Nathaniel Swinden was the author of The Beauties of Flora Displayed, published in 1778. The book reveals his expertise in flower garden design and as a seedsman who could supply over 200 varieties of seeds.
Swinden’s thoughtful and imaginative book demonstrates how to arrange planting for theatrical effect. In an early example of astute marketing, he simplified the implementation of his designs by selling ready-made boxes of seeds for each of them. An invoice shows him exporting specific boxes to Jamaica and there is evidence that London town gardeners were buying his boxes too. His address is given in the book as “near the 8th mile stone at Brentford End”, some distance into Isleworth and further west than the Greenings’ nursery.
Swinden’s book was favourably written up in the Monthly Review. Ralph Griffiths of Linden House, Turnham Green, that journal’s proprietor, was a trustee of the Brentford chapel and may have known the Swindens himself.
Much earlier, in 1701 “a profligate and wicked youth”, the son of William Badger, was convicted of robbing a gardener called Nathaniel Swinden of a considerable quantity of fruit. Swinden took a whip and “did with great severity lash the boy” whose father soon sent him across the Atlantic to find work in Maryland. William Badger remained furiously angry with Swinden and, frequently drinking too much, behaved “with rancour and malice towards him”. The Brentford Meeting House elders intervened and persuaded him to forgive Swinden and “carry himself towards him as a neighbour and a Christian”.
Nathaniel Swinden’s home in Old Brentford was registered for non-conformist meetings in 1710 and he was buried in Ealing in 1729. Nathaniel the author may have been the second of four children born to this earlier Nathaniel and his wife Ann. If so he married Jane Franklin in 1753 and had three children, of which one was also called Nathaniel.
However, Francis Swinden, the first Nathaniel’s eldest son, married Mary Piguenit, the daughter of a Huguenot émigré, and had 6 children, the oldest of which was another Nathaniel Swinden (1744-1804). The title page of the Beauties of Flora lists one of the book-shops where it could be purchased as the one in Berkeley Square run by Caesar Danby Piguenit, Mary’s brother, so this Nathaniel is the most likely author and seedsman. Huguenot gardeners in this country pioneered the trade in seeds so Nathaniel’s business may have benefited from this connection.
The will of Mary’s father, Caesar Piguenit, says he lived in Boston Lane, near Brentford Butts, as did Mary and Francis, but these names are not listed in the New Brentford rate books. Nathaniel Swinden appears as a ratepayer in the Butts over many years -perhaps all the Swindens lived together as an extended family?
Ann Swinden’s will, made shortly before she died in 1756, describes her as a widow living in The Butts. She left property in Southwark and in Red Lion Square, London to Francis and Nathaniel but there is no mention of a garden or nursery. She mentions four children, Nathaniel and Francis and their two married sisters, Ann Bell and the late Mary Bateman. The marriages indicate the family’s status. Caesar Piguenit is “gentleman” in his will while Thomas Bell of Castle Bar House in Ealing, Ann’s husband, was a substantial man of property. The were sufficiently well off to provide for Mr Bateman and two of his children who were “lunatics”.
Ann Swinden’s bequests reveal a comfortable home – her son Francis received a silver pint cup, his eldest son a half-pint silver mug, Ann Bell a silver teapot and the three motherless Bateman children a brass hearth and its furniture, a “walnut tree corner cupboard” with the china inside it and “my chints bed quilt” respectively. She also provided mourning gowns for her servants, Mary Giles and Mary Dobbs.
These generous people supported their families and neighbours. The older generation of Swindens had to manage the problems which arose when their son-in-law and two grandchildren turned out to be mentally unstable, making legal provision to manage their property and oversee their care.
Nathaniel Swinden, The Beauties of Flora Displayed, Chiswick Local Studies Library (L B Hounslow)
London Metropolitan Archives: Acc/0828/014 Swinden pedigree, and N/C/034/1/1 Brentford Congregational Church records 1693-1867
The National Archives: Ann Swinden’s will: PROB 11/824
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