Johannes Adam Krupp starts a nursery business at Clifton Nursery. Mr. Krupp was a thrusting young German who had served an apprenticeship as ‘Artistic Gardener’ in the Kaiser’s gardens. He came to London in 1879 and purchased the lease for Clifton Nurseries shortly after.
Mr. Krupp built a good business from growing and selling plants and built a fine reputation for hiring stock to London’s hotels, theatres and latterly film studios. At that time Clifton Nurseries consisted of seven greenhouses arranged around a central fountain that was probably a relic from the days as an ornamental garden. In the south east corner of the nursery was, what was reputed to be the largest Palm House in London and the Home Counties bar Kew – a bold claim and if true, an even bolder development. On the eastern boundary was a two room cottage in which Mr. Krupp lived with his wife and seven children. The cottage no longer stands, but the extension which Mr. Krupp added remains and is now known as the Fern House. It is likely that Mr. Krupp had greater plans for Clifton Nurseries, but in 1890 a curt letter from Joshua Hands’ solicitor (a Mr. John Hands – his brother perhaps?) reminded Mr. Krupp of the original lease; ‘No buildings may be erected on the land other than greenhouses and the land may be used as gardens only.’ The letter goes on to state that ‘It is not permissible to keep any horses there and I am to require that you will give directions to your undertennant accordingly’. This last request would deny the business of its mode of transport and was therefore ignored until 1941! Johannes Adam Krupp died in 1937
Mr Krupp’s son Frederick takes over.Frederick Krupp was born at Clifton Nursery in 1899 and as a boy he helped his father in the family business. When the WW1 came he enlisted and it was at this point that he changed his name from Krupp to Kay due to the unfortunate connotations with the German munitions manufacturer of the same name.
July 22nd 1977
Sydney Cohen buys the lease and creates the nursery we know today.A few years after the 1851 lease expired, a new broom took charge and swept clean, for it seems Mr. Cohen was an enterprising man. We have stock catalogues dating from as far back as 1947 that list everything that Clifton Nurseries sold from the ‘Connoisseur’s Collection of herbaceous plants’ to ‘the powerful new insecticide DDT’. Interestingly, the stock remained much the same for the next 50 years and items like Tomorite and John Innes can still be found in today’s nursery. And it is not just the stock which seems familiar; the following note is from one of the very early catalogues: ‘Owing to greatly increased costs of carriage and packing, we are compelled to make a small charge, as follows: On all orders please add 1/- in the £ (minimum charge 2/-)’ The prices have changed but the problems remain!Mr. Cohen was assisted by Mr. Kay who was kept on until 1947 when he left to start a radio business, he died in 1973.Under Mr. Cohen’s able direction, Clifton Nurseries went from strength to strength and in the mid 50s a Landscape division was founded and run by Mr. William Duncan. During this time, Clifton Nurseries cemented its name in the mind of garden minded public and its influence spread. Sadly this era came to an abrupt end in January 1975 when Mr. Cohen suffered a heart attack and died. With no plans in place for his succession and no close family to take the reins, the fate of Clifton Nurseries hung in the balance. Various potential buyers came and went and a group of local residents tried to form a consortium to ensure the preservation of their garden centre, but without success. Finally several cousins of Mr. Cohen were discovered from as far away as Australia and America and from as near as St Johns Wood and for a while it seemed that each would take a stake in the business and the status quo would resume.
The management team that worked with Mr. Cohen filled the void that he left and the business carried on building, but once the profits were split several ways, their worth was diminished to an extent that they became useless. Finally at the end of the 70’s a single buyer came forward to take Clifton Nurseries to new heights.
Lord Jacob Rothschild adds to his horticultural portfolio. The Rothschild family name is inextricably linked to horticulture, with various plants that bear the family name as well as many highly regarded gardens around the world, so it was only natural that local resident Lord Jacob Rothschild would be drawn towards Clifton. If it was initially thought of as an altruistic move, that judgment would change in the mid 80s when it became clear that Lord Rothschild had greater plans for Clifton. In 1986 a beautiful and award winning shop was designed and built by Jeremy Dixon and this was followed a couple of years later by the erection of a spectacular new palm house - Mr. Krupp’s original was long gone by then, but its spirit lived on. Mike Miller’s name will forever be attached to Clifton Nurseries during this time. Mr. Miller spent a short time at Cliftons in 1961, but left to travel and work his way around the world with his new wife. After 18 months, Mr. Miller returned to take on the Small Works department and from here his influence grew. On Mr. Cohen’s death the four senior managers became directors of Clifton Nurseries and by the early 80’s, Mr. Miller rose to the position of Managing Director.
It was his driving force that built upon Mr. Cohen’s success and with Lord Rothschild’s backing Mr. Miller further improved the name and reputation of Clifton Nurseries, winning five Chelsea Gold medals and three Silver Gilts and in the process working with the likes of HRH the Prince of Wales, Cartier, Christies and Harpers and Queen. Mr. Miller retired in August 2002 and sadly died 5 years later.
Tad Paluchowski took over the position of Managing Director in 2003 and has overseen the modernisation of Clifton. In changing and uncertain times Dr Paluchowski has kept Clifton on an even keel and added, amongst other things, a Café and a Homewares department to the Clifton oeuvre. In an age of internet shopping and supermarkets Clifton Nurseries could have been just another retail relic lost to the ravages of modern consumerism, but instead it embraces ‘the new’ and continues to provide the goods and service that keep customers returning for more. Years go by and changes are made, but Clifton still strives to fulfill
recognise Clifton as, first and foremost, a great place to buy goods for the garden - 160 years has passed and Clifton is still going strong.
In February 2011 respected horticulturist Matthew Wilson, well known for his work on Channel 4's Landscape Man and Radio 4's Gardeners' Question Time, joined Clifton Nurseries as Managing Director, with a remit to lead one of London's oldest horticultural institutions forward into the 21st century.
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