A shared passion for gardening

At Winterbourne, we’ve always assumed that Margaret Nettlefold was the driving force in the design of the garden, but what of John? Was gardening a shared interest for this couple? In our archive we are fortunate to have the letters that John wrote to Margaret during their courtship and engagement, and they reveal an unexpected side to John. He was a keen gardener too.

John Sutton Nettlefold

John Sutton Nettlefold

Rogerstone Ironworks, Newport

Rogerstone Ironworks, Newport

In his early twenties, John was sent to Newport in South Wales to run the Rogerstone ironworks. He rented a house there, and very soon began working on the garden ready for Margaret to join him.  “There will be something very pleasant for me to do now in thinking what can be done to make the house and garden pretty for you” (J to M, April 1891).

John created herbaceous borders, a rockery, and a vegetable patch. He did a lot of the hard work himself, sometimes suffering the consequences: “The rockery proved rather frustrating, but I hope you will like it, if not we must alter it. Battering the stones in has made my wrist a bit funny today” (J to M, May 1891).

Envelope with pressed flowers, February 1891

Envelope with pressed flowers, February 1891

In his early twenties, John was sent to Newport in South Wales to run the Rogerstone ironworks. He rented a house there, and very soon began working on the garden ready for Margaret to join him.  “There will be something very pleasant for me to do now in thinking what can be done to make the house and garden pretty for you” (J to M, April 1891).

John created herbaceous borders, a rockery, and a vegetable patch. He did a lot of the hard work himself, sometimes suffering the consequences: “The rockery proved rather frustrating, but I hope you will like it, if not we must alter it. Battering the stones in has made my wrist a bit funny today” (J to M, May 1891).

Letter from John to Margaret, 6 April 1891

Letter from John to Margaret, 6 April 1891

The watchman at the ironworks was aware of John’s botanical interests. “The watchman has just brought me a bunch of brown-leaved ivy … it is very nice of him to think of me, and I wish you were here to receive it. Anyhow, here’s one leaf and I hope the rest will keep till you come down” (J to M, April 1891). Ivy was symbolic of fidelity and steadfastness, so it was an appropriate present for his fiancée. There were also roses at the ironworks, which John often sent to Margaret.

Margaret’s diary, July 1891

Margaret’s diary, July 1891

On 17 July 1891, John wrote: “My darling, these roses are from my garden and the works, and I hope they will be fresh enough for you to carry this evening.” Margaret’s diary tells us that she attended a dance at Hallfield that evening for Grace Nettlefold’s coming of age.

The fact that John posted the roses from Wales in the morning for Margaret to carry that same evening in Birmingham demonstrates not just his deep affection for her, but also the efficiency of the Victorian postal service!

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