WHILE working-classes people living in rural areas during the 18th century may have had a small garden in which they grew food for their tables and perhaps a few flowers, the rich indulged in spectacular gardens, often featuring exotic plants.

There was an interest in plants introduced from North America, particularly rhododendrons and azaleas.

As these species, as well as roses and evergreen shrubs, prefer acidic soils, the heathland around Woking and Bagshot was found to be an ideal location to propagate them. And that led to plant nurseries being established.

This week, Peeps into the Past looks at the Knap Hill Nursery, thought to have been founded by John Waterer, who was born in 1703.

Descendants of the Waterer family later carried on the business, and in 1809 Michael Waterer made his eldest son, also called Michael, his partner. Michael junior died from cholera in 1842. He had no children.

Hosea Waterer ran the nursery until he died in July 1853, leaving it to his nephews, Hosea and Anthony, both of whom had been working with him in the nursery for several years.

Anthony Waterer died at Woking in 1896. The Journal of Horticultural Science said of him: “Mr Waterer was what is ordinarily called a rough diamond, but under that somewhat rugged manner those who knew him could trace a kindly heart and anxious desire to help all those who were interested in the department he especially affected.”

His son, also called Anthony, then took over the business. During the First World War, staff left and Anthony seems to have lost heart and the nursery went wild. When the war ended in 1918, he made no attempt to restore the site. He died on July 24, 1924.

His brother Hosea, who had emigrated to the USA, returned to take over the nursery. However, he died two years later leaving the business to his two sons. They were American residents and put the business up for sale. In 1931, a company was formed by Captain Robert Jenkinson and Gomer Waterer, with the backing of Lionel de Rothschild, and the Knaphill Nursery Ltd came into being.

Gomer Waterer was the grandson of John Waterer who had inherited a nursery in Bagshot from his brother Michael in 1842.

Gomer died in 1945. His son Donald re-joined the staff after serving in the RAF’s Bomber Command during the Second world War – he was a prisoner of war for two years.

Donald Waterer retired in 1976, the same year in which the business was taken over by another well-known Woking nurseryman, Martin Slocock.

If you have some memories or old pictures relating to the Woking area, call David Rose on 01483 838960, or drop a line to the News & Mail.

David Rose is a local historian and writer who specialises in what he calls “the history within living memory” of people, places and events in the west Surrey area covering towns such as Woking and Guildford. He collects old photos and memorabilia relating to the area and the subject, and regularly gives illustrated local history talks to groups and societies. For enquiries and bookings please phone or email him at: [email protected]