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On the 4th of February 1851, James Vanstone  made his court appearance before Baldwin Fulford. We can't be sure where the hearing occurred but it was a venue in St. Thomas, Exeter.  James Vanstone lived in Exwick in the tiny hamlet of Foyhayes where he was in  business as a nurseryman.


In his book "Reminiscences of Exeter fifty years on" (published in 1877) James Cossins wrote:


"The walk to Exwick through the fields from Exeter was very pretty. Previous to the coming of the railway, we had a view of the city on leaving Okehampton Street, the entrance commencing with the Rackfield at the Flower Pot*. The view extended as far as Duryard, over a succession of fields, the river flowing between. Just opposite the Bonhay at Flower Pot was a long dyke, a resort for boys fishing for minnows, which had been cut with the idea of making a canal to Crediton.


Arriving at Exwick, some took the route to Cowley Bridge, others up the lane to Cleave**, where about mid-way you have a pretty sight of the river with the city in the distance, sketches of which I have seen taken by our local artist, Mr. Spreat.


On the opposite hill, near Cleave House is Messrs Vanstone's nursery, and the view from their summer house is very charming. The privilege of seeing it many times has been mine, and no doubt any citizen would get a similar reception - a welcome from the proprietors."


The view across Exeter from Exwick Hill
View from Exwick Hill c.1840

Made by William le Petit

Courtesy of Devon County Council


At the time of Vanstone's trial, Exeter had a large number of commercial nursery gardens, some run by an elite group of nurserymen and seedsmen who were household names. Growing for food was still at the core of their work but the age of the pleasure garden was dawning; the wealthy were transforming their parkland with plants, shrubs and trees from all corners of the globe and growing cut flowers and fruit in their glasshouses while the less-wealthy were doing their best to emulate them but on a much smaller scale. At this level, the possession of at least one or two specimen plants in the garden was a style statement much to be desired.


Lucombe, Pince & Co in Alphington Road, Exeter was famed at this time for cinerarias and calceolarias; the Veitch Nurseries on the Topsham Road offered rare orchids and counted Charles Darwin among their customers; Charles Sclater, with land on Summerland Hill and out in the village of Heavitree, added carnations to his already famous raspberry plants. Of such as these, James Veitch was the undoubted monarch, enriching his already famed collection of plants by sending out plant-collectors to the far-flung corners of the world. Both he and Robert Pince sat on the Committee of the Devon and Exeter Botanical and Horticultural Society alongside the great and the good of Devon and both played a leading role in the organisation of local shows and competitions. 


James Vanstone was not numbered among this elite group. His nursery was viable and supported his family for many years. He successfully sold his produce from a stall in the market but he lacked titled customers, as well as capital for development and, most important of all, he had no stock of rare plants from which he could propagate and create hybrids - the select cultivars which would bring him fame as well as money.


What is clear from Baldwin Fulford's notes is that James Vanstone knew his weaknesses and made a plan to remedy them - any way he could.


*Remembered today by Flower Pot Lane off Cowick Street..

**In 1850 Great Cleave (or Cleve) House was the home of the elderly Lady Riggs Miller




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