Barnham Nurseries and the Marshall Family

Ebenezer James Marshall

The opening of the railway station providing good transport links, combined with the excellent soil and the hours of sunshine enjoyed by Barnham, made the village an ideal location for nurseries. These would develop into nationally and internationally regarded enterprises involved in a vast range of horticulture from the edible to the ornamental. Perhaps the most important and certainly the largest was Barnham Nurseries set up initially by the two Marshall brothers, Henry Richard (Harry) and Sidney Skelton (Sydney) with the support of their father Ebenezer James Marshall, Headmaster of Brighton Grammar School. 

EJ Marshall became headmaster of Brighton Proprietary Grammar & Commercial School (founded 1859) in 1861 at the age of 29. The school was at Lancaster House, 47 Grand Parade, in Brighton. The name changed to Brighton Grammar School and it moved to 79 Buckingham Road, Brighton. In 1913 the school relocated to Hove and today it has metamorphosed into Brighton, Hove and Sussex Sixth Form College. Marshall was an unorthodox headmaster who believed, unusually at that time, that it was important to educate the whole child and not just so that the boy could pass exams. We must assume that this was also his approach in his relationship with and upbringing of his sons.  He often took his students on excursions by train and it is probable that his choice of Barnham was influenced by its convenient links to Brighton, the countryside and the coast. According to William Chandler in his 1949 scrapbook, “…the visits to Barnham seem to have figured very largely in the life of the school.” Marshall purchased The Cottage in Church Lane in 1881 where he lived until his death in 1899.  The original cottage was considerably extended to the rear and side with the addition of extremely grand, high ceilinged rooms reflecting his wealth and position. 

The annual Old Boys Reunion was held at The Cottage followed by a service at St Mary’s Church, just a stroll up the lane, for the one hundred or so Old Boys who attended. Aubrey Beardsley (1872-98), the artist/illustrator who died tragically young, was one such past pupil. In honour of their beloved headmaster a plaque was erected in the church after his death and a book In Memoriam – EJ Marshall was published by Brighton Grammar School in 1901.

During his time in Barnham, EJ Marshall took an active interest in the village. He was one of the first councillors on the newly formed Barnham Parish Council and personally financed the village’s first meeting room which was built on Parish land next to the poor cottages in Yapton Road. (The ‘tin’ hut stood at the front of the old village hall until its demolition in 2013.) It was provided as a meeting place for the new parish council and also for the use of the villagers as an alternative to the local inn. 

Harry Dart, in his memoir, recalls:

“He [EJ Marshall] died in 1899 and his widow [Martha] continued to live in The Cottage using the present Garage Cottage which EJ built as a stable coach house. In the flat above lived George Boxall who was coachman and gardener, I well remember Mrs Marshall being driven around by him in an open landau and a handsome grey mare. She dressed like Queen Victoria in her latter years, in fact she closely resembled Her Majesty being portly and of small stature.”

Henry Richard Marshall

The father must have been a lasting influence and example to his sons whom he set up in business in 1881 as nurserymen when they were only 18 and 21 years old. At the outset the nursery in Yapton Road employed 13 men and a boy, and traded firstly as Ebenezer Marshall & Son and by 1887 as Marshall Bros & Co. The joint enterprise did not last long and by 1895 (according to Kelly’s Directory) Henry had set up as HR Marshall Ltd at Sunnyside in Yapton Road as a fruit grower and florist. He also had premises in Brighton. The census for 1891-1911 describes Henry as a nurseryman and later as a horticulturalist. He lived with his wife Sophie whom he married in 1886, his sons Harry Guy who became an engineer commander in the Royal Navy, Cyril Charles and Eric Saxby, and two daughters Dorothy and Louise.  

The family lived in the house on the left in the photograph and the three attached cottages were for nursery workers.

When EJ Marshall died in 1899 his estate included “north side of Yapton Road nursery land, manager’s house, three cottages, barn and sheds”. Also preference shares Nos 1-1000 in HR Marshall Ltd. (Papers held at West Sussex Records Office ref: ADD MSS 25509) It took until 1913 for the estate to be distributed and for Henry Marshall to own the business and the house in his own right.

As his father before him, Henry Marshall served on Barnham Parish Council and his wife was the first President of the Barnham Women’s Institute; she laid the foundation stone at the new village hall in Yapton Road in 1927. Henry Marshall died in 1924 and Sophie continued to live at Sunnyside with her son, Eric, and daughter, Louise. Harry Dart in his memoir Memoir by Harry Dart a founder pupil recalls Mr HM Rhind as the manager of Sunnyside. Sophie died in 1937 and, at the outbreak of war, Eric and Louise were still in residence. William Chandler in his 1949 scrapbook records that “…on 6th September 1940 a Warden’s and First Aid Post was manned for the first time at Sunnyside with Mr Eric Marshall in charge and four wardens to assist.”

In March 1950 the house, three cottages, barn, and the associated land were sold to Thomas Henry Beck who lived at the adjacent property, Highfield House, previously a West Sussex County Council smallholding but by this time, privately owned and a fast expanding nursery business.

Sidney Skelton Marshall

Henry Marshall ran a successful business but it was the younger brother, Sidney, who would prove to be the most enterprising. In 1891 the census describes him as a landscape gardener/nurseryman, by 1901 he is a company director for landscape gardening and in 1911 he is a solicitor. Sidney concentrated on land to the west of his brother’s nursery and a newly acquired site opposite Barnham Junction Station setting up S.S. Marshall Ltd and Barnham Nurseries Ltd. In 1898 Sidney appointed Mr JP (Percy) Goodacre as Managing Director of the nursery and this allowed him to devote time to other ventures. (Percy Goodacre had joined the nursery working at Sunnyside in Yapton Road as an apprentice in 1890 and worked his way up to Managing Director. He was commemorated after his death in 1962 in the naming of a street Goodacres that was built on land that once formed part of the nursery.) 

