We are rightly proud of our history. It’s amazing, not only for the fact that the business has remained within the same family for over 260 years, but also for the amount of historical material that has been saved during that time. However, we remain a business, and the fact remains that in commerce a ‘nice’ history counts for nothing (just consider Barings Bank). A history will always remain a ‘nice to have’, it does not guarantee us a future. We need to understand that.
We hope you enjoy reading about it.
From Scottish Roots:
Charles Stewart, the Great, Great, Great Grandfather of the Company’s present Managing Director, was a plantsman of renown in the era of the great Scottish nurseries of the 18th century. Records show that his family were growing forestry trees as far back as 1742. His knowledge and professional skills were later to re-emerge in his eldest son John who, in 1835, transferred his father’s nurseries to Broughty Ferry on Scotland’s East Coast and continued their extensive seed business from premises in Dundee.
John traded under the name of John Stewart of Dundee while also acquiring the century old business of William Urquhart and Sons. Many documents survive which relate to his period of management to tell of his vast range of stock; of the thousands of millions of forest trees he grew and how he threw open his nursery grounds and plant houses for public enjoyment. “The grounds were beautiful in the extreme and afforded unalloyed delight to the crowds of visitors who were attracted to them” reported one Scottish paper at the time.
John’s two sons, William and David, followed in the tradition of their ancestors. William continued to manage the Scottish establishments whilst his younger brother travelled south in 1859 and started a branch nursery at Ferndown in Dorset. Here he was able to take advantage of the milder climate for the growing of less hardy stock. Together, the brothers traded widely throughout Britain, the Continent and the U.S.A. William & David corresponded almost daily with the letters received down south’ safely in the family archives.
Of David’s four sons who followed in his footsteps, it was left to A.F. Martin Stewart to overcome the depressing period of the early 1900s. But overcome it he did and the firm continued as one of the largest producers of nursery stock in the country. They undertook major landscaping projects, massive tree moving, the laying of golf courses and tennis courts. Ferndown Golf Course was constructed by D. Stewart & Son, with all the construction records still in existence. Over the years they established branch nurseries at Deans Park and Strouden in Bournemouth, another at Milford-on-Sea, at Glastonbury in Somerset, Bosham in Sussex and nearer to their head office at Uddens, Parley, Longham and West Moors.
D Stewart & Son remained at Ferndown for a full century before vacating the site in favour of fresh farmland at Broomhill during the 1950’s. It was at this time, perhaps the most dramatic phase in the firm’s long history, that container grown stock was introduced into Britain. An article in the Sunday Times (28th May 1972) acknowledges that it was Edward Stewart (only son of A.F. Martin Stewart) who should be credited with this initiative. He changed in one action, the whole horticultural industry. By leaving their root system untouched, plants could be transplanted 12 months a year. Prior to this innovation, nurseries, (including Stewarts) only had income from October to March each year.
At the same time Edward took full advantage of the experience he had gathered, flying ‘Mosquitoes’ in Burma during the second world war, by flying to America after hostilities ceased to keep in touch with horticultural developments overseas. He wrote to his sisters from the Ford Hotel, Toronto in 1953 that he had seen the future and that it was called ‘Garden Centres’. His first garden centre was created within adapted sheds at Ferndown in 1955 and was the forerunner of the first purpose-built centre in this country opened in October 1961 – Garden-Lands at Christchurch as we see it today. Quite possibly the first ‘Out of Town’ Retail ‘anything’!
During the 1970’s a Garden Shop was opened on the site of the Nursery at Broomhill, later to become the Country Garden Centre. In 1972 the Company also started Interior Landscaping following a visit to Stewarts by the P.A. to the Managing Director of Frizzell Insurance. Now there are over 500 commercial premises in the south of England using the Company’s services.
Sadly Ted Stewart died suddenly in April 1982 leaving behind an industry changed out of all recognition due to his foresight, innovation and courage.
The Company was proud to move all its extensive historical records to the purpose built facilities at Dorset Archives in Dorchester where they help form the history of early Ferndown in particular as well as a great deal of other local history. A video of the Company’s history up to the mid 1990’s is available on request.