William Barber Upjohn
RHS Garden Bridgewater is the fifth RHS garden and one of the largest gardening projects undertaken in Europe in recent years. Once visited by Queen Victoria and King Edward VII, Worsley New Hall survived a fire and two World Wars before it was demolished in the 1940s. The historic 154 acre estate has now been transformed into a world class garden for the public to enjoy once again.
Stepping back in time, we take a look at the Head Gardener who managed the site before the RHS...
William Barber Upjohn served as Head Gardener to the Earls of Ellesmere for over 50 years.
He came to Worsley in 1871 and in that time served the third Earl and the area most nobly. He quickly became a highly recognised professional and became a founder member of the Worsley and Swinton
Horticultural and Agricultural Society. For numerous years, the grounds of the New Hall hosted its annual show, covering plants, trees, fruits, vegetables and farm animals. He toured the country to represent the Earl at similar shows and won a large number of awards. In later life, he turned to judging.
William was born in Norfolk and worked as a young man in various parts of the UK. He and his wife, Mary Mathieson Simpson Robertson, married at Dalkeith, Midlothian, on 21 December 1870 and within four months relocated to Worsley. They were to have 14 children, of whom 3 sadly died at a very young age, and a fourth (Frank Forsythe Upjohn) who, having emigrated to America, was killed in Hawaii, whilst on shore leave from a U.S. naval survey vessel. His gravestone today stands in a cemetery in Honolulu.
A grandson of his, (William Gordon Wheeler), born to Margery Upjohn (his fourth daughter) and Frederick Wheeler, attended Manchester Grammar School and St. Mark's Church. Very much influenced by the Rev. Canon H. W. Thorne, he was initially ordained into the Church of England in 1934. However, in 1936 he finally decided to become a Catholic and was received into the Church at Downside Abbey in September that year. In his later years, he specifically mentioned the influence of Canon Thorne, “my favourite Vicar, to whom I owe so much”.
The Liverpool Echo for Saturday 17 June 1939 reported:
G.O.M. OF WORSLEY
Mr. W. B. Upjohn, grand old man Worsley, Lancashire, died at his home, the head gardener’s cottage on the Ellesmere Estate, to-day. He was 96. He was known to thousands as a pioneer of Worsley Agricultural and Horticultural Show. He missed only one show in seventy-five years. A native of Norfolk, in his early twenties he was head gardener to the Earl of Ellesmere, and once helped King George V to plant a tree to commemorate a Northern visit. A keen church worker, he ascribed his long life to the goodness of God and a simple, temperate life.
William, his wife, and the 3 young children are all buried in St Mark's Worsley churchyard, but regrettably no headstone exists marking the plot. For many years, William B. Upjohn served as a sidesman at the church.
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Written by Paul Speakman