For the historian, the practice of naming sons after fathers and/or grandfathers can cause no end of confusion. This has certainly been the case with a family of Scots gardeners called Kennedy.What follows is an attempt to clarify which gardeners called Lewis Kennedy had links with the Chiswick area.

A Lewis Kennedy prepared Notitiae, elegant notes and sketches, which survive in the archives at Chatsworth. These proposed improvements to the estate immediately to the east of the grounds of Chiswick House, which the 6th Duke of Devonshire purchased in 1812. This had been the property of Sir Stephen Fox, who invested in a magnificent house and grounds there in the early 1680s. It passed through successive owners after Fox’s death in 1716. From 1758 it was the home of the Earl and Countess of Morton and was later known as  Moreton Hall. The Duke’s purpose was to enlarge his gardens and the Hall was soon demolished. His enhancements include the Italian garden and conservatory, the home of the Chiswick House Camellia Festival.

This Lewis Kennedy was born in 1789 and, despite his youth, had already worked for the Empress Josephine in France, obtaining permission to travel and export plants to France during the Napoleonic Wars. [This contract was almost certainly facilitated by a wealthy London merchant, George Hibbert (1757-1837), who was an impressive gardener, funding plant hunters and acting as a silent partner in the Vineyard Nursery. He was on intimate terms with Josephine and recommended that Kennedy be engaged to advise her.] The son of John Kennedy (1759-1842), Lewis’s expertise at such a young age must have come from working at the family’s Vineyard Nursery, the famous concern of Kennedy and Lee on the site where the Olympia exhibition halls were later built. John Kennedy was one of seven children, including three sets of twins. Two sons were both baptised Lewis but only the two other siblings – John and Amelia – survived to adulthood. Amelia Emily Kennedy married William Bridgewater Page; he trained at the Vineyard Nursery and in 1815 launched his own nursery in Southampton.

Kennedy’s scheme for Trebartha Castle that was never carried out

Lewis Kennedy (1789-1877) produced albums or “Notitiae” for other clients. In 2011 The Huntington Library in California acquired one of these, for Trebartha Hall in Cornwall. Kennedy’s proposals are set out in 12 manuscript pages, supplemented with 8 watercolor sketches and 5 pen-and-wash vignettes with verses, bound in olive green leather to seduce his client! Kennedy wrote “I have ventured to annex, a small slip of paper to shew the possibilities of Trebartha in the Castle style & at trifling more expence …” Seductive stuff but never implemented!

Another Lewis Kennedy (d 1782), born in Scotland, is said to have established this nursery in the first half of the 1740s with a fellow Scot, James Lee, from Selkirk (1715-1795). Lee had served his apprenticeship with Philip Miller, also a Scot, at the Chelsea Physic Garden and Loudon stated that he had then worked at Whitton Park and on the Syon Estate. John H Harvey suggested that this Lewis Kennedy was grandfather of the author of the Chiswick Notitiae. He identified him also as the Lewis Kennedy who was gardener to Lord Wilmington at Chiswick, when he subscribed to Philip Miller’s Dictionary in 1731, to Furber’s Short Introduction in 1733 and to Rocque’s map of London and Environs in 1741. Lord Wilmington showed his house and garden to Sir John Clerk of Penicuik in 1733; he wrote that he “shewed me all his gardens where there is a vast variety of Trees, Shrubs, plants & flowers…. One Kennedy a Scotsman is Gardiner & has been with him many years. I found the Ananis or pineapple very forward – he has a vast stock of Tulips Hyacinths Anemonies & Ranunculuses…. He has a neat Library for phylosophie & Botanie books of all kinds”.

Thomas Kirton, the local blacksmith, had a forge a short walk from Lord Wilmington’s house (now under the Hogarth Business Park). Kirton had worked for Lord Wilmington at Chiswick and was recommended by him to the Earl of Northampton. Kirton’s will included a bequest of a mourning ring to a Lewis Kennedy in 1755, and it makes sense that this refers to Lord Wilmington’s gardener. (Kirton’s mother, Mary, had kept up the family forge after her husband’s death and her name appears on invoices for smith’s work for Lord Burlington at Chiswick House and in the accounts in the 1720s, amongst the archives at Chatsworth).

The Gentleman’s Magazine, vol xiii, carried a report of the death of another Lewis Kennedy, gardener to the Duke of Bedford on the Woburn estate. Kennedy had cut his throat and died instantly; his suicide note, dated 6 October 1743, was printed in full. It referred to a long period of mental illness and instability, and asked for compassion rather than ridicule, but Kennedy was rational enough to have sorted out practical matters, leaving with his suicide note an IOU from Alexander Brown confirming that he owed Kennedy £10 and also a letter to Brown which asked him to ensure that Kennedy had a decent Christian burial and that his box of possessions should be sent to his nephew who was gardener to the Earl of Northampton.

The Lewis Kennedy who entered into a partnership with Lee soon after his uncle’s tragic death must have been this nephew. He was most likely the son of Thomas Kennedy (brother to the gardener at Woburn) who died in 1721 a few months after his son’s birth.

Sir Stephen Fox’s house was purchased by Lord Wilmington from Fox’s son and inherited by the Earl of Northampton – so the estate which today forms the eastern segment of the grounds of Chiswick House, comprising the Italian garden, the conservatory full of camellias and the series of walled gardens to the north, played a part in the horticultural lives of two of the Kennedys. One managed it for Lord Wilmington (and seems to have gone on to work for its next owner, the Earl of Northampton) and the other, his grandson, made ambitious and audacious proposals for its modification as a young man in 1812-14.

Sources of information:

John H Harvey, Early Nurserymen, Phillimore, 1974

E J Willson, James Lee and the Vineyard Nursery, Hammersmith, Hammersmith Local History Group, 1961 (Eleanor Willson obtained family information from descendants of both the Lee and Kennedy families)

Huntington Library, Trebartha Notitiae

Chatsworth Archives: purchase of Morton Hall, Kennedy’s Notitiae for this estate, and Chiswick House accounts used in  R T Spence, Chiswick House and Its Gardens 1726-1732, Burlington Magazine, Vol. 135, No 1085, 1993

Gillian Clegg, Moreton Hall, Brentford & Chiswick Local History Journal no 9 (2000)

Sally Jeffrey, Fox’s “Extraordinarily Fine” Chiswick Garden, Brentford & Chiswick Local History Journal no 15, 2006

The Gentleman’s Magazine, xiii – note about suicide of Duke of Bedford’s gardener

Family history references traced and/or checked via

Information from Richard Hewlings, English Heritage about recommendation to the Earl of Northampton. – a website about the Hibbert family run by Nick Hibbert Steele

Further Reading:

Jan Woudstra,The Italian Garden at Chiswick House in English Heritage Historical Review 5, 2010

Clare Howard, The influence of the Kennedy family at Croxdale Hall, Historic England Research issue 5, 2017

Note: This piece has prompted interest from several descendants of the gardening Kennedys – I am grateful for the information they have passed on and have been happy to share my research. Yesterday I took two of them for a walk around the Italian Garden and the Duke’s Avenue at Chiswick House to explore the design ideas Lewis Kennedy (1789-1877) had conceived in 1814.  2 July 2012



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