Nemophila insignis on Plate 3 of Vol VII of Maund’s The Botanic Garden

A discovery in the archive at Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service reveals how a local scientist contributed not only to popularising horticulture in the 19th century but significantly during his life to the people and town of Bromsgrove. In fact, held in such high esteem, he later earnt his ‘Majesty’s admiration’ from the King of Prussia.  This is part of a series of posts on the theme of Environmental History to tie in with History Day 2021.

 The discovery of a letter by a Mrs. Mary Jones to the County Librarian dated 3rd March 1976 requesting a display to celebrate a local botanist piqued my interest. Benjamin Maund, a ‘son of Bromsgrove’ she argued was not well-known or honoured in Bromsgrove. In her letter she explains Maund was part of a group of local naturalists who were members of the Worcestershire Natural History Society founded in 1833 by Hon. Curator Edwin Lees, which later became the Worcestershire Naturalists’ Club.

The contribution of Benjamin Maund who would make his home for nearly 50 years in the town of Bromsgrove had largely been forgotten from history until a plaque was unveiled in 1928 by Bromsgrovians keen that his legacy should be honoured in the local Parish church. We explore Maund’s life and work through documents held at WAAS, books and other sources including particular events in Maund’s personal life.

By 1832 and already a fellow of The Linnean Society of London, the most distinguished natural history society of the day, Benjamin Maund had written, printed and published four volumes of The Botanic Garden from his own press at Bromsgrove in Worcestershire. Volume VII of which is held within our Palfrey collection at LP 581.  Besides his literary or cultural references Maund includes most, if not all, of the information that you would find today in modern plant reference books such as flowering period, size, plant type and soil conditions for planting. Monty Don himself I’m sure would be very impressed by Maund’s books that blend literary references, illustrations with practical horticultural advice.

Maund, like many, had a modest start to life, baptised in 1790 to Mary and Owen who according to Margaret Cooper in an account of Maund’s career ‘farmed just inside the small town of Tenbury on Worcestershire’s western edge, an area for centuries famous for its fruit and hops.’ (Cooper, M., Isaac, 1998).

A surviving record of Register of Duties Paid for Apprentices’ held by The National Archives and also searchable via Ancestry shows that he was apprenticed to Stationer Thomas Griffiths with stamp duty recorded as being paid on 5th December 1806 under Ref: IR 1 /72/91. Griffiths wasn’t the leading bookseller of his day, however, after only 7 years, Maund was now a stationer himself.

Having move to Bromsgrove, Maund had taken over the lease from the late Joseph Thompson, former printer, stationer and bookseller on Christmas Day 1813. Benjamin is later recorded in the Parish registers at St. John The Baptist, Bromsgrove marrying his wife Sarah (nee Green) on 13th January 1817.

At the start of his career in 1820 he is listed as ‘Printer & Bookseller, High-St.’ in Lewis’ Worcestershire General & Commercial Directory. He later took advantage of the new-fangled stamp described as ‘Bookseller, Stationer and Printer (& sub-distributer of Stamps) High-st.’ in Slater’s Directory of 1850. A year later, after establishing his business in the Market Place, he moved next door to the Crown Inn on High Street, the town’s busiest coach station. The ground to the rear of his shop then offered the chance to develop his botanic garden (Cooper, M., Isaac, 1998).

Maund’s The Botanic Garden series was first issued in 1825 and running to 13 volumes depicted with great detail and delicacy ornamental flowering plants cultivated in the Royal Gardens (and was dedicated to the young Queen Victoria). Issued as a supplement to The Botanic Garden were 70 numbered prints under the title of The Fruitist. Each of these was a hand-coloured engraving and description of a particular fruit. Examination of Maund’s legacy by James Britten wrote of Maund that the text of ‘The Botanist’ achieved ‘a level unattained by any other magazine’ (Britten, J., Journal of Botany, 56 (1918) 241). Held in such high esteem, he was later given a Golden Snuff-Box by the King of Prussia.

However, credit for some of Maund’s success is owed to ‘The Misses Maund’- the daughters Eliza and Sarah whose lives remain largely undocumented as reported by Cornell University and other botanical artists such as Augusta Innes Withers. Indeed, apart from Eliza and Sarah’s names on the individual plates and some letters from Sarah Maund bequeathing the original botanical illustrations to the Natural History Museum, London, we know very little of their important contribution to their fathers’ legacy.

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