Words from Wells

James Shepherd, the Head Gardener of Wells 1907

By 19/12/2018 No Comments

Richard, the grandson of James Shepherd the head gardener at Wells House and Gardens in 1907. He came to visit the Wells Estate and especially to see the Gardeners Cottage. It was the most emotional and uplifting experience for him to see the house his mother Peggy was born in.

Here we have a brief history of the how his grandfather came to work on the Wells Estate, and the life of his mother thereafter.

JAMES SHEPHERD, GARDENER, 1879-1947

James Shepherd, a “Scotch” gardener, lived in Ireland from 1907 until his death in 1947. He was highly respected for his maintenance of established gardens, to a very skilled and high standard.

This is, very briefly, his story: His father, George Shepherd, a successful dealer who exported cattle through the port of Aberdeen, married Margaret Davidson in 1877. They lived at three different addresses in Inverurie, Aberdeenshire, during their thirteen years together. George, like many wheeling-dealing businessmen, drank a fair amount and died suddenly from a heart attack, at the age of 42, in Aberdeen Railway Station in August 1890, six months before his youngest child, Mary, was born. Although he had been comfortable when he was alive, money was scarce after his death. James, their second child, who had been born at 68 High Street, was eleven years old at the time. He was still at school and if he continued with his education, it may have been funded by the Freemasons. George’s induction certificate into Freemasonry is still in existence.

James was 14 (1893) when he was apprenticed as a gardener at Leith Hall, about 16 miles from home. How long he stayed there is not clear.

At some point he spent time working in the Botanic Gardens in Glasgow. In his youth he had rheumatic fever. He also had flat feet (which kept him out of the First World War). He married in 1906. Martha Lawton was the daughter of a very poor railway porter. Several siblings had died in infancy before she was born and even though she survived to live to be ninety-two her legs showed the effects of rickets. She was born and grew up in Wavertree, Liverpool and was sent into service in London at a very young age and eventually became a cook in London.

She shows up on the 1901 Census in the London household of Sir George Macpherson-Grant, MP. The Macpherson-Grants went to their ancient Scottish castle, Ballindalloch, every year for the shooting. They traveled overnight by train from London, the “quality” in first-class sleepers, the servants in third class on hard seats. It was in Aberdeenshire that the couple met. They were married in St Mary’s Church of England in Wavertree. It is not known why they came to Ireland.

James got a job on the Wells Estate in Gorey, Co Wexford in 1907 as Head Gardener. In February 1908 twin daughters, Peggy and Violet were born and in 1910 another daughter, May completed the family. James’ wife Martha seems to have had a social chip on her shoulder, maybe because of her humble origins, and had difficulty in getting along with the other staff and their spouses on the estates where they worked. It is mainly for this reason that they moved five more times in James’ 42 years in Ireland. In 1916 they were on the Dowdstown Estate, Navan, Co Meath. Many years later their daughter, Peggy, recounted how they could hear the guns all the way from Dublin during the Uprising.

Click the image below to hear Richard’s account of his grandfather…

Richard