LOUDON, Jane, née Webb (1807–1858) & LOUDON, John (1783–1843)
Plaque erected in 1953 by London County Council at 3 Porchester Terrace, Bayswater, London, W2 3TH, City of Westminster
Landscape Gardeners and Horticultural Writers
HERE LIVED JOHN AND JANE LOUDON 1783-1843 and 1807-1858 THEIR HORTICULTURAL WORK GAVE NEW BEAUTY TO LONDON SQUARES
The landscape gardeners and horticultural writers John Claudius Loudon and Jane Webb Loudon are commemorated together at their home in Porchester Terrace, Bayswater. John Loudon’s work also embraced agriculture, botany, architecture, town-planning and social reform. Jane Loudon was a writer of science fiction, gardening, nature and botany books, and a magazine editor.
John Claudius Loudon: Early life and career
John Claudius Loudon – often referred to as ‘JC Loudon’ – was born in Lanarkshire to a Scottish farmer. He studied agriculture, botany and chemistry at the University of Edinburgh and was apprenticed to two firms of Edinburgh nurserymen and landscape gardeners.
He first came to London in 1803, with letters of introduction to Sir Joseph Banks and to Jeremy Bentham, who would prove to be a lasting influence on his thinking. At the end of that year the 20-year-old Loudon’s ‘Hints respecting the manner of laying out the grounds of the Public Squares in London, to the utmost picturesque advantage’, was published in the Literary Journal – marking the start of a prolific career as a writer and educator.
After a spell in Middlesex and Oxfordshire, where he managed Tew Lodge Farm, Loudon returned to London in 1811, and moved to the Bayswater area in 1816. At around this time he began designing hothouses (heated greenhouses). His wrought-iron sash bar made possible the construction of curvilinear hothouses such as the Palm House at Kew Gardens (1844–8). In 1819 he revisited the continent to research his vast Encyclopaedia of Gardening (1822), which was a popular and critical success and remained in print for decades. Further encyclopedias on agriculture and plants appeared respectively in 1825 and 1829.
In 1826 he launched the Gardener’s Magazine, a favourite enterprise. This influential horticultural magazine offered an arena for his own thoughts and a medium for the exchange of ideas. Loudon’s own contributions included articles recommending a national system of education, workers’ dwellings, and a plan for the controlled expansion of London through concentric circles of alternating open space and residential and commercial development
Loudon’s promotion of public urban open spaces included Hints on Breathing Places for the Metropolis, and for Country Towns and Villages, on fixed Principles (1829), and the design of Derby Arboretum (opened 1840), considered to be Britain’s first public park. He was also involved in burial reform, designing new cemeteries at Cambridge, Bath and Southampton, and becoming an early advocate for cremation.
Jane (née Webb) Loudon: Early life and career
Little is known about Jane Webb’s early life and education. She was the only daughter of a Birmingham manufacturer, and on his death in 1824 she turned to writing in order to support herself. After Prose and Verse (1824), she published The Mummy! A Tale of the Twenty Second Century in 1827. This pioneering work of science fiction brought together political commentary, Egyptomania, and her interest in science and technology. It impressed JC Loudon, who asked to meet the anonymous author. They were married seven months later at St James’s Church, Paddington, in September 1830.
The couple settled at 3 Porchester Terrace, Bayswater, which John had designed in 1823. As illustrated in his The Suburban Gardener and Villa Companion (1838), the house was a ‘double detached Suburban Villa’ – two small houses, built so as to appear as one with a central domed conservatory. Among its many innovative features were glass-roofed verandas that ran around most of the building. This ‘was partly designed for invalids’, such as himself – rheumatism had left him lame in one knee, and a botched operation meant he had to have an arm amputated in 1825 – but also for his elderly mother.
The villa held the Gardener’s Magazine offices, which looked over the experimental gardens and hothouses, and living rooms in which they entertained friends and colleagues including Charles Dickens and William Makepeace Thackeray. The Loudons’ only child, Agnes, also a writer, was born at the house in 1832.
