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Thomas (W.) Sanders

Thomas (W.) Sanders, FL.S., FR. H.S. 1855-1926

Thomas Sanders was born in a long-gone cottage on the side of Penny Hill on 6 November 1855. He had a sister, Sarah baptised in August 1853, and a brother, William, baptised in October 1854.Later came another sister, Olive, baptised in November 1858 and a brother, Ernest, two years later

When Thomas was not yet three months old, Martley Parish Registers show his brother William was buried on January 26 th 1856, aged 16 months, with his sister Sarah buried five days later on 31 st January, aged 29 months. Thomas was christened on 9 th December 1855 and then only given the name Thomas (after his grandfather). It seems almost certain that the first born son, William, was greatly loved, and that his parents added William to Thomas’ s forename to perpetuate his memory. He was known as T W. Sanders always after that horrible week for the family.
His parents, John and Mary Anne, were married at St. Martins, Worcester on 14 th February 1853, when John was 34 and Mary 27. They married from a house in Silver treet, presumably where Mary was a servant, for John was living in Martley.
His occupation was given as bricklayer, with his father,Thomas, being a labourer. Mary (nee Callow) was born in Suckley,baptised on 24 th September 1825, and her father, William, was also an agricultural labourer. John, Mary and their two witnesses all made their mark X ,on the marriage certificate. John is seen on records at differing times as a bricklayer, a mason and a labourer.
Thomas came to the fairly new village school at the top- of- the- churhyard at the age of 5. He would have walked the footpath from Hillside down the track past the Ivy and the ex- top- shop. He would have been in the classroom adjoining the churchyard drive wityh the class of girls and infants. At the age of six years and three months he moved in to the boys’ class, where at sometime his teacher would have been Michael Coleman.
On leaving at 12, or maybe 14, his father had him apprenticed to a builder,but he hated it. His mother, now an on census as a dressmaker, had a great love of flowers, which must have greatly influenced him, for on two occasions he ran away from home for the purpose of getting a job in a garden. In the end his father gave in, and Thomas became engaged at a very small wage to an old gardener who took a great interest in him and taught him all he knew about elementary horticulture.
He moved on to several large gardens, spent some time at Versailles, then in several famous nurseries until, in 1884, at the age of only 29, he took charge of the gardens and farm of Mr. John Wingfield Larking at Lee, in Kent. Here he redesigned large winter gardens which were greatly renowned for a long period. All his spare time was taken u by studying the scientific and theoretical aspects of gardening.
While still a young man he began to write on horticultural subjects. His writing attracted a good deal of attention as he was opposed to formal gardening and championed the cause of the amateur gardener.
At about the time Thomas took charge of the gardens at Lee, Mr. Shirley Hibberd founded` Amateur Gardening ‘ which he edited for a few years. In 1887 when T.W.S. was approaching 32, Mr. Hibberd gave up the editorship, and Thomas was given the appointment which he filled for almost 40 years. He had the most amazing energy for, in addition to this post, he lectured widely – always answering questions in amost kindly manner; he founded the National Amateur Gardeners’ Association; he travelled abroad to study (and to advise: he was decorated in 1906 with the Knighthood of the Royal Order of Vasa, Sweden, a decoration he wears in his portrait); he was on the committee of the National Chrysanthemum Society; he was always present and often a judge at the Horticultural Exhibitions held at the Crystal Palace.
At Lewisham, where he lived at 124 Embleton Road (destroyed by bombs in World War II), he was a Town Council member and at one time chairman of the Library Committee. He was an ardent Freemason, being master of Caxton Lodge (1893) and also the Philanthic Lodge. His club naturally was the Horticultural. His recreations are listed as Natural History, British Botany, entomology and geology. If you think this was all he managed, think again! Who’s Who of 1920, where he has a large entry, lists 22 books written by him,plus 18 pamphlets!! His Encyclopaedia of Gardening (pub.1895) had sold250,000 copies at the time of his death, and was reprinted (22 nd Edition! -revised by Arthur Hellyer) in 1971.
T.W.S. was married to Annie Hoare, who predeceased him, and he left a son, Horace and daughter, Olive.
Thomas never forgot his roots, and elderly villagers, now gone, have told me that he used to come up to the Annual Show, often held in the field opposite the Old Chantry (now Chantry High School grounds).He died on the 13 th October 1926, aged almost 71, and was buried in HitherGreen Cemetery, Lewisham.` Amateur Gardening’ still have his desk, marked with a brass plate. His son Horace, who was a publicity consultant in Fleet Street, London, wrote to the Rector,Rev.J.F.Hastings, in July 1933, offering to send to Martley his portrait, and it now hangs in the Memorial Hall. He wrote, quote, “It is a fact that he had a constant pride in being a son of Martley and in many articles . . . he often wrote of Martley and the Teme valley. That a village should so impress itself upon the constant memory of one of its village boys is a tribute to the qualities of the village itself’.
Almost the last words must go to Arthur Hellyer, who worked for Amateur Gardening from 1929 to 1966, being editor for the last 21 years. He himself wrote many important and influential books, and contributed articles to The Financial Times, Country Life and Homes and Gardens. He died in 1993 aged 90 . I was lucky enough to get along letter from him in 1990. He wrote how he met Sanders in Jersey in May 1923 and asked him what prospects there were for a young man in horticultural journalism.T.W.S. replied, “None whatsoever. I have an assistant who has been with me for 30 years, and when he dies I shall require one replacement “. As it happened, Hellyer worked 16 years with the self same assistant (named H.A.Smith) before he retired.
Arthur Hellyer continued, “As far as I know, Sanders, as editor, always lived and worked in Lewisham and had his editorial office in his own private house. H.A. (Henry Augustus) Smith, his assistant, lived nearby, walked round daily to work with Sanders, and, once a week, visited the Collingridge Office (publishers of A.G.) in London to bring copy and make -up for the next issue and pass the pages of the current one”.
His final sentence should be Thomas’s epitaph. “Sanders played a very important role in the development of late 19 th century gardening and this has never been adequately recognised.”
So,Martley, remember this son of the parish – who was born of illiterate parents, whose only formal education was at the village school, who would have left at 12 (or 14), who, the 1871 census shows, was not living at home aged 15, whose mother was dead by then also; but achieved so much, all by his own efforts – and never forgot his roots.


Information researched and written by Alan Boon (2005)


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