Thomas Mawson Life, Gardens and Landscapes By Janet Waymark
This is a book filled with beautiful photographs showcasing the work both at home and abroad of the gardens and public places designed by Thomas Mawson.
From a humble background, this self-taught horticulturist was soon designing gardens around grand homes in the Lake District. His trademark terraces and stonework allowed views of the surrounding hills and lakes. Commissions came thick and fast with no job too small for the expanding firm.
Thomas who was born on 5 May 1861 at Scorton, a few miles north of Garstang in Lancashire spent his early childhood there with his older sisters Mary and Sarah and his younger brothers Robert and Isaac until his father, John, decided to move away to find other work. This was to be the first of many moves.
Thomas’ interest in gardening started at their home in Lancaster where he was given garden plots to dig to improve his health and physique and later worked in the nursery his father bought. Despite his scanty education Thomas at twelve was employed and housed by his uncle Isaac as an office boy in his firm in Lancaster. Here he gained ‘the best technical training I could have had’ and the beginnings of a knowledge of architecture. Not only did his uncle teach him about building and encourage his drawing but he also shared his amateur knowledge of horticulture, especially British ferns.
Thomas’ father died in 1879 and Thomas was dispatched at aged 18 to London to find a position as best he could for himself and his two brothers. The brothers were taken on by a supplier for Covent Garden Market and Thomas worked for John Wills from Somerset in Fulham at his flower nursery. He was there for two years before it went into liquidation. He had a short sojourn in Somerset before he was back in London working for a hardy plants specialist at Hale Farm Nurseries in Tottenham.
He gradually built up his knowledge and was offered excellent training where he made useful contacts among garden owners and nurserymen. He was offered a junior partnership, but the firm had no landscape department, which is where his interests lay. At 23 he was promised a partnership with a firm of nurserymen in Surrey who wanted to develop their landscape work. Seeing the time as right he married a North Walsham doctor’s daughter Anna Prentice on 1 August 1884. However, while on honeymoon in the Lake District the partnership offer collapsed. Mawson assessed the chances of working in the Lake District for himself and his brothers and chose to stay. By February 1885 they had moved to Windermere with a workplace in College Road and some land for a nursery.
From there, with hard work and help from his family, he built up the business and his reputation working throughout the UK, Europe, and the Americas, later moving the business to London with a very small sample of his work below.
In the early 1920s he toured the lecture circuit of North American universities teaching students civic design. By 1900 he had published the first edition of ‘The Art and Craft of Garden Making’ which were practical guides to making plans for large country estate gardens and smaller urban gardens. He also contributed to ‘Civic Art’ in 1911 about park making and town planning as well as writing copious articles for six architectural and builders’ magazines.
He spent the latter part of his life at Applegarth in Cumbria where he died in 1933. He was still overseeing and approving final plans although his health did not allow participation in the day to day running. However, he remains on the fringes of public appraisal even though he was the most prolific garden, park and civic landscape maker of Edwardian times. He designed parks with imagination and style and entered wholeheartedly into shaping the new realms of town planning because he felt that the beautification of towns helped people to live better lives. A man with a perception before his time. Maybe this book will rectify this in some small way.
Contributed by Bernice
(Published 10th Jan 2024)