Charles Lee & Son – West Ealing’s Victorian plant nursery

Charles Lee & Son’s nursery occupied the land that is Seaford Road in the east across to Westfield Road in the west. The northern boundary was the Uxbridge Road and the southern what is now Leighton Road. It was in use from around 1855 through to the early 1900’s. The business had its origins in a nursery business started in 1720 and taken over by James Lee and Lewis Kennedy in 1745 which was known as the “Vineyard” and was in Hammersmith, on part of the site stands what is  now the Olympia Exhibition Hall which opened in 1886. It was the first nursery to open in Britain and the world, boasting both heated and cold greenhouses.

The Kennedy family eventual sold out their share of the business to the Lee family in 1818. This business was responsible for the introduction of over 135 plants from overseas and was celebrated for its roses. They were the first to put Fushias (a native of Chile) on sale in Britain.

In 1855 when the Kensington to Richmond railway was opened the nursery lost part of it land which was replaced by fresh purchases in Ealing Dean, Wood Lane and Spring Grove in Isleworth and Feltham respectively. They finally closed the nursery in Hammersmith in 1894, which had been reduced to little more than a shop from 1876.

When the famous garden writer and designer JC Loudon visited the business in 1876 he found that the different sites had specialisms

  • Spring Grove Isleworth – Ornamental Trees
  • Wood Lane Isleworth – Great manufactory & Propagating establishment
  • Ealing – Fruit Trees, roses & shrubs
  • Feltham – Evergreens & deciduous shrubs & conifers

The business was sufficiently large enough to issue 7 different catalogues:

  • for seeds, kitchen, flower & agricultural
  • for stove & green house plants
  • for fruit trees & fruit trees in pots
  • for Dutch bulbs
  • for roses
  • for hardy shrubs & roses
  • for soft wooded & bedding plants

In 1877, the business passed to Charles Lee who lived in Hounslow at Croxby House near Isleworth. When he died suddenly in 1881 the business passed to his brother William. William was not able to manage to run the business due to ill health and an elderly uncle returned to assist but he himself died in 1889. For the final 10 years the business relied on being run by competent managers at its sites.

At Ealing the manager of 30 years’ service was George Cannon who after closure purchased his own nursery in Ealing which he ran until the 1920’s. The Lee family’s association with Ealing ended when the land at Ealing was sold for building development by 1903. This was the time of one of the building booms in Ealing  caused this time by the trams starting to run along the Uxbridge road in 1901.

The family’s association with the area is recorded in two local roads Leeland Road and Leeland Terrace.