The Strange Case of Jekyll (and Hyde) the Garden Expert

The Strange Case of Jekyll (and Hyde) the Garden Expert

We reveal where a garden designer put down her roots using this important Surrey land tax release.

Nick Thorne, Writer at TheGenealogist

Nick Thorne

Writer at TheGenealogist

We start by looking at Walter Jekyll, who had been a Cambridge student in 1871, as recorded in the census of that year. He is also to be found in the Trinity College Admissions 1868 on TheGenealogist. If we then consult the 1907 Clergy List on the site we discover that after a period as a Curate of Haydon Church, from 1874-77, he became a Minor Canon of Worcester Cathedral between 1877-79. We may then wonder why there are no more appointments listed, considering that this book was published in 1907. Part of the answer would lie in the fact that Walter went to live in Jamaica in 1895. It seems that he retired as an Anglican minister and turned his back on Christianity turning instead towards Buddhism!

While living on the island he was a regular correspondent about plants and gardens from Jamaica to The Garden, a magazine that was now being edited by his sister, the famous garden designer, Gertrude Jekyll, living back in England.

An intriguing twist lies in Walter’s friendship with Robert Louis Stevenson. Stevenson, when writing “Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde” in 1886, borrowed the Jekyll surname for his character and thus the connection was made forever. The novella’s immense success cemented the phrase “Jekyll and Hyde” in the English language, signifying someone with a contrasting moral character.

Looking next at passenger lists found on TheGenealogist we find Sir Herbert Jekyll and his wife, travelling with Miss Hyde their maid, heading to Jamaica in 1912. Interestingly, Stevenson’s novella had been published 25 years earlier and so is it a strange coincidence that the Jekylls had a maid named Hyde?

Jekyll and Hyde in the Passenger lists
Jekyll and Hyde in the Passenger lists, part of the Immigration, Emigration & Travel Records on TheGenealogist

Gertrude Jekyll puts down roots

Next, we turn our attention to a triangle of land between two Surrey roads. Where once had been only a sandy field in heathland sloping upwards to 9 acres of former Scots pine woodland, the brother’s famous garden designer sister, Gertrude, commissioned an equally famous architect to build her a house. When it was completed the horticultural expert used this spot to lay out her own personal garden and, today, it is currently being restored by the National Trust for the public to be able to enjoy in the near future.

June borders in the garden at Munstead Wood
June borders of lupin and iris in the garden at Munstead Wood

A pioneer of the less formal style of gardening, Gertrude Jekyll had been a leading figure in English garden design. A champion of a naturalistic approach to cultivating, her influence is evident in over 400 gardens she designed across Britain, Europe, and the United States. Jekyll was also a prolific writer, contributing over 1,000 articles to gardening publications like Country Life and The Garden.

Gertrude Jekyll’s collaborative spirit extended to architecture as well. She frequently partnered with the renowned British architect Edwin Lutyens on several projects, including her own residence, Munstead Wood, in Surrey. Construction on the house began in 1895 and after Jekyll’s time was in private ownership until it was recently bought by the National Trust in 2023. The property is a Grade I listed house and garden in Munstead Heath, Busbridge, on the boundary of the town of Godalming in Surrey, England, 1 mile south-east of the town centre.

Munstead Wood by Lutyens
Munstead Wood by Lutyens, the home of Miss Gertrude Jekyll

The family next door

Jekyll had purchased the land at Munstead Wood in 1882 or 1883. This plot was just across Munstead Heath Road from where she had been living at her mother’s home since 1878 at Munstead House. A search of the Trade, Residential and Telephone directories on TheGenealogister reveals that by 1927 her neighbour was one of her younger brothers, Col. Sir Herbert Jekyll, and with his J.P. wife. Sir Herbert and Lady Jekyll, were now residing in the mother’s former home at Munstead House. This was the couple we have already met travelling to Jamaica with the maid called Miss Hyde.

