From New Forest gardeners to London florists

I still have memories of the dull car rides we used to take across London in the 1970s to visit my Mum’s sister, Auntie Gwen Snelgrove, and their mother Eleanor, my grandma, in Ealing. I can remember we’d sometimes pass the spectacular old factories on the Great West Road and stop somewhere to buy some sweets and a packet of cigarettes for grandma – ‘Guards’ if I remember rightly. 

I remember the house in Woodfield Road, W5, as being dark and old-fashioned. It had a garden that had a back gate out onto the road behind but not a lot to keep me and my sister entertained while the ‘grown-ups’ talked. One of the things we’d be given to play with would be a jar of old buttons – but that was apparently entertaining enough for a small child!

Grandma would be in a wheelchair and her skin could look uncomfortable. I later found out she suffered badly from psoriasis. We sometimes bought her coal tar soap for Christmas. In turn, we’d be given a Xmas gift of a box of Harrods chocolates – including exotic tasting violet and rose creams – as a gift from the rarely seen lodger, Doctor Bruce, a grateful Ghanaian who lived for many years upstairs in Gwen’s house. 

Grandma in Woodfield Road

When I was older, Gwen told me how some of their neighbours wouldn't talk to them because they rented rooms to lodgers from Africa and the Caribbean. The old albums are full of pictures of the Snelgroves and some of their Black visitors, lodgers and friends, firstly servicemen in the 1940s, and then others after the war.

But I also knew that Gwen, and her brother, our Uncle Bert, were also florists by trade. I have an indistinct memory of visiting Gwen in their shop – and perhaps the smell of the florists too? Gwen once told me a story about having to drive across London to Covent Garden during the war to try and find stock for the shop – presumably Bert was in North Africa or Italy by then. (I only met Bert when I was older, when he was again a jovial Londoner. He had suffered a breakdown after the war, and a failed marriage, and I can’t remember ever meeting him when I was a boy.) 

But Bert and Gwen weren’t the only Snelgroves who sold flowers – it was the trade that had brought the family to London in the first place. That early part of my family history is described below.

The Snelgroves – gardeners of the Eaglehurst estate

An internet search of “Eaglehurst” in Fawley, will bring up information about a beautifully sited house and gardens at the edges of the New Forest, overlooking the Solent. It was visited by Victoria, before she was queen, in 1833, and again in 1844 when she and Albert were looking for a country home. 

The house was known then, and now, for the beauty of its gardens. Here's part of the upmarket estate agents Strutt & Parker’s brochure on the estate when it was on the market in 2014, apparently for £6.5 million:

Historic England includes the Grade II listing for the walled garden that dates from the late eighteenth century – plus a ‘temple’ added in the 1930s. The Hampshire Gardens Trust describes how the wealthy banker “Andrew Berkeley Drummond purchased most of the estate, and leased it to General Berkeley Drummond, his cousin. It was probably the General and his wife who laid out the formal gardens between the house and folly. His wife remained at Eaglehurst after his death in 1860”. Only, of course, that’s not quite the case. It’s highly unlikely that the General and his wife picked up their spades and hoes! No, much of the actual gardening work was probably done by … the Snelgroves, of course!

The 1851 census

The 1851 census confirms that Army Colonel Berkeley Drummond (64) was indeed resident at Eaglehurst House, with his wife, Maria (61). But, on the previous page of the census, living at Eaglehurst Lodge, the trade of ‘gardener’ is listed by the name of William Snelgrove. This gardener is my great-great-grandfather.

William (31) is recorded as being born locally in Fawley. His family records show that his father and grandfather were also from there. His father, John, is listed in the 1851 census as living in the nearby village of Dibden - and his trade is also listed as a gardener.

William Snelgrove

The three census records 1851-1871 all show William continuing to live in Eaglehurst Lodge as a gardener, alongside his wife Jane, who was born in Nunton, Wiltshire, near Salisbury. Over that time the couple had twelve children altogether. 

Their first three daughters, Sarah Jane, Anna Eliza and Jane Rose were all born in Bramshaw, a village on the other side of the New Forest. The next child, Fanny Matilda was born in 1850 in Southampton, the city where William and Jane had married in 1843. She died in Ealing in 1944 at the age of 93.

