Botanists and Bankers



How it all began

The Religious Society of Friends began as a movement in England in the mid 17th century in Lancashire, members of which were informally known as Quakers. Thanks to the Toleration Act of 1689, people in Great Britain were no longer criminals simply by being Friends. In the early days of the Society of Friends, Quakers were not allowed to get an advanced education. Eventually some did get opportunities to go to university and beyond, which meant that more and more Quakers could enter the various fields of science.

Quaker refusal to pay tithes and agents insistence that tithes were paid continued to cause suffering but eventually new security offered the dynamic Quaker Backhouse family and their relatives over the coming years the freedom to attend university, join the professions, become increasingly involved in politics, commerce and banking, railways, shipping, canals, mining, other industries as well as playing a full part in their greater local community’s social and political issues.

James Backhouse (I) (1721- 1798) really enabled the financial security which allowed his children and their successors to pursue a growing interest in the natural world, botany and horticulture. James (I) successfully founded the Quaker ethical Backhouse Bank in Darlington, Co Durham in 1774 with his two sons Jonathan (I)(1747–1826) and James (II) (1757-1804).

‘The bank became one of the most stable influences in the finance of Northern business, surviving several serious crisis in which many other banks failed’, Raistrick (1968).

In 1896, Backhouse and Co, Darlington and twenty other private banking firms, joined together to form Barclay and Company Limited in what the banking press at the time referred to as a merger of the ‘well-known Quaker firms’.

The Daffodil Raisers

Johnathan Backhouse (I) (1747–1826), had three sons but William was the most active at the start of the Daffodil dynasty:

William Backhouse (I) (1779-1844), was a botanist of some note, with a plant collection of significance, but it was his son William born in 1807 who was the first of the Backhouse daffodil-breeding dynasty.

William Backhouse (II) (1807–1869), worked in the family bank but his greatest legacy were the daffodils he raised which changed daffodil breeding in this country forever. Among the many cultivars William raised three are of particular importance: N.‘Emperor’ and N.‘Empress’ being two of the first known triploid daffodil cultivars raised in this country (21 chromosomes) and N.‘Weardale Perfection’ the first known tetraploid cultivar (28 chromosomes). Such is the importance of these daffodils, they still form the basis of many daffodils we enjoy in commerce today. So influential was William’s contribution, that the Royal Horticulturalists Society named a section of Daffodils under the Title ‘Section Backhouseii’.

Robert Ormston Backhouse (1854–1940), William’s third son worked in the family bank, was a keen amateur archer and the first in the family to set up a commercial bulb business growing and selling and buying in daffodils commercially. Robert also raised his own daffodil hybrids many of which he registered along with lilies with his wife Sarah Elizabeth Dodgson.

Henry Backhouse (1850–1936), William’s middle son also raised and registered his own new daffodil cultivars, his best known being N.’Niveth’ 5 W-W, N.’Triandrus’ in 1931.

Mrs RO Backhouse – Sarah Elizabeth Dodgson (1857–1921), raised new varieties of Narcissus, Colchicum, Hyacinths, Lilium (The Backhouse hybrids) and Cyclamen. Achieving national fame gaining an award from the Royal Horticultural Society in 1901 for ‘Moonbeam’, an RHS Bronze Flora Medal in 1905 for a ‘Group of Daffodils’ and the Barr Cup in 1916. Mrs RO was particularly known for raising new varieties of red-cupped daffodils, but will always be remembered for her namesake pink daffodil, N.’Mrs RO Backhouse’ 2 W-P, the most well known and widely grown pink daffodil over the last 90 years. Her legacy can also be found in her lilium hybrids including her name sake N.’Mrs R.O Backhouse’.

William Ormston Backhouse (1885–1962), attended Cambridge University and was a trained geneticist, worked at the Cambridge Plant breeding Station, The John Innes Institute then for the Argentine Government where he created an important strain of rust resistant wheat MA38. As a trained geneticist WO Backhouse was well placed to create the first Division 1 red trumpet daffodil which he successfully achieved registering several of these uniquely coloured trumpet daffodils including N.’Brer Fox’, N.’Sutton Court’, N.’Red Curtain’ and N.’Desert Fox’.