Kelly’s Directory of Surrey 1927
Kelly’s Directory of Surrey 1927 from Trade Residential and Telephone Directories on TheGenealogist

Herbert had been a Royal Engineer officer attaining the rank of Colonel in the regiment. Knighted in 1901 he appears in several records on TheGenealogist. The 1907 and 1908 editions of Kelly’s Post Office Directory of London show us that Col Sir Herbert Jekyll held the position of Assistant Secretary to the Railway Department of the Committee of Privy Council for Trade – which is one of the names for the Board of Trade. By 1908 he had become the Assistant Superintendent of the London Traffic Branch of the Committee and in this post was involved in designing the road network from London. It would seem that Munstead House was where he retired to and was also where he died in 1932.

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Lloyd George Domesday Survey
The green pin indicates the plot from the Lloyd George Domesday Survey

The recent release online of the Lloyd George Domesday Survey for Surrey allows us to now gain a unique insight of what her very special house had been like when she lived in it. This is a snapshot from when the Inland Revenue’s Valuation Office surveyor turned up in December 1912. The accompanying contemporary maps from these records also allow us to see the triangular shape of the land as it was identified.

Another useful record, the 1911 census schedule form completed by Miss Jekyll herself, records that the 68-year-old ‘Writer & Garden Designer’ had been living in a 12-roomed house, with her four female servants. Now, with the additional information that we can read in the field books, compiled for the Lloyd George Domesday Survey, we are able to get an understanding of what the house that Lutyens had designed for her had been like in 1912.

1911 census on TheGenealogist
1911 census on TheGenealogist indicating Gertrude Jekyll lived in a 12 room house

The Lloyd George Domesday field books enable us to discover that the property consisted of a house, stabling and the all important garden. Jekyll owned the freehold, as we can see from the first page, and this extended over 14 acres 25 perches. On the next page, we are then able to read the description of what materials it was constructed of.

The book records Munstead House as being a detached residence built of Bargate stone, brick and tile. There was a hall, sitting room, dining room, book room, workshop, kitchen and scullery. Also noted were the store rooms, some spare rooms and offices. The residence was a four bedroom home, with another three rooms allocated as servant’s bedrooms. In the grounds was also to be found a lodge and a cottage and the field book refers to the Tithe payable which was estimated to be £38.

Lloyd George Domesday Survey Field Book for Munstead WoodLloyd George Domesday Survey Field Book for Munstead Wood 2Lloyd George Domesday Survey Field Book for Munstead Wood 3
Lloyd George Domesday Survey Field Book for Munstead Wood with the description of the property by the Valuation Office surveyor

Having been alerted to a Tithe record, it makes sense to then check the National Tithe Collection, which is also available to search on TheGenealogist. Here we can find the tithe map and the accompanying apportionment book for Godalming. It again emphasises the triangular location that Gertrude Jekyll chose for her own house and garden in this part of Surrey, sandwiched between roads on all sides. Jekyll set up a plant nursery from where she developed new strains of plants and provided planting for her commissions.

Tithe map of Munstead Wood
The tithe map of Munstead Wood from National Tithe Collection

Tithe maps are fantastic for revealing the plots that our ancestors occupied or owned and TheGenealogist has the only online collection covering all of England and Wales in a partnership with The National Archives and some of the county records offices. Most Tithe records are for the Victorian period starting from 1836 and continuing until the 1850s. In this case, however, Munstead Wood is included in an Altered Apportionment, which would be produced when the land changed hands.

Altered Apportionment Tithe Record for Gertrude Jekyll’s Munstead Wood
Altered Apportionment Tithe Record for Gertrude Jekyll’s Munstead Wood on TheGenealogist

As we look forward to spring in Britain and the blooming of our gardens it seems apt to be considering the home of one of our greatest garden designers. The Landowner and Occupier records on TheGenealogist can reveal fascinating details about our ancestor’s homes, as we have seen here as Gertrude Jekyll’s very special home at Munstead Wood. The Lloyd George Domesday Survey field books can be used to discover what the rooms had been used for when she was living within the house, an Arts and Craft home designed for her by Sir Edwin Lutyens, the architect of many English country houses as well as the Cenotaph in Whitehall.

Using the maps from the Lloyd George Domesday Survey and the Altered Apportionment Tithe records show us the triangular nature of the 14 acre plot that she chose to make her home and put down her roots.

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