One of her descendants has recorded in her memoirs that Fanny Matilda had told her that when her father, William, was about 25, he was told to raise the British flag when someone very important arrived at Eaglehurst House. If so, this could have been Prince Albert and Queen Victoria on their 1844 visit! 

The other eight children were all born at Eaglehurst, seven of them girls. In contrast to Fanny Matilda, three of her sisters only lived for a few years, and two others died as young women. Their solitary brother, Albert Edward Snelgrove, born in 1852, became the next in the line of gardeners - and my great grandfather.

Moving to London to build new lives

I have described elsewhere on this blog how, in the latter half of the nineteenth century, other families in my ancestry were moving from the countryside to the cities - the Coxs and Whites from Huntingdonshire and the Swifts from Kent. It seems that many of the Snelgroves similarly moved away from the New Forest to try and build new lives in the rapidly growing capital city. In their case, they hoped to make good use of their skills as gardeners.

That's shown in the 1881 census - the next time William and Albert Edward appear together – because they are no longer living in the New Forest but in rooms in 167 Clarendon Road, Notting Hill, London W11. At the same address, the census lists William’s wife, Jane, and their daughter Margaret (and also a granddaughter, Margaret Anderson).

Further down, at the same address, Fanny Matilda is living with her husband, Charles Tubb, and their three children. 

167 Clarendon Road W11 in the 1881 census

In the 1871 census, Charles Tubb had been living with his parents in another New Forest village, Cadnam, but described as “servant, unemployed”. So, it looks like Charles and Fanny Matilda – presumably together – moved from the New Forest to find work in London. They married, both aged 24, in Holloway, in 1875 and the marriage certificate shows that the fathers of both bride and groom were, of course … gardeners:

But the marriage record shows that they weren’t the first to make the move. One of the witnesses at the marriage is Clara Georgina Snelgrove, Fanny’s younger sister, then only twenty. 

The other witness, Benjamin Edmund Boswell, is the husband of Fanny’s older sister, Sarah Jane. Her marriage to Benjamin, a Londoner born in St. Pancras, held at St. Saviour’s Church in Camden in March 1869, suggests she may have been the first daughter to move to London. The 1871 census confirms them living in Carlton Street, Kentish Town. Benjamin is recorded as a Cabinet Maker, the same trade as his father.

But there’s also another Snelgrove at the address – Anna Eliza, a Boarder, aged 23. The following year, she marries Johann Andersson, a migrant from Sweden, who the later census records show also works in London as ... another gardener! (It is their daughter, Margaret, who is listed at Clarendon Road in the 1881 census above).

Sadly, by 1878 two of the first Snelgroves to move to London, Sarah Jane and Clara Georgina, were dead. They are both buried in Willesden Old Cemetery. Their mother, Jane, is buried in the same plot when she dies in 1891.

William and Jane follow their children – and my great-grandfather comes too

As the 1881 census shown above confirms, despite the deaths of Sarah and Clara, the news that came back to William and Jane from the first of their children to head for London, persuaded them to also move to the city. I believe William, Jane, Margaret and Albert Edward moved up from the New Forest around 1877.

A look back at the 1881 census above shows that William has become a ‘greengrocer’, while Charles Tubb is, at that point, a ‘cab proprietor’. Albert Edward Snelgrove’s marriage record from the same year also add ‘fruiterer’ to ‘greengrocer’ for his father’s profession, and this is also listed as his profession too:

I don’t know much about his wife, Elizabeth Barbara Ashdon, my Mum’s ‘Grandma Snelgrove’. My Mum’s notes say “I remember her only as a bed-ridden rather frightening old lady” in contrast to Albert Edward, ‘Grandpa Snelgrove’ who was “full of jokes and with twinkling eyes”.

'Grandma Snelgrove' with daughter and daughter-in-law

The 1881 census records show that ‘Grandma Snelgrove’ was from Ireland (perhaps the source of the small trace of 'Irish' DNA in my record). The Roehampton address above is where she is serving as a housemaid as one of the many servants of a Mr James Robertson of Lower Grove House, a man listed as having “no profession, trade or calling. Income levied from Dividends, interest of money, and Coffee estates in Ceylon” ...