Caroline G Thomson MA, direct descendant and 6th generation of the Backhouse horticulturalists. Daffodil Breeder and Collector of her forebears Historic Backhouse Daffodils along with many other Backhouse family plants across several genera. She is bringing her Backhouse family Heritage back to life quite literally at the Backhouse Rossie Heritage & Education Centre #livingheritage at the family home, Rossie Estate.

The Plant finders, Nursery & Seedsmen

James Backhouse (II) (1757-1804) of Banking fame, had two sons James & Thomas:

James Backhouse (III) (1794-1869), Minister The Religious Society of Friends, Quaker Missionary and Botanist. With his brother Thomas in 1815 they bought the well respected J and G Telford Nursery in Tanner Row, York which became the original site of Thomas and James Backhouse Nursery and Seedsmen, their first catalogue was published in 1816. In 1824 James was admitted as a minister in the Religious Society of Friends and on the 3rd September 1831 he departed for Australia on humanitarian work, He returned home 10 years later, via Mauritius and South Africa. During his travels in Australia he made detailed observations of the plants and trees he thought unusual, collecting seeds, plants and specimens sending them home to his brother Thomas. In 1845 in the European science publication the Botanical Magazine, William Jackson Hooker (Director at Kew) and William Henry Harvey first published Backhousia as a genus of thirteen currently known species of flowering plants in the family Myrtaceae, after botanist James Backhouse. Today you can enjoy Backhouse citriodora or Lemon Myrtle in our biscuits and tea at the Backhouse Cafe.

Thomas Backhouse (1792-1845), Businessman, entrepreneur and Nurseryman, Thomas bought J and G Telford’s Nursery in York, with brother James Backhouse. In 1815, he joined his younger brother, James two years later when his business interests in Darlington were consolidated, When his brother went abroad for 10 years, Thomas raised James’ children and managed and developed the nursery by himself, with the coming of the railway he moved the Nursery to Fishergate York.

The Backhouse brothers showed their ability to compete with London when, in 1819, they put an advertisement in the Yorkshire Gazette for ‘Choice BULBS of BELLA-DONNA and GUERNSEY LILIES’.

James Backhouse (IV) (1825-90), Nurseryman, botanist, plant collector, archaeologist, geologist. The Nursery became recognised around the world for their rock work, alpine plants, heathers, ferns, orchids, nerines. After his father James’s return the Nursery moved again in 1853 to a 100-acre site at Holgate, renamed after Thomas’s death, James Backhouse and Son.

James Backhouse (V) (1861-1945), renowned as a naturalist and especially for his knowledge of ornithology, authour, formed a new company in 1891, Backhouse Nurseries (York) Ltd. The Holgate Nursery closed in 1955, a small part is owned by the Council, which remains in use as the West Bank Park.

The Tree Planters

Johnathan Backhouse (I) (1747–1826), started tree planting on his estates in County Durham, this work was continued by three of his four sons:

William Backhouse (I) (1779-1844), was awarded a Society of Arts Medal for tree planting. Gold Medal 1813 for planting 300,000 Larch trees, 50,000 Scots Pine, Oak and other trees on his estate. He was awarded the premium award in Class 10 for planting the most larch trees (used to build ships).

Jonathan Backhouse (II) (1779-1842), was awarded a Society of Arts medal for tree planting, a great supporter of the Stockton & Darlington Railway.

Edward Backhouse (1781-1860), was awarded a Society of Arts medal for tree planting and founder of the Backhouse Bank in Sunderland.


Backhouse Rossie

Book tickets for the gardens & grounds and special events, or a tour of The Flower Barn our weddings and events venue. There is always something to see or do whenever you visit, in our open season. The Backhouse Kitchen (no garden ticket required), offers seasonal food and drinks and welcomes well behaved dogs on the patio. Free visitor car parking when open.






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