The accounts kept by the Earl of Fauconberg’s steward, Arthur Palmer, record substantial expenditure on the Earl’s new gardens at Sutton Court, Chiswick between 1685 and 1700. The name of Nicholas Parker recurs regularly in Palmer’s account book. Parker supplied plants, sometimes in large quantities, for the Sutton Court garden. Almost all of the payments made to Nicholas Parker or Mr Parker are for the supply of “trees” with only one entry for “plants”. A few entries are more specific, listing “ew”, 300 hornbeams and 38 phillireas, and in 1685 alone Mr Parker was paid the substantial sum of £17 for fruit trees. Separately, “Goodman Parker” appears against payments of £19.2s and £50 for carpentry, with a further £17 for “digging and wharfing a new pond”. It is probable that Goodman Parker was Nicholas Senior, father to the gardener.
So far it has not been possible to identify exactly where all of the Parkers’ properties lay. Nicholas Parker Senior appears in the rate books on Strand on the Green from around 1660; he signed his name as a member of the vestry in 1675 and died in December 1714. Nicholas Parker Junior was not rated identifiably by that name until about 1690. In 1699 he served as churchwarden and in 1709 made a donation of £1 towards work on the north aisle of the parish church. By 1719 he is paying rates on property worth £38 and land in Sutton Field worth £16, almost certainly having taken over land which his father occupied.
Given the quantities of trees supplied to Fauconberg, Nicholas Parker was already a substantial nurseryman by the 1680s, though he does not appear in Harvey’s very comprehensive book, Early Nurserymen. Fortunately a will of June 1725 made by Nicholas Parker of Strand on the Green, “Gardiner”, has survived. In it he requested that he should be buried near his late father at St Nicholas Church, Chiswick.
Though no reference is made in the will to a wife, he seems to have been married twice. His first wife, Elizabeth, was buried in 1688 at St Nicholas; on 11 December 1693 the marriage is recorded between Nicholas Parker, gent, widower, and Mrs Jane Goodwin, widow, by Canterbury licence.
From the lists of Chiswick burials, she may have been the widow of Henry Goodwin, buried in linen in 1687/8, or of another Henry Goodwin buried in 1690. The wealthiest of the Goodwins was living at Sutton Court in 1719. And there were Goodwins who were gardeners, who owned land north of Chiswick High Road, near today’s Chiswick roundabout. There were Brentford Goodwins as well, including a basket-maker.
In 1709 Nicholas Parker Junior is named by George Warner of Turnham Green as one of two executors “which I esteem as my loving friends”. Parker’s social status as a gentleman is further confirmed by his own “good friends” mentioned in the will. He leaves a guinea each for mourning rings for Mr Thomas and Mr George Barker and appoints another, Thomas Mawson, as executor. The Barkers had owned The Grove estate in Chiswick since the middle ages and its land adjoined Vernon Cottage. Mawson had property on the Strand and owned the brewery which was the predecessor of today’s Griffin Brewery. His family was also comfortably off, and one of his brothers was Bishop of Chichester.
Parker’s bequests reveal him to be a man of property with copyhold houses and land in Turnham Green, Little Sutton and Strand on the Green, held of the manor of Sutton Court, and two freeholds in Catherine Wheel Yard, New Brentford. The freeholds secured the right to vote, and a Nicholas Parker is listed in the 1710 Middlesex Poll Book. At this date Nicholas Parker Senior was still alive so these properties may have come to our gardener as a bequest from his father. The will also includes two properties at Strand on the Green, one with six acres and the other with half an acre of land which Parker occupied himself.
William Compton, Parker’s “kinsman” and one of his executors, inherited most of the property, including a house with five and a half acres of gardens at the downstream end of Strand on the Green, then let to Joseph Miller, the comic actor. Miller leased this house, later named Vernon Cottage, from 1686 to his death in 1738. And when Nicholas Compton died in 1760, describing himself as gardener in his will, he bequeathed a house with five and a half acres of gardens which he himself occupied, confirming that this was the house he had inherited. Vernon Cottage is clearly labelled on Leigh’s 1831 Panorama of the Thames, just downstream of the Strand, with a walled garden and at least one glasshouse. William Compton took on responsibility for his brother Nicholas’ five daughters and later left garden grounds to the oldest of them in his own will.
Along with £5 for the poor of Strand on the Green, Parker’s will provided annuities for various relatives as well as bequests of £50, £100 or £200 to a number of friends and relatives: Elizabeth Parker “now living with me”, Mary and Ellen Parker, William Goodwin of Shepperton, Thomas Goodwin of Laleham, Katharine and Eleanor Compton of Turnham Green. Parker often uses the word “kinsman” to describe these heirs, suggesting that they may have been his wives’ relations rather than his blood relatives. William Compton’s will reveals that Katharine and Eleanor were the sisters of himself and Nicholas Compton.
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