusader Tank, sleeping underneath it at night. The average life expectancy for these tanks in that place was 6 weeks. His tank was hit by a shell and he was badly wounded by shrapnel on his right arm, his hand and wrist and his face, losing his sight for six weeks. Classified as missing in action, he spent 6 months in hospital in Cairo. After a further 4 months driving tanks he was sent to Sicily where he spent the remainder of the War attached to an airbase, loading and unloading aircraft and driving trucks.
William returned from the War after demobilisation in 1946. Aunt Winnie retired from the partnership and this allowed William and his younger sister Margaret to enter the business in 1946 as junior partners with their father William. Informally this began on June 30th 1946 and formally on 19 May 1947. Later, upon her marriage, Margaret withdrew from the partnership leaving William as sole proprietor after his father's death in 1953.
William commenced married life in Bramble Cottage, Chelford Road. The family moved to the Nurseries in 1954 after William Caldwell senior died and William junior's mother relocated to Woodvale Rd, Knutsford
William was a well regarded and respected local businessman. He was a hardworking, clear thinking, self-disciplined and very business focused man. It is open for debate that his one major failing may have been that he was not well equipped with the business concept of succession planning. Consequently after his retirement and the sale of the business it ceased trading in the early 1990s.
William was an active participant and past president of the Knutsford Branch of the Rotary Club. He was also a member and past president of Knutsford Golf Club.
For many years whilst their family were growing up William and Mavis had their annual holiday in Anglesey at Benllech Bay and Moelfre. As their children left home they expanded their horizons for their annual holidays travelling abroad. One of their favourite places was Corsica.
Following World War II and with the retirement of Aunt Winnie, Margaret Caldwell, daughter of William V and sister of William VI, was taken into partnership. The de facto start was 1 July 1946 although the official paperwork was not completed until 19 May 1947. The partnership agreement records the business as being 'nurserymen, seedsmen and landscape gardeners'.
Don Leaman is the grandson of Arthur Caldwell (1865-1939). Arthur had two children — Arthur Davies Caldwell and Mary Wilkinson Caldwell — and both children were left Arthur's share in the partnership of Caldwell & Sons. There was a big age difference between Arthur Davies and his cousin William V (15 years) and they did not get on. Young Arthur was not allowed to take his place in the business. Mary Wilkinson Caldwell married and it was her son Don Caldwell Leaman who eventually took his place in the firm alongside William VI.