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Friday, 26 July 2013

University of 3rd AgeUniversity of the Third Age

Sir Joseph Paxton, Knighted Gardener - John Sheard, retired land agent to the Duke of Devonshire, gave his third talk to members of Todmorden U3A at their July general meeting. His topic was the life of a man he clearly has great admiration for, Sir Joseph Paxton, Knighted Gardener, as he entitled his talk.

Joseph Paxton was born in Bedfordshire on 3 August 1803, the seventh son of a farming family. After a number of gardening jobs, in 1823 he began working at Chiswick Gardens which was leased by the Horticultural Society from the Duke of Devonshire. Impressed with his abilities and enthusiasm, in 1826, the duke appointed Paxton head gardener at Chatsworth House, the Devonshire family's large country house in Derbyshire.

John described Paxton's own account of his first day at Chatsworth. Arriving at Chatsworth at half past four in the morning, he explored the gardens, scaling the kitchen garden wall in the process, set the staff to work, then ate breakfast with the housekeeper and met his future wife, Sarah Bown, the housekeeper's niece. As he put it, completing his first morning's work before nine o'clock. He and Sarah fell immediately in love and married four years later. She proved to be supremely capable of managing his affairs, leaving him free to pursue his ideas.

Paxton found the grounds run down and he took control, supervising everything. In 1829 he became head forester and designed a pinetum as well as gardens, fountains, a model village and an arboretum. He also built a conservatory - known as the Great Conservatory - and a lily house, specially designed for a giant lily with a design based on the leaves of the plant. It was on this lily that Annie, his seven year-old daughter stood to demonstrate the strenght of the leaves.

In the process of landscaping the Chatsworth estate, John told his audience, he turned the duke into a garden enthusiast and made him a lifelong and admiring friend who left him free to develop his ideas and talents. These included projects that took Paxton away from Chatsworth, culminating in his most famous, the Crystal Palace for The Great Exhibition of 1851. Soon after, Queen Victoria conferred on him his knighthood.

Crystal Palace became possible because Paxton developed the design of greenhouses, which were in their infancy, during his time at Chatsworth. Because of his patronage, the duke called himself “the grandfather of Crystal Palace”. Paxton also worked at Bolton Abbey, enlarging Bolton Hall amongst other projects. Paxton also designed country houses for the nobility and gentry; and public parks, including Peoples' Park, Halifax.

As well as gardener, landscape architect and architect, Paxton became a Liberal MP. A writer himself, he founded several horticulatural journals, was a director of a railway company and adviser to kings and princes. At the end of his talk, John paid tribute to Sarah, a remarkable woman in her own right, like him from a humble background, whose support made Paxton's achievements possible. She was his unofficial deputy when he was away from Chatsworth. She was his business manager and a shrewd investor, making money when others were losing theirs. All this while bearing seven sons and a daughter.

Their's was a long and happy marriage and Sarah received many detailed and loving letters from Paxton. Hers and the 6th duke's influence did not extend to persuading Paxton to reduce his workload and thus take his doctor's advice. He did outlive the duke, however, and such was their relationship, the family accepted Paxton as the chief mourner at the duke's funeral. Illness through overwork led to Paxton's death at the age of 61.

John's admiration for Paxton was underlined by the selections from correspondence between Paxton and the 6th duke, in which each extolled the other's virtues. It was clear that Paxton was admirable for his qualities as a human being as much as his achievements. John Sheard did justice to Paxton in a talk his audience found fascinating and illuminating.

The University of the Third Age meets in Todmorden on the third Thursday of every month. Find out all of its activities at www.u3atod.org.uk or phone 01706 814623.


Many thanks to John Bouttell for this report



Previous U3A reports on the HebWeb

HebWeb News: Off Stage Choices: Andrew Rawlinson recounts his theatre experience from Tod Operatic to General Manager of a leading Theatre Group. (18 July 2013)

HebWeb News: The Story of the Hebden Bridge Calendar (April 2013)

HebWeb News: Changing Times in the Press (March 2013)

HebWeb News: Cancer from Both Sides (Nov 2012)

HebWeb News: Steve Halliwell outlined the history of the Woodland Trust (Sept 2012)

HebWeb News: Ray Riches talks on Walking the Pacific Crest Trail (Aug 2012)

HebWeb News: Pitch and Pythagoras - Pulse and Prison (July 2012)

HebWeb News - Lord Shutt explains the workings of the House of Lords (May 2012)

HebWeb News - Claire Benedict talks acting to Todmorden U3A (April 2012)

HebWeb News - Kate Moreton-Deakin spoke about her day job as Associate Director - Corporate Social Responsibility with Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Foundation Trust. (Feb 2012)

HebWeb News - Fair Trade Movement (Feb 2012)

HebWeb News - Fancy a cruise to the Antarctic? (Feb 2012)

HebWeb News - Gail Allaby, U3A's Queen of the Underworld (Dec 2011)

HebWeb News - September meeting report - Report of meeting about Walking the Pacific Crest Trail

HebWeb News - August meeting report - Bolton Abbey

HebWeb News - May and June meeting report - Keep Learning: Live long and prosper and the role of the Lord-Lieutenant

HebWeb News - April meeting report - Belt and Braces - An Everyday Guide to Risk and Chance

HebWeb News - March meeting report - Growing Old in the Twenty-First Century

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