One of the 1881 marriage witnesses above is another of the Snelgrove daughters, Henrietta Louisa. We don’t know if she was living in London in 1881 as the census records her as a ‘visitor’ at an address in Woolston, Southampton. However, by 1891 she is certainly there - married and living with her father, mother and husband, Alexander Groves, now at 129 High Street, Whitechapel. He now works helping the elderly William in work as caretakers in a tea warehouse. Jane, the mother of the twelve Snelgroves (pictured below) dies here at the age of 70, a few months after the census was taken.

Jane Snelgrove

129 High Street Whitechapel is also listed as the address of another daughter, Elizabeth Ann, when she marries in 1887. She must have been one of the last to come to London, as she is listed as a servant to a Captain in the Royal Artillery Portsmouth in the 1881 census. Her husband, William Lauriston, also has links to the Royal Artillery as well.

The 1891 census - caretaker and deputy caretaker

Where were the Snelgroves living? 

Average house prices in Clarendon Road, Notting Hill, where the Snelgroves and Tubbs were living in 1881, are apparently, 140 years later, around £3million! However, the website of the Ladbroke Conservation Area points out that, while the southern end of the road has always been wealthy, at the northern end, where No.167 would have been found, “many of the houses were already being turned into lodgings and an increasing number of those living in Clarendon Road were small tradesmen and, particularly at the northern end, working people. Also at the northern end, shopfronts began to be built on the forecourts of the houses and a strong commercial element was formed”. 

It adds that “The northern end was developed only in the 1850s and very few of the houses remain. They were terrace houses, probably a lot more cheaply and jerry-built than the earlier villas”. “Almost all have now disappeared, replaced by two huge blocks of social housing, Nottingwood House and Allom House”. So, sadly, nothing remains of 167 Clarendon Road to visit today.

3, Maiden Terrace, where Charles and Fanny Matilda are living when they are married in 1875, became 10 Dartmouth Park Hill. It still stands in Holloway, now part of a terrace of shops. In 1877, when their second child Gertrude is born, the couple are living at Meyrick Road, Willesden – before moving to Clarendon Road. 

Carlton Street, Kentish Town, where Sarah Jane was living in 1871, no longer exists although the site of the Carlton Tavern, which was on next door Carlton Road, can still be seen, now on Grafton Road, NW5. 129 High Street, Whitechapel, does still stand as part of a row of shops. At the time William and Alexander were caretakers, it seems to have been owned by tea merchants, Brooke Bond.

Where Carlton Street once stood

Where were the Snelgroves working? 

It’s hard to know where the Snelgroves were first working when they arrived in London. Did William sell his fruit and vegetables from Clarendon Road, for example, or on market stalls? However, over time, as they became more settled in the city, the records show the residents of Clarendon Road must have worked out a plan for making their living by growing and selling flowers, eventually starting their own shops. However, it took time for them to be able to do so.

The following table, listing some additional information from birth and census records in the 1880s and 1890s, shows some of the changes in their lives:

So, it looks like the residents of Clarendon Road moved to the Shepherd’s Bush area, living together in rooms on the Uxbridge Road. After the Snelgrove parents moved away to Whitechapel, the two younger families found separate accommodation nearby. Albert and Fanny remained close. 

It also looks like Charles and Fanny took on additional work to pay their bills, although Charles was still recorded as being a gardener and worked with Albert Edward on his nursery too. 

After his father had moved away, Albert Edward seems to have concentrated on developing a nursery and being a florist. He starts with a small nursery at the end of Brooklyn Road, behind the then Shepherd’s Bush Metropolitan Line station, before starting a more substantial “floral nursery” in Hanwell. This may not be the ‘nursery’ marked on the old map of Hanwell but the green area by St. Marks’ Road which was known as ‘Poors Place’. This was land rented out as allotments, the rents going towards the poor. It is now the King George V Playing Field.

