In October 1836 the botanist John Claudius Loudon wrote to Arthur Wellesley, first Duke of Wellington, requesting drawings of certain trees on the Stratfield Saye estate for a publication on the hardy trees and shrubs of Great Britain. His returns showed that there was a Cedar of Lebanon at Stratfield Saye said to be the highest in Britain as well as the largest Hemlock Spruce Fir; he hoped that the Duke might have some drawing of them he could copy. [WP2/43/2]We have several copies of the resulting publication Arboretum et fruticetum Britannicum in the Salisbury Collection.
Arboretum et fruticetum Britannicum was Loudon’s most significant work but unfortunately also the most time-consuming and costly. It contained an exhaustive account of all the trees and shrubs growing in Great Britain including their history and notes on remarkable examples. It included drawings of leaves, twigs, fruits, and the shapes of leafless trees as well as entire portraits of trees in their young and mature state, all drawn from life.
The first Duke of Wellington acquired the Stratfield Saye estate in 1818 from a grateful nation following the Battle of Waterloo. It has pleasure grounds and a landscape park of approximately 523 hectares. It had previously been owned by George Pitt, first Baron Rivers who had made extensive alterations to the park after he inherited it. Lord Rivers had succeeded to the estate in 1745 and, through the second half of the 18th century until his death in 1803, he made major changes and improvements. He is responsible for the walled gardens to the north-west of the house as well as the pleasure grounds planted with their arboretum of exotic trees.
In December 1836 James Johnson – possibly the estate manager – wrote to the Duke giving him details of various trees as requested by Loudon. The highest cedar of Lebanon was 95ft but likely to grow much higher. The hemlock spruce is the “largest and handsomest specimen of the kind” he has ever seen. A spruce fir growing near the cedar is 104 ft high and he also measured a “very fine” silver fir in the peasantry copse.Johnson also encloses to the Duke a letter from the botanist Aylmer Bourke Lambert (1761-1842) concerning the Fritillaria meleagris; according to Lambert, it is “one of the most beautiful and rarest of all the English plants”. One of the “greatest botanical curiosities in England” and Lambert discovered it in the park at Stratfield Saye “in …abundance”. [WP2/43/105].
The fritillary is now designated as “very rare” in Hampshire. The following is an extract from the Flora of Hampshire:
The plant’s last site in Hants is in a field adjoining the famous colony on the Duke of Wellington’s estate at Stratfielde Saye, Berks, where is is now carefully conserved. Sadly … the fritillaries on the Hants site have dwindled until in 1982 Paul Bowman [Hants botanist] could only find four plants. However om 1986 the Duke began scattering fritillary seeds there … the most recent records are for 8 plants (1993)
Aylmer Lambert is best known for his work A description of the genus Pinus, issued in several parts 1803–1824, a sumptuously illustrated folio volume detailing all of the conifers then known. The Special Collections has a copy of the 1832 edition.Many of the printed volumes referenced here are from the Salisbury Collection, a collection of over 500 books, ranging in date from the 17th century to the 20th century which reflects the passion for ordering the natural world and in this case recording the plants of a particular area, which arose during the eighteenth century and continues today. It includes examples of national floras such as those of Spain, Germany and Russia, but the emphasis of the collection is on British floras on both a national and a local level.