Fonds BAC - James Backhouse & Son, nurserymen, York

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James Backhouse & Son, nurserymen, York


  • 1898-1947 (Creation)

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4 items

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Administrative history

The business began operating in 1815 when it was purchased from the Telford family by the brothers James and Thomas Backhouse, Quakers in York. James Backhouse had been apprenticed to Wagstaffe's nursery in Norwich for two years when he was 19 years old, and had spent time visiting nurseries in Scotland prior to the purchase. Their purchase of the nursery was advertised in the York Courant on 13 May 1816. By 1821 the Backhouse family were advertising their ability to undertake 'plantations by the acre' and supply 'gentlemen with experienced gardeners.'

The original firm was founded at Tanner Row, Toft Green, in about 1665, and the Backhouse business continued on the same site. In 1831, following the death of his wife, James left England for Australia to undertake Quaker missionary work. He left the business in the care of family members for the following ten years, during which time he sent back an array of plant samples and seeds from his travels.

In 1841 James returned to England and took up the running of the nursery, first with his brother and then with his son. That same year the nursery moved from Toft Green to make way for the new York railway station. The coming of the railways allowed Backhouse Nurseries to distribute correspondence, plants and seeds much more effectively around the country from their new premises in Fishergate. In 1853 the business moved again, this time to a 100 acre site at Holgate, York.

James Backhouse died in 1869 and the business was continued by his son James, who was later joined by his own son, also James. During this period the business was at its height, with a plant import business, rockery, 40 greenhouses and an underground fernery.

The agricultural depression of the 1880s, followed by the 1910 Land Tax bill and the First World War, compounded by increased competition between nurserymen, all contributed to the decline of demand in plants. Despite James Backhouse forming a new company in 1891 to try and save the business - Backhouse Nurseries (York) Ltd - the firm suffered a series of financial losses. In 1921 much of the land owned by the nurseries was sold off, and the business was officially wound-up in 1955.

Content and structure area

Scope and content

The collection comprises two lists of shareholders, a list of directors and one catalogue of fruit trees supplied by the nursery.


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Material is available subject to the usual terms and conditions of access to Archives and Local History collections.

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Images are supplied for private research only at the Archivist's discretion. Please note that material may be unsuitable for copying on conservation grounds. Researchers who wish to publish material must seek copyright permission from the copyright owner.

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  • English

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