Albert Edward's Hanwell Nursery

This annotated map of the Shepherd’s Bush area shows the places marked on the table above:

Into the twentieth century
Sometime after his wife Jane dies in 1891, William Snelgrove returns to Shepherd’s Bush to live close to his son Albert and daughter Fanny. Interestingly, given the link with Brooke Bond in Whitechapel, Louisa and Alexander move to West Ham in East London where Alexander is employed in a Tea Warehouse.
The 1901 census records William as living with Albert, Barbara and the three children in Hanwell: Albert Edward (49) is definitely now a ‘florist’ while his son William Albert (19) is the ‘florist’s help’. 

His father William (81) is listed, underneath my grandfather John George Snelgrove, as “living on own means”. When he eventually dies in 1913, at the age of 93, the probate records show that this gardener from Fawley was able to leave over £200 to his son – certainly equivalent to more than £10,000 today.
It must also be around this time that this sepia photograph of the three generations of Snelgrove florists was taken:
Three generations of florists

The 1911 census show that, before William's death, the family had moved a little further west along the Uxbridge Road to live at 27 Larden Road, Acton Vale. Albert is the florist and now both William Albert and Jane are his shop assistants. But where is the shop?  The 1911 census also shows that the shop is at 194 Uxbridge Road, the address given on the probate record for “Mr.William”: Albert is the florist and now both his son, William, and daughter, Jane, are his shop assistants. 
But where was the shop?  A separate part of the 1911 census shows that the shop was at 194 Uxbridge Road ( the address also given on the 1913 probate record), listed as belonging to “Mr. William”:
1911 - 'Mr. William''s shop at 194 Uxbridge Road

But that wasn't the first shop. A 1910 Hammersmith and Shepherd’s Bush Directory gives the address of 173 Railway Approach for a florist shop in the name of Albert Edward Snelgrove (194 Uxbridge Road is then listed as a draper’s shop). This must have been an earlier stall under the railway arches close to where Shepherd’s Bush Market later develops when one station is turned into two after 1914, with the southern one then being named Goldhawk Road. If you look up above the market stalls, you can still find the arch numbered 173 today!
Arch 173 at Shepherd's Bush Market
By 1920, the Post Office Directory’s list of London florists records another slight change of address for AE Snelgrove's shop – with it then moving to 9 Uxbridge Road, W12. That’s only just across the road from no.194 – right next door to the railway bridge and close to the entrance to Shepherd’s Bush Metropolitan line station – an even better spot for selling flowers to London’s working population.

The 9, Uxbridge Road, W12, address then remained as one of the Snelgrove shops for many years as the later headed paper shows. In fact, it's still a flower shop today  – now called Gemini’s florist. Indeed, when I popped in to the shop in 2021, the present owner remembered when my Aunt Gwen used to own it.

While my grandfather, John George, found work as a clerk with the Great Western Railway, his brother and sister William and Jane continued to work in the florist shops. Below is a (rather indistinct) picture of William – known as ‘Uncle Bob’ to his relatives – outside the shop in Uxbridge Road:
194 Uxbridge Road when it was "AE Snelgrove & Son"
But these weren’t the only Snelgrove relatives to end up earning their living from selling flowers close to London stations. Gertrude, the eldest daughter of Charles Tubb and Fanny, became a florist too, running a shop on Hammersmith Metropolitan Line station. 
Gertrude's flower shop on Hammersmith station
The shopfront in the picture is in the name of her husband, Ernest Lewis. As their 1914 marriage record shows, he was another florist. Ernest’s elder brother, Robert, also married Gertrude’s elder sister, Eliza. Sadly, Ernest died of T.B. in 1919. The shop was then taken on after Gertrude’s death in 1932 by her younger sister Nellie (known as ‘Topsy’) Tubb. 
Ernest and Gertrude - two more florists
In conclusion, by the 1920s my great-grandfather - and some of his other relatives - had successfully moved from the New Forest to become a West London florist. In a later post I will take the story further through the next generations of my family.


Popular posts from this blog

The Dekemvriana defeat of ELAS in Athens - through the eyes of a British Officer

From Mariners to Mayors - getting rich from slavery in Liverpool

Gifford White - Life after 'transportation for life'