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Delivery Arrangements

horse cart

During their 200 hundred years of business Caldwell's Nurseries faced a huge challenge with their delivery arrangements. Transport evolved and changed enormously over that period.

The business was well placed in Knutsford to utilise various delivery methods: in the 18th century there were turnpike roads, the accessible sea port of Liverpool and a growing network of waterways. Then from the 1830s railways were built giving faster, efficient delivery of goods. Knutsford station opened in 1862 close to the nurseries. In the 20th century motorised transport took the place of horses and carts and provided a relatively cheap, efficient means of transporting plants. The nurseries were close to a network of greatly improved roads, including the M6 motorway which opened in phases between 1958 and 1972.

The oral histories mention large deliveries of plants and the collection of plants by town councils and local gardeners. The sections below give information on carriage and delivery in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Carriage by road

Travel by road in the 18th century was very slow, the roads being rutted and muddy and made worse as coach and cart traffic increased. Cumbersome stage coaches drawn by four or six horses travelled at four miles an hour; the journey from Manchester to London took 4 ½ days. After 1784 journeys became faster with the introduction of mail coaches which carried passengers and goods.

Turnpikes were created in the latter half of the 18th century with sections of road maintained by local trusts which erected turnpike gates and collected tolls. The trusts used the income to pay for labour and materials to maintain the roads. A turnpike road of twelve miles between Macclesfield and Nether Tabley near Knutsford was built in 1769 and had three main tollgates. This road joined the turnpike on the original Roman road between Manchester and Chester.

tollhouse northwich road knutsford
bonnie the cart horse

In the early days of the Nurseries most of the goods were transported by cart. Customers were charged for the carriage of their orders, but the carts were also available for hire and carried baskets of coals, timber, hay and dung. In 1792 Mr. Bromilow of Prescot was charged 16 shillings for carting hay with two teams over two days for each team. He paid 5 shillings for a cartload of dung to be taken from Prescot to Wiston. The Nurseries must have had their own stable of horses because William Bond, the organist at Knutsford parish church, hired one to visit his pupils at Arley, Tabley, Tatton and Capesthorne Halls. Smaller orders required 'a horse and man' for a delivery but an order for shrubs and trees required 'a horse cart and man'. Mr. Peter Strongitharm from nearby Toft was 'lent a cart' in 1793 at a cost of £1 1s. 0d.

Goods were sometimes left at posting house inns (such as the George Inn or the Angel Inn in Knutsford) for collection by the coach. In 1790, George Wilbraham Esq. paid 2s. 8d. for carriage by coach of a parcel of trees and vegetable seeds.

In the 1830s the Knutsford Post Mistress was Mrs. Ann Dakin on King Street. She despatched mail to Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham and London as the coaches came through Knutsford on a regular timetable throughout the day and night. For example in 1828, the London mail was despatched at two in the morning to arrive at four in the afternoon. A good number of orders were sent by coach such as Aston Town Pears to C. Lindley in London or broccoli to Mr. Chubb in London. Other coach deliveries were dropped off en route to places such as Warrington, Macclesfield and Audlem.

The 1830s ledgers show that some of the more local orders were delivered by 'postman'. Mrs. Dakin will have directed the postman on horseback to deliver a package containing 2lb Early Stone Turnip seed to Sir John-Thomas Stanley at Alderley, and vegetable seeds and mushroom spawn in a canvas bag to Davis Davenport Esq. at Capesthorne.

Carriage by water
sailing ship 1

In the 18th century people tended to move goods around the country from port to port as the roads were so poor. By the middle of the 19th century the port of Liverpool at the mouth of the River Mersey had grown to become second only to London. Salt from Cheshire and coal from Lancashire passed through Liverpool and the port benefited from the growth of industry in Manchester.

