Xmera / Garden History / Nurseries: Holbert

Holbert family, Gloucester

The Chapel House Garden was run as a nursery in the 1740s by Joseph Hockley, who claimed that his father planted and pruned the first espalier fruit tree in England. (The garden of 2-3 acres was let separately from the 18th century house built on the site of the former chapel of St Thomas the Martyr.) Hockley apparently went bust in 1748 and the lease and stock of the nursery were put up for sale. A nursery was later operated on the same site by Robert Holbert, who appears among the jurors in court leet presentments described as a gardener from 1763. In May 1773 'Hulbert the Gardener' was paid £7-00-06 for seeds supplied to Highnam Court and in 1778 he supplied firtrees and seeds to John Bullock Lloyd of Brecon. His two sons Robert and James also became gardeners. In 1782, when both the sons were in their early twenties and newly married, the nursery moved further out of the city from the Chapel House to a site near the turnpike in Kingsholm. Robert Holbert the elder died the following year.

A few months after the nursery moved, Robert Holbert the younger became a freeman of the city by fine. He became the landlord of the Three Cocks, while his younger brother James took over the Kingsholm nursery. In January 1787 James Holbert was offering 500,000 hawthorn hedging plants for sale. His business was not going well and that autumn he was forced to sell the stock of his nursery to his brother Robert and Newton Brabant, a Gloucester pinmaker. In 1788 the new owners accused James of 'plundering' the stock they had purchased from him and threatened to prosecute. In 1790 Robert Holbert moved from the Three Cocks to the Lamb in St Mary's Square, from where he sold 'All kinds of Fruit and Forest Trees, Evergreens, Flowering Shrubs, and Roots, best Norfolk Turnip, Clover and other Seeds, Garden Matts, &c. of the first quality, and at the lowest prices' alongside the alcohol. This combination of interests was very similar to that Robert's contemporary John McLaren. By 1790 Newton Brabant was advertising the stock of the Kingsholm nursery for sale, stressing that he was the sole owner. Robert Holbert's widow Mary was still running The Lamb in 1808, when his son John became a freeman.

James Holbert continued to raise and sell trees after the loss of his nursery, offering hawthorn, elm and ash for sale in 1797. He continued to be unsuccessful. In 1804 he was imprisoned for debt and found himself in the city jail again five years later. By 1820 his son Robert had established himself as a nurseryman and seedsman at Green Cottage near the infirmary in Southgate Street. The entrance to the nursery was in Green Dragon Lane (now Parliament Street). He also rented a small piece of land in Stroud Road from the council. By 1851 he employed three men. He was a regular contributor to horticultural shows and in 1854 was vice chairman of the Gloucester Hrticultural Society. A few years after his death J.F. Wood, writing on the Victorian plum in The Midland florist and suburban horticulturist wrote he had found it Holbert's garden, as the Dauphine plum, 'a variety recently brought from the western coast of France by the captain of a trading vessel'. He died in 1855, never having married, and was described by the Gloucestershire Chronicle as 'deservedly esteemed and respected'.