About James Barnes
James Barnes was baptised in 1806. He was the eldest son of a head gardener and began work (mainly weeding and bird scaring) at the age of five. His apprenticeship began under his father in 1814, and was continued in London from 1818. He went on to work in market gardening, and was especially skilled at forcing cucumbers and breeding new varieties.He went on to developing pleasure grounds at Beulah Spa, then became head gardener at Cranford House in Essex.
In 1839 he began work at Bicton in Devon, where he stayed for nearly 30 years. He was extremely well-respected for his great horticultural skill and his orderly approach, and the garden he developed at Bicton was much-admired by John Claudius Loudon amongst others. He eventually left his post under acrimonious circumstances, successfully suing his former employer for libellous claims that he had left the gardens in a poor state. He died in Devon in 1877.
Added to Oxford DNB
James Barnes (1806-1877), who was head gardener at Bicton, near Budleigh Salterton. For nearly three decades he was one of the leading professional gardeners of his age.
Lord Rolle employed Mr Barnes at Bicton in 1831, where he worked with hothouse plants and on the lawns and flower beds. He produced seeds from monkey puzzle trees, recently introduced to Britain from South America, and planted an avenue of them at Bicton.
7 September 2009:
This week we go to Victorian England, where Lady Rolle of Bicton defames her head gardener… “On the whole, employers got the employees they deserved – and sometimes very much better. Often badly managed, without clear instructions or consultation, head gardeners ran a large and efficient operation in return for neither recognition nor understanding. In one famous instance – still quoted as an authority in cases of defamation – an employer said something about her gardener which she knew to be false and ended up in court. The background to this case, called Barnes v. Rolle, was James Barnes’s tenure of nearly thirty years as head gardener at Bicton in Devon, during which time he developed Lord and Lady Rolle’s gardens into a mid-Victorian cynosure. William Robinson [influential editor of “The Garden” magazine] attested in court that they were second to none in England. Then Barnes was obliged by illness to retire, at fairly short notice. The widowed Lady Rolle was understandably piqued and, rather foolishly, made derogative remarks about him in a couple of letters she wrote shortly afterwards. In one she told a member of the public who had written to ask if he could visit the gardens that she did not want to take up the time of her new gardener with such visits because ‘everything in her garden and hothouses and greenhouses and arboretum are left in such a neglected state’. A keen attorney took up the case on Barnes’s behalf, but Lady Rolle did not take the matter seriously enough to reply to his letters and, as a result, Barnes’s barrister obtained judgement in default of her entering a defence. A hearing was called to assess the quantum of damages which, in those days, was always decided by a jury. Lady Rolle’s counsel invited the members of the jury to show their disapproval of the action by dismissing the claim with token damages of one farthing. Barnes’s lawyer replied that ‘persons in high stations were to be respected, but when they forgot what was due to those who had faithfully served them they became contemptible’. Barnes was awarded £100.” Charles Quest-Ritson in “The English Garden: A Social History”, Chapter 4, pp. 214-5. Quest-Ritson quotes his source as “The Gardener’s Chronicle” of 1869.
References and Links
James Barnes's Timeline
Farnham, Surrey, England
Chislehurst, Kent, England
Bicton, Devon, England
Exmouth, Devon, England