Window Gardens for the People and Clean and Tidy Rooms; Being an Experiment to Improve the Homes of the London Poor by Rev. S. Haddon-Parkes M.A. 1863.

I couldn`t find Mr Bosanquet`s lecture notes or the sheet published by the Journal of Horticulture. But I found this amazing little book in the Hathi Trust Digital Library.  It was written by a Clergyman, Curate of St George`s Bloomsbury, and its purpose was to explain the effort made to improve the home life of the very poor in London. It was written in response to requests for information from all over the country, which suggests that quite a few people were involved in this kind of thing.

Haddon-Parkes first described the present condition of the homes of the London poor.  His descriptions were not very favourable.  Suffice it to say that the very poor lived in wretched, overcrowded, dilapidated tenements, badly constructed, with bad drainage, worse ventilation, raging with fever, small pox, measles.  Typically, the houses had 3 stories, eight rooms, 2 in the cellar, with a family living in each room. I don`t think that conditions were quite so bad as that in New Springs.

His rationale for trying to improve conditions there was quite pragmatic – the large criminal classes and diseased labouring classes, who resided in such places needed large prisons and hospitals to combat the consequent evils resulting in increased taxes.  However, he also had some more inspiring reasons.  He thought that the love and cultivation of flowers was beneficial to the poor in several ways.  It provided a recreation which husband and wife could do together, it refreshed their minds and bodies and was an alternative to the beer house, it purified the air, promoted habits of cleanliness, foresight and prudence, and it helped the spiritual condition of the poor as the beauty of the flowers would remind them of their Creator.  He included a number of touching and very condescending stories about poor people who had life enhancing experiences by growing a geranium. It is almost as if he was writing about a different species.

Haddon-Parkes went into detail about the organisation of the show, setting out the rules, prizes, the kind of plants that could be cultivated in dark and smoky conditions.  A few handbills were printed announcing the show and placed in shop windows.  To ensure that plants were not purchased the day before the show all plants for exhibition had to be registered at least 4 weeks before the show date.  To make sure that the plant was in the possession of the exhibitor for the 4 weeks an inspector was sent out to make sure the registered plants existed and were in the hands of the exhibitor.  The first exhibition was held in the Bible Mission Room which they gave a flower show aspect by covering the tables with green tissue paper.  He was delighted with the plants and amused at the array of domestic articles used as flower pots – with plants displayed in teapots, jugs and basins.  Upcycling was alive and well in the 19th Century!

In succeeding years they modified and refined the organisation and the rules.  There were different classes for the different areas of the parish so that those persons living in streets of a more airy situation and a higher social position were not competing with those in the very poor streets.  He was aware of the criticism that the time of cultivation was very short and that it would be better to extend the period during which the exhibitor had to cultivate their plants, but he thought that the poor`s lack of knowledge and experience and the adverse conditions for cultivation would discourage them in the efforts they were making.  It was better to start with a short time and gradually extend it from year to year.

Haddon-Parkes went into some detail about how to avoid cheating.  He did not like to distrust the exhibitors, but he was forced to conclude from past experience that it would be unwise to abandon all securities against fraud.  Some people`s plants did not flourish or died and they just went out and bought another one.  They found that it was impossible for the inspectors to tell if the plant which was exhibited was the same as the one that was registered.  So, in subsequent years at the time of registration, every plant was tied with a piece of tape which was sealed to the outside of the pot.  This prevented fraud, gave security to the honest competitors and saved the time and trouble of an uncertain inspection.

In the third year of the show the gardens of Russel Square were generously loaned for the day.  Access to the square gave the poor great pleasure and was an added inducement to enter the competition.  As with the New Springs Flower Show, not all competitors could win prizes, and a day out in the gardens was their reward for entering.  Haddon-Parkes took the opportunity to hope that the residents of other London Squares would follow their example.  He thought that the gardens of the London squares were mementoes of aristocratic exclusiveness, monopolised by those who needed them least.  He thought that all the fences and walls of these exclusive gardens must be cast down and if they were not removed voluntarily and in the spirit of love, then they would soon be torn down in a spirit of wrath.

Pause for thought – Haddon-Parkes called himself a Christian Philanthropist, the aim of which was social and spiritual elevation but he was also quietly advocating social change, not by revolution, but trying to avoid revolution.  Maybe James, who started the New Springs Flower Shows, just liked flowers, but maybe he saw himself, not just as a Christian philanthropist, but as part of a movement of social change.  I hope so.  I like to think that New Springs Allotments began as part of a movement for social change.

The second part of the book described a competition, also to improve the homes of the poor, for clean and tidy rooms.  This is fascinating, but it is getting even further away from my original research into the history of New Springs Allotments, and I decided to leave this particular avenue of exploration there for anyone else to follow.

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