Liz McGow, Archivist, investigates a small collection of floorplans found in Richard Salisbury’s papers, which are due to go live at the next catalogue update later this month.
Published on 7th March 2023
Amongst the correspondence and scientific papers of the botanist Richard Salisbury (1761-1829), an intriguing discovery was made: a small pile of floorplans, neatly drawn with pencil and ruler.
Richard Salisbury (born Richard Markham) is painted as quite the villain in the history books and his acrimonious relationship with the Linnean Society’s Founder, Sir James Edward Smith, is well documented. The two men, once firm friends from university days, differed in their views of classification, with Salisbury being opposed to the use of Linnaeus’ sexual system whilst Smith was a strong supporter.
Their relationship soured after Salisbury issued a series of stinging attacks on Smith and his work, both in print and in person, including at Linnean Society meetings.
Many in the botanical world were appalled at Salisbury’s increasingly aggressive behaviour. Smith, who felt compelled to defend himself, was urged by his friends not to debase himself by engaging further ‘with such a reptile’, with James Brodie explaining, rather explicitly, that:
‘The more you tread on a T[ur]d the more it stinks.’
Known to be a difficult man who quarrelled easily, Salisbury was reproached for other actions too: he was accused of plagiarism after publishing a paper on Proteaceae, under the pseudonym Joseph Knight, in which he passed off Robert Brown’s results as his own. He is also said to have falsely declared himself bankrupt, even spending time in a debtor’s prison as part of the ruse, to avoid financially supporting his estranged wife and child.
His professional and personal reputation in tatters, Salisbury came to be largely ostracised from botanical circles. Bishop Goodenough of Carlisle, in a letter to Smith dated 26 December 1809, declared:
‘I think Salisbury is got just where Catiline was when Cicero attacked him, viz. to that point of shameful doing when no good man could be found to defend him.’
Despite his controversial character, he is still regarded as an accomplished botanist and one who was instrumental in setting up the Horticultural Society of London (now the Royal Horticultural Society) as well as the Linnean Society.
So to the plans themselves. The largest plan acts as an envelope for the others and is labelled (in an unknown hand) ‘Plans of house and stove’. On opening this page, you find a large floorplan and 3 further plans enclosed, plus a loose note.
The largest plan shows the layout of the ground floor of a grand, though not enormous, house, symmetrical in style, with steps up either side.
It has been neatly drawn with pencil and ruler and each room is labelled as to its purpose, along with the dimensions of the space, including parlour, dining parlour, drawing room, coach house, men’s room, women’s room, kitchen, scullery, beer cellar and coal cellar. There is also a substantial greenhouse (32 x 7 feet) shown in the garden, placed perfectly in line with the property.
The smaller piece of paper depicts a further plan, this time showing what appears to be a garden (you can clearly see the windows and door of the building at the bottom of the page) and what appears to be a path with steps going up and down.
The final piece (which has drawings on both sides of the page) is a close up of the T section in the previous plan. All 3 of these plans include dashes, or squiggles, to indicate the planned path for individuals to walk, with a note on one saying ‘Walk flagged’. Finally there is a scrap of paper entitled ‘Sheads’, with some notes in ink relating to dimensions as well as the ‘End Walk’.
Frustratingly there are no further notes or labels to indicate who produced these plans and to which property, or possibly properties, they relate. Curiously, despite the label mentioning a stove, no such item has been found on any of the plans.
In terms of the creator, it seems likely that they were produced by Salisbury himself as, having checked the handwriting against his other papers, there is a strong resemblance.
From further research we also know that Salisbury had an interest in landscaping and played a large part in the design of his gardens at Chapel Allerton in West Yorkshire, where he also produced a catalogue of the plants.
John Claudius Loudon also reports of Salisbury’s involvement at the vast estate of Harewood House in West Yorkshire:
‘In the first Lord Harewood’s time, R.A. Salisbury Esq. (who then resided in Chapel Allerton, where he had an immense green-house), was a frequent guest at His Lordship’s table, and many important alterations are said to have been made in the grounds from his designs.’
On learning of this connection between Salisbury and Harewood House, we contacted the Collections team at the property, sending along photographs of Salisbury’s plans. Investigations are ongoing, with the visitor books being checked for social calls by Salisbury, but the plans do not seem to match any buildings at Harewood.
Turning to Salisbury’s own residences, we know of three main properties where Salisbury resided. The first, as already mentioned, is Chapel Allerton, in West Yorkshire, which he had inherited from his father, and where he lived until about 1800. After this he moved to Ridgeway House in Mill Hill, Middlesex, and resided there from 1801-1807. This was the former home of the renowned botanist, Peter Collinson, who had established a much-admired garden during his time. Salisbury’s final residence, where he lived from around 1808 until his death in 1829, was 18 Queen Street, Edgeware Road, in London. Having been forced to sell Ridgeway House for financial reasons he is said to have retained a large number of plants from his former property, which he kept in hundreds of pots in the garden at his London home.
These properties are considerably harder to investigate. Ridgeway House is no longer standing, with a school, Mill Hill, now on the former site. Regarding the house in Edgeware Road, Queen Street does not seem to exist on any modern maps, so it is possible it has also disappeared, which would be unsurprising given the amount of development in the Edgeware Road area over the years. It seems unlikely, however, that these plans relate to the garden of a townhouse, which one would imagine the Queen Street property would have been, and nor does it fit with the account of the large collection of plant pots.
Chapel Allerton Hall, whilst still standing, appears to have now been split up into residential flats with some online accounts stating that part of the building has been demolished, presumably being replaced with more modern extensions.
Further investigation is required but the two most likely properties seem to be Chapel Allerton or Ridgeway House, due to the relative size of the properties, and Loudon does refer to ‘an immense green-house’ at Chapel Allerton which matches up with the largest plan.
Crucially, we still do not know the purpose of these plans. It is of course possible, probable even, that the plans do not relate to anything, in that they may simply be sketches by Salisbury for a property and garden that never made it off the page. It’s been fun looking though and if anyone can shed any light on these plans please get in touch as we would love for this mystery to be solved!
Liz McGow, Archivist
 Letter from James Brodie to Dawson Turner, 9 March 1808. TC O.13.6 f64. Trinity College Cambridge
 Gardener’s Magazine and Register of Rural & Domestic Improvements by J.C. Loudon,1830. Thanks to Gemma Plumpton and the Head Gardener at Harewood House for confirming the link with Harewood House, as previously only online references had been found, as well as their help with this matter.