The Tropical Palm House Behind the Name

Locked out of the gym, avoiding crowded parks? Perhaps you took to the streets these past few months to exercise. If so, were you intrigued why certain roads are named as they are?

Some are obvious; some a mystery; others with a tale to be told. Take Loddiges Road, E9. Pronounced à la française? Or Loddíges; with a hard or a soft g? Locals say Lóddiges, the anglicisation of a German name.

Hanover-born, Joachim Conrad Loddiges came to Hackney in 1761 as a gardener. Ten years later he started a nursery business. He and his sons grew this over the next 80 years into London’s most celebrated hothouse: the world-famous Hackney Botanic Nursery.

Its entrance was where Domino’s Pizza is now on Mare Street’s corner with Darnley Road. It led through to a Palm House. Sited where Urswick School is today, it housed 126 species of palm from over 30 countries, Periodically, rain showers were simulated using perforated pipes running along the ceiling. Beyond were two camelia houses where blackbirds nested. The visitor continued along a path, following decreasingly circular walks with, on the right side, specimen trees laid out alphabetically, from ‘Acer to Quercus.’  Each had an identifying, varnished label. On the path’s left side were roses and herbaceous plants.

Loddiges grew 10,000 species and varieties, all for sale. Specialising in orchids, in 1839 they were propagating 1,600 species. Kew credited Loddiges with the Victorian fern craze, when ‘Botany Bens’ hawked ferns house-to-house. The mauve rhododendron, wisteria, types of azalea and camelia, specialities of American plants and heathers from the South African Cape were all introduced to Britain by Loddiges.

Loddiges’ arboretum, the largest in the world at its time, inspired the laying out of Britain’s first public park in Derby, opened in 1840. A few months before, George Loddiges had planted an arboretum for the new Abney Park Cemetery in Stoke Newington with 2,500 species and varieties.

With the lease about to expire and land prices rising due to encroaching building, the area was no longer conducive for a nursery. In 1852 Loddiges closed; its stock auctioned. Many of its palms went to Crystal Palace. What a sight to behold: these majestic specimens processing down Mare Street. One Fan Palm, originally from Mauritius and in its infancy belonging to Empress Josephine at Fontainebleau, was drawn, 58ft high, by 32 horses to its new home on Sydenham Hill.

The botanical world honoured Loddiges by naming 40 plants with the epithet ‘loddigesii’. Hackney remembers them with a road running through the site of what was Hackney’s greatest contribution to horticultural history. What story is associated with the name of the next road you walk down?

The source for this tale is Davis Solman’s Loddiges of Hackney: The Largest Hothouse in the World, available from hackneysociety.org.

 


Due to current social distancing guidance, Walk Hackney’s walks have been suspended until further notice. Please check for resumption at walkhackney.co.uk.