Xmera / Garden History / Nurseries: William Maule & Co.

William Maule & Co., Bristol

In 1769 James Maule, a Scot, arrived in Gloucestershire as head gardener to to Sir William Codrington at Dodington. It is unclear how long he worked for the Codringtons. His heirs would later claim that his nursery was established in 1771, but it may have started as a sideline. He married in 1784 and by 1782 was living in the Frenchay Coffee House in Hambrook and describing himself as a land surveyor. The property had two adjoining closes, on which he was able to develop his nursery. Between 1775 and 1787 the majority of seeds bought for the gardens at Dodington were supplied by James Petrie of Bath. From 1788 Maule replaced Petrie as the Codrington seed supplier. An advertisement in the Gloucester Journal the following year shows how he was developing the two sides of his business. He would supply customers with ‘all sorts of Fruit Trees, Forest Trees, Flowering Shrubs, and Evergreens; with a variety of Exotics, Herbaceous, and Greenhouse Plants‘. He also offered to supply his services as a surveyor: ‘Lands surveyed and Gardens laid out in the best manner, on the most reasonable terms’. In 1792 Sir William Codrington died and in the following years his heir undertook a substantial programme of redesign and replanting in the garden. Maule was the main supplier now not only of seeds, but also trees, shrubs and flowers.

His sons James and William followed him as nurserymen and surveyors. In 1801 they acquired meadowland known as the Oxlease and Upper Mulgrove in Hambrook, on which they built a house and established their own nursery. Nine years later William purchased land in the Common Mead, which retained the name of Maule's Nursery into the 1930s. Mathew's Bristol directory of 1815 listed 'William Maule & Co., nurserymen, Lower Easton', which five years later had become 'William Maule & Co., nurserymen, seedsmen & florists, Stapleton Road'. James continued to live in Frenchay. This new nursery bordered the Stapleton Road beside the Blackbird tollgate. When the nursery was established, it stood in open land, but gradually the development of Bristol encroached upon it.

In 1846 an acre of land rented from the owner of the Three Blackbird's Inn was put up for sale as a building lot. By the mid-nineteenth century the nursery covered 45 acres and employed 28 men and 9 boys. William died in 1858 and was succeeded by his son Alexander. From 1854 until Alexander's death in 1884 the company also operated a pottery, particularly making pots for the newly fashionable orchids, in which he specialised. Alexander clearly had an enquiring and adventurous spirit. He tried grafting potatoes onto native solanums to increase disease resistance and experimented with fermenting Yuccas to produce alcohol and making jam from the Japanese quince (then known as Pyrus maulei). By 1884 the nursery had been reduced to around 26 acres and was completely surrounded by buildings except where it bordered the Stapleton Road. In January 1888 Alexander's sister Louisa put the stock of the nursery up for sale. This included 10,000 rhododendrons, over 200,000 trees of various sorts and 300,000 'strong thorns'. The sale took five days. The greenhouses, orchids, stove and greenhouse plants and the pottery were sold separately, followed in August 1888 by the site itself. By 1900 the site had been built over.