Many goods were transported through the port including plants. John Harvey (in his 'Early Gardening Catalogues') shows a letter written in 1700 to Sir Willoughby Aston, Bart., of Aston Hall in Cheshire. Aston's son describes the package and transportation by sea of lime trees from London to Frodsham Bridge, which was the highest navigable point for sea going vessels via Liverpool. It was also written that the cost of shipping was £3 10s, amounting to nearly 50% of the net cost of the plants. The Astons became Caldwell customers.

sailing ship 2

As trade became worldwide, new plants were introduced. William Roscoe imported plants through Liverpool and founded the First Liverpool Botanic Garden in 1802, acquiring more than 4,000 different plants within six years. The Nurseries were also able to import plants and to send orders out through the port. The ledgers of 1792 show that the Knutsford nursery sent 3,500 pear stocks to Mr. Wrench in London and took delivery of 2,000 Miracle plum stocks from Mr. Wrench. Wrench was counter-charged 11s.6d. as the plants 'should have come by water' and not by road. In 1833, Mr. John Reid from Newtownbarry in Ireland was sent a large order of flowers and shrubs by sea for which he paid 7s, 6d. for carriage to Liverpool.


A network of waterways was made to link rivers and coastal ports with a system of canals. The River Weaver was canalised in 1721 and the engineer, James Brindley, completed the Bridgwater canal from Worsley to Manchester in 1761, followed by an extension to Runcorn by 1776. This was the start of Britain's inland waterway system and the 'golden age' of canals. A canal boat drawn by one horse could carry ten times more than a horse and cart. The canals became well used by Caldwell's for transporting their plants.

The Trent and Mersey canal was completed in 1777, backed by Josiah Wedgwood to carry his pottery. He placed an order with the Nurseries which may have been delivered by canal boat, although there is no indication of this in the ledgers. Plants could be taken by cart a short distance along the turnpike to Wincham Wharf at Lostock Gralam, Northwich, on the Trent and Mersey canal. In 1791, a mixed order including bird cherries, privet and roses were sent to Wincham Wharf for an onward journey to the Knowsley nursery. The ledgers of 1833 and 1834 show that many orders were delivered using the canals, south to places such as Middlewich, Trentham or Barlaston and to Messrs. W & J Noble in London, who paid for two canvas bags in which to transport the vegetables.


The orders in the ledgers often show the names of men who carried plants to the canal or delivered them to other places. The names, such as Shatwell, Worrall, Wright and Foden, belong to families of the local area who regularly delivered plants for Caldwell's. John Wright carried goods to and from Macclesfield, Knutsford and Warrington every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. He charged 5 shillings to take a big order of flowers and shrubs to Liverpool. The Shatwells went daily to Knutsford and Northwich and thence by water to Liverpool and Chester. In 1833, J. Shatwell took an order of plants in a basket for Mr. Plant at Cheadle by canal and a further tree order of Mr. Plant's also went by canal. Ditchfields cart carried an order to nearby Ashley – records show a Thomas Ditchfield was the butcher in Knutsford.

anderton boat lift

Pigots directory of 1841 shows canal carriers working out of Manchester, each with a named agent. Pickfords entered canal transport in the 1780s and by 1794 they had narrowboats departing daily from Castlefields in Manchester. By 1838, Pickfords had 116 boats plus 398 horses to haul them. (The horses were fed by hay hung from the bridges along the way.) The ledgers show that the Nurseries used Pickfords for carrying plants. In 1793, the Earl of Derby from Knowsley paid 2 shillings for the carriage of his order of more than 4,000 trees to be taken to Altrincham where they could have been loaded onto the Bridgewater Canal for a journey to Runcorn. South of Knutsford, the Macclesfield canal opened in 1831. The Anderton boat lift opened in 1875 to transport boats between the Trent and the Mersey canal and the River Weaver. The Manchester Ship Canal opened in 1894 to link Manchester to the Irish Sea.'

Carriage by rail
steam train

The Manchester to Liverpool railway opened in 1830. It was the first modern railway in that both goods and passenger traffic were operated by scheduled locomotive hauled trains. The country entered a new era of passenger and goods transportation.

The line between Altrincham and Knutsford opened in 1862 and was extended to Northwich a year later. It offered a new exciting delivery option for Caldwell's, although it has to be remembered that a further journey of transportation would have been necessary from the station of destination. Knutsford station would have had a goods office with a parcels receiving clerk to direct the plants on to the train. The guards van took smaller parcels but there were wagons for larger goods.

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