Category Archives: Trading Stories, Working Lives

Trading Stories, Working Lives: Gardening with the Harrisons

Study an 1828 map of Leicester and you might just spot Harrison’s Nursery; it’s out on a limb, some distance along Belgrave Gate. The cartographer has freckled it with trees. A brook wiggles its way along the northern edge and a small building stands on the main road. I set out to discover whether there’s a link between this nursery and the Harrison gardeners in my family tree.
Harrisons Nursery off Belgrave Gate, 1828
It’s a research journey that requires some resourcefulness – hopping between freemen’s records, a biography or two, trade directories and a clutch of books on gardening in Georgian times. Along the way there was a moment of joy unearthing a skinny booklet in the archives – ‘Harrison & Sons Bicentenary, 1764-1964’ – which opens with a rather romanticised tale about the beginnings of the firm:
“Somewhere around the year 1760… John Harrison rode off to market on his father’s horse, lost everything he had, horse and all, in a disastrous gambling bout, and decamped to join George III’s Navy, at that time at war with the French. By 1764, peace had been signed, sailor John had saved enough himself to buy himself out so he returned to Leicester to set up shop in East Bond Street as a nurseryman, greengrocer etc.”

From these early shoots Harrison’s nursery flourished for over two hundred years – at the Belgrave Gate location and beyond – and I was chuffed to see that it did indeed link in with my own family tree. Take a look here at the story of three generations of gardeners, nurserymen and seed merchants: Harrisons the nurserymen.

It’s the latest in our series of ‘Trading Stories, Working Lives’ occupational histories. To see others in the series:…/trading-stories-working-lives

Harrison's seed warehouse

Trading Stories, Working Lives: George Robinson, letter carrier

Postman with pillar box, late 1850sPost Office on Granby Street 1860s

Wearing a top hat and scarlet coat, George Robinson – a letter carrier from the late 1840s – would have been a familiar figure in the Leicester streets. He was amongst the first batch of postmen to be appointed; it was a time of innovation, shortly after the introduction of the penny post, and George would have witnessed the advent of pillar boxes and the growing popularity of Christmas cards. Read his story here: George Robinson the letter carrier

This is the first in our series of occupational histories. Researching an ancestor’s occupation can be a rewarding mini project. Start with the known facts about their working life – maybe a description of their occupation in a census return or a trade directory – and then be resourceful in your investigations.

The George Robinson article, for example, starts with a couple of records on Ancestry – the Post Office appointment book for 1847 and the 1851 census. From there, the story draws upon a broad range of resources, including published works (Rowland Hill’s ‘Post Office Reform’ and John Soer’s booklet ‘The Royal Mail in Leicestershire and Rutland’), a visit to the Royal Mail Archive ( at Mount Pleasant, and snippets from the local newspaper and trade directory. The aim is to get a sense of working life for a postman in the late 1840s and early 1850s. Let us know what you think of it.

To read other articles in our ‘Trading Stories, Working Lives’ series:…/trading-stories-working-lives