John Blackburne

Note from Kit Heald, 16th October 2006

I came across your website as I had just been to a meeting of the Warrington Archaeological and Historical Society where I had taken notes about the talk which was about John Blackburne of Orford Hall, Warrington. I wanted to check some spellings, etc so I turned to the web. Many of the plants and animals that you have with the name of blackburniana are named after this family who were great naturalists. Of the items you have on the site certainly the palm tree and the warbler were mentioned along with a lot of others including a dung beetle, Geotropes blackburnii (an old name which has been changed)! In fact tonight's talk was titled The first Botanical Gardens in Warrington.

I thought you might be interested in the information so I have attached a copy of my notes of the talk. They are taken for people who know the area so some of it may notmake sense but if you have any queries please get in touch.

John is the head of science at the National Museums at Merseyside. A botanist with an interest in the history of botany; worked on the flora of Turkey at Edinburgh Botanical Gardens. Discovered that the oldest specimens at Liverpool came from Manchester and Warrington so undertook research to find out from where. In C17 & 18 collectors were famous in other disciplines. The founder of the collections at what became the Manchester Museum was John Leigh Phillips. In late C17 Manchester, Warrington and Liverpool were ‘boom’ towns and industrialists wanted to show off their wealth so many built conservatories. John L Phillips employed a gardener, John Shepherd, who was head-hunted by John Roscoe of Liverpool for the Liverpool Botanical Gardens. John S was in touch with other botanists and sourced the Liverpool collection from other places in the area.

John Blackburne of Orford Hall, 1694 – 1786. Buried in St Oswald’s, Winwick churchyard. A painting of him by Hamlet Winstanley came up for auction and was bought by Warrington Museum (with help from UKAEA?) In this picture there is a window through which can be seen a hothouse with smoke coming from the chimney (heating probably by coal which was expensive but this was a wealthy man!). John Edmondson has written the text for John B for the new DNB, published 2004.
Beamont quotes some information about John B: the naturalist George Edwards spent one month with John B and mentioned his torrid (tropical) plants with pineapples which were there to be eaten not just show!
Following his wife Catherine’s death his daughter Anne became his housekeeper until his death.
William and Richard Blackburne were brothers and timber merchants:
2 generations further on Thomas Blackburne was John’s father.
The speaker gave a lot more interesting and detailed information from the family tree but rather too convoluted and quickly to make notes of!
Winstanley also painted a family portrait of John and Catherine and the 7 children.
John was Lord of the Manor of Warrington and High Sheriff of Manchester. Demolished the bridge over the Mersey at Warrington to prevent Bonnie Prince Charlie’s army traveling south. (They diverted through the Midlands getting little support. If they had gone via Wales where there was more support history might have been different.)
He built a causeway at Longford and the schoolhouse. Orford Hall had been there since C13 but he built a new hall.
As an Anglican he did not have much concern with the Academy but he was friends with Johann Reinhold Forster, a tutor there who spoke a number of European languages. Forster taught at the Winwick Grammar School on a Saturday and had dinner with the Blackburne’s on his way home following which he taught Anne entomology.
Forster had been on Cook’s 2nd voyage round the world and named a plant after the father and daughter.
Dr Richardson of North Bierley near Bradford also had a hot house built by those who built John B’s. John wrote to him for advice.
The Orford Hall garden became famous in the mid 1700s. It was a ‘botanical’ garden: the plants were assembled for their scientific study not for their beauty. The head gardener, Adam Neal wrote a catalogue for the garden.
Drawings shown of hot house from Edinburgh RO; this would have been new technology in the C18. Only at Orford Hall were there plant pots with handles: very rare.
Anne was a keen naturalist who was educated at home but carried on correspondence with Linnaeus and Pallas (a German born naturalist); she traveled extensively. When her father died she moved into Fairfield and she died in 1794.
Ashton, her brother, collected bird specimens in America. Audubon named a warbler after the family and they had several other plants and animals named after the family including a dung beetle: Geotropes blackburniana.
The plants at Orford were taken to Hale Hall and this was recorded by Thomas Glazebrook who wrote about the rare and valuable collection.
Palmetto Royal Palm: the shock of the move to Hale caused it to flower for the first time in 1818. The flowering spike was sent to Sir James Smith, President of the Herbarian Society. It died in 1858 probably because the gardeners had to keep lowering it further into the soil as it grew too big for the glasshouse. Seedlings were sent to Chatsworth and the Crystal Palace but it is not known if these were any of the palms at the Great Exhibition in 1851. It was named Sabal blackburniana Glazebrook (pictured).

There was also an ivy at Orford Hall which had not been known before in this part of Britain. It was not in the catalogue which was published in 1779, by William Eyres, but must have been received between then and 1802 when Catherine died as she is referred to regarding the plant.
Photo of Orford Hall 1860 with the glass house shown on the right.
Photo of gardens with push-pull grass mower and lime tree avenue. These trees were killed by 1860s from chemical pollution.
In the portrait of John B he is holding a book which has a title of a book published in 1753. Does this date the portrait or was the title added later: the book was the wrong size for the original. The artist, Winstanley, died in 1755. Looking at the area of the portrait showing the hot houses and using infra-red reflectology an image of a plant can be seen: possibly a pineapple. The style of the hothouses would probably have been similar to the designs in a contemporary book by Bradley. John Hope wrote about the pineapple.
Photo in C19 of a cedar tree grown from a seed from North Bierley. A man in that photo sith a tall stovepipe hat on.
There is no plan of the gardens. Their style can perhaps be imagined as being similar to the designs of Stephen Switzer who designed 2 gardens in north Wales: Leeswood and Rhual.
James Bolton, a botanical illustrator, drew some plants at Orford and it was known that John B had introduced some from the wild.
John B was a conservationist: minutes of Winwick Parish meetings show that he only grudgingly gave assent for rewards to be paid for dead foxes and otters.
In later years the family moved into the Liverpool scene with one member becoming Lord Mayor of Liverpool and another an MP. Various street names in the Liverpool/Manchester area commemorate their name.
The family’s wealth had come from salt: his father had helped build the Weaver navigation and their salt works in Liverpool was next door to the Salt House docks.
The arms of the Blackburne family was very similar to the Townleys of Burnley. One version has the arms surmounted by a bugle and cockerel which is a reference to a female line of Lever = French levee – to rise.

18 years after John B’s death, William Roscoe founded the Liverpool Botanical Gardens with its massive conservatory.
Now we have Ness Gardens owned by the University of Liverpool but founded by another wealthy Liverpool industrialist, Kilton Bulley.
There were many international links by all these people mentioned.