While at Porchester Terrace, Jane and John Claudius worked on numerous literary and horticultural endeavours – sometimes separately, but often together. Jane worked closely with her husband on Gardener’s Magazine and educated herself in botany by attending lectures, later writing up her notes as articles.
John was soon editing four magazines and in 1832–3 published the Encyclopaedia of Cottage, Farm, and Villa Architecture, which contained over 1,000 pages of text, 2,000 woodcuts and 100 lithographs. ‘The labour’, Jane recalled, ‘was immense; and for several months he and I used to sit up the greater part of the night’. His ‘great and ruinous work’ on trees and shrubs, Arboretum et Fruticetum Brittanicum, was published at his own expense in 1838. Even with Jane acting as amanuensis (literary secretary and scribe), the costs left him £10,000 in debt. Partly to relieve this, Jane began to write gardening and related manuals for amateurs. These included Instructions in Gardening for Ladies of 1840, a popular practical manual that went into multiple editions, as did The Ladies’ Companion to the Flower Garden from 1840.
Meanwhile, despite lung disease, John continued to undertake landscaping commissions and to publish apace. While dictating his final book in 1843, he collapsed in the arms of his wife and died. Friends and admirers rallied to reduce the debt but much remained. With the support of the botanist John Lindley, Jane was granted an annual Civil List pension by the Prime Minister, Sir Robert Peel.
JC Loudon’s last work, Self-Instruction for Young Gardeners, was published together with a biography by Jane in 1845. As his obituary in the Gardener’s Magazine emphasized, ‘he was always most anxious to promote the welfare of gardeners … he laboured not only to improve their knowledge, and to increase their temporal comforts, but also to raise their moral and intellectual character’.
Jane Loudon: later life and career
Jane went on to edit new editions of her late husband’s books and also published her own works on nature study and gardening including The Lady’s Country Companion; or, how to enjoy country life rationally (1845), British Wild Flowers (1846), My Own Garden; or, the young gardener’s year book (1855), and The Amateur Gardener’s Calendar (1857). She was an accomplished botanical illustrator and also published an early pet manual – Domestic Pets: their habits and management (1851).
Writing as ‘Mrs Loudon’, she brought botany to a popular audience. In Botany for Ladies (1842), she wrote:
It is so difficult for men whose knowledge has grown with their growth, and strengthened with their strength, to imagine the state of profound ignorance in which a beginner is, that even their elementary books are like the old Eton Grammar when it was written in Latin.
Jane Loudon died at home in 1858 and was buried with her husband in the first commercial cemetery at Kensal Green. As an affectionate obituary to her in Dickens’s magazine Household Words read, ‘no one had done so much to make beautiful gardens possible to the weakest hands and the smallest incomes; no one has taught so genially or so well how to cultivate them with intelligence’.
Agnes and her family lived on at the house.
Blue plaque and London legacy
A blue plaque was erected to John and Jane Loudon in 1953 by the London County Council, which includes an unusual ivy-leaf motif in the roundel design. The inscription states that ‘their horticultural work gave new beauty to London squares’. Loudon had in 1803 complained that the squares were deficient in evergreens and in flowering trees and shrubs, recommending those such as the almond and snow drop tree. Jane later revised this, writing that he had particularly named the Oriental and Occidental plane trees, the sycamore, and the almond, as ornamental trees that would bear the smoke of the city. ‘It was’, she added, ‘curious to observe how exactly his suggestions have been adopted, as these trees are now to be found in almost every square in London’.
B Elliott, ‘John Claudius Loudon (1783–1843)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (subscription required; accessed 16 April 2021)
AB Shteir, ‘Jane (née Webb) Loudon (1807–1858)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (subscription required; accessed 16 April 2021)
JC Loudon, The Suburban Gardener and Villa Companion (London, 1838)
JW Loudon, ‘A Short Account of the Life and Writings of John Claudius Loudon’, in JC Loudon, Self-Instruction for Young Gardeners (London, second edition, 1847), ix–xlx
‘A sketch of the life of the late John Claudius Loudon’, The Cottage Gardener, 5 December 1851, 143
‘Death of Mr Loudon’, The Gardener’s Magazine, January 1844, included in the volume for 1843, 689–81