In 1901 Sidney was living at the house adjacent to the Barnham Nurseries headquarters in Barnham Road with his wife Louie, daughter Ruby aged 10 and sons, Phillip aged 9, and Norman Vectis aged 3, born at Shanklin, Isle of Wight (a fashionable seaside resort at that time). Also in the house were a governess from London and a local girl employed as a domestic servant. In 1911 Philip, aged 19, was a medical student (later to qualify as a medical practitioner) and Vectis, as he was known was a boarder at his grandfather’s old school in Brighton.

According to Harry Dart, the original directors of The Barnham Nurseries Ltd were Messrs SS Marshall, W.Pertwee, W.Chapple and JP Goodacre with the headquarters, offices and packing sheds at the site opposite the Station Approach.   More land was purchased as demand grew and in 1919, William Chandler wrote that the nurseries included Walberton Lane Nursery, thus spanning the three parishes of Barnham, Eastergate and Walberton. An undated plan at the Record Office (ADD MSS 25544) shows Barnham Nurseries owning land bordering Lake Lane (then in Yapton Parish) including what is now Goodacres and Halliford Drive. By 1940 Barnham Nurseries had more than 300 acres under cultivation. Alongside the general nursery business, including landscape gardening, there were two large fruit farms supplying apples, pears, plums and soft fruit to the London and local markets. One of these was at Highground Lane covering over 23 acres. The Barnham Village sign, which Mervyn Cutten of The Murrell Arms organised in 1982, includes an apple, pear and cherry tree to represent the local fruit farm.

Nursery work was labour intensive and Barnham Nurseries became the biggest employer in the area. Many started as apprentices and stayed with the company all their working lives. One such employee was James Walder who was born in Barnham in 1899, a founder pupil at the new Barnham School which opened in 1906. He began by bunching daffodils at 9d a gross whilst still a schoolboy and received a silver medal from the Royal Horticultural Society in 1955 in recognition of 50 years’ service with Barnham Nurseries.

The Marshall families lived and worked within the two parishes of Barnham and Eastergate and took an active interest in village life.  Sidney was a churchwarden at St Mary’s Church, Barnham and also a member of Westhampnett Rural District Council.

After 1945 the nursery business slowly contracted to around 100 acres under cultivation. 

Sidney Skelton Marshall died at Keri, Barnham Road aged 86 on 19th March 1948. This same year land let to Barnham Nurseries to graze their horses to the south of the railway line was sold to the Rural District Council for public housing and the name given to the development was Marshall Close.

The Home Nursery, as it was called, on the opposite side of the road to the station and behind the large houses in Barnham Road was sold for housing in the early 1970s and the names Appletree Drive and Nursery Close are a reminder of the former use.  The old HQ was demolished and shops were built in 1983 to serve the growing community. The land opposite The Murrell Arms known as the Old Nursery was retained and became a successful garden centre before being sold for housing – now called Garden Crescent.

West Barnham Estates

Around the turn of the century Sidney Skelton Marshall, the founder of Barnham Nurseries, turned his attention to property development. His vision was to build large detached houses to attract wealthy professionals. He formed West Barnham Estates and, with a loan from his father, he set about buying and leasing land from the Ecclesiastical Commissioners along the Barnham to Eastergate road, and at Elm Grove and Downview Road which were no more than dirt tracks. 

Listed in the Inland Revenue accounts of 1910 were brickyards in Elm Grove South in the ownership of West Barnham Estates and one at Yapton Road, (where Dunora Cottages are today) both supplying bricks for local housing. At that time the entire length of Downview Road was owned by West Barnham Estates ready for development.

Some of the prominent people who occupied these larger houses in Barnham Road were the directors of Barnham Nurseries: the Pertwees at The Oriel in 1910 and The Cedars in 1930; and the Chapples at The Laurels. At The Oaks (now Oakhurst, No.146) lived the artist Walter Stuart Lloyd.  His career as a watercolour painter flourished between 1875 and 1929 and he was the youngest member to be elected to the Royal Society of British Artists. Lloyd produced slightly romanticised paintings of landscapes and seascapes, many of Sussex.  A typical example of his work is Back of the Farm which is a painting of Parsonage Farmhouse painted in 1902 when he lived in Barnham.  The Pines (now Abbey Dean a home for the elderly) was occupied by Dr John Boniface Collins, the local village doctor. Born in Yapton he was named after his father who was also a Member of the Royal College of Surgeons and the Royal College of Physicians. Both were part of the lager families of Collins and Boniface in the area which included William Collins of Elm Tree Stores, Eastergate, and Richard Collins of Parsonage Farmhouse. His doctor’s surgery was a small extension that can still be seen to the left of the large Edwardian building and, although he died in the 1950s, he is remembered by some local residents. It is said that he visited his patients by pony and trap before he bought his motorcar and there were stables to the rear of the substantial property. 

Success breeds success and Barnham was booming. By 1908 land prices had increased and plots from half an acre upwards were regularly offered for sale by the West Barnham Estates in the Chichester Observer. 

The Marshall family, in their day, helped to put Barnham on the map and contributed to its growth and prosperity. Their only commemoration is in the naming of Marshall Close and perhaps this account will also serve as acknowledgement. It would be good to add photographs of the brothers but I have none. 

Sandra Lowton

June 2016

To view additional images of Barnham Nurseries and the Marshall Family follow the link to Flickr