Henry Pochin of Bodnant Garden

Portrait of Henry Davis Pochin of Bodnant Garden

Bodnant Garden’s founder was a pillar of Victorian society, a captain of industry and a man with a passion for science.

Born in 1824, the chemist son of a yeoman farmer from Leicestershire, Henry Davis Pochin made his name, and fortune, with two big ideas; one was the discovery of a distillation process to turn soap - until that time brown in colour - to white, the other was the production of alum cake, in great demand in the paper-making and dyeing industry.  With his prosperity he went on to finance companies in the coal, iron and steel, engineering and shipbuilding industries. 

Pochin was also an aspiring politician with radial Liberal leanings and in 1852 he married Agnes Heap, who was at the forefront of campaign for women’s suffrage in Manchester. The couple were active in their community of Salford working to improve the lives of working people, Pochin serving as councillor and mayor.

A country retirement

The couple ‘retired’ to Bodnant Garden in North Wales in 1874 where Pochin set about remodelling Bodnant Hall and developing the gardens to display specimen plants from foreign lands. He enlisted the skills of landscape designer Edward Milner to develop the formal Victorian shrub garden around the house, including the famous Laburnum Arch. Pochin was also the driving force behind the development of the gorge in the valley; planting the sloping valley sides with North American conifers, a project of rock work to re-enforce banks and waterways, and creating paths to form the romantic dells and water gardens.

As a landowner Pochin was active in building cottages on the estate and improving farming practices. He also bought land at nearby Prestatyn, where he supplied the seaside town with clean water and gas, built flood defences and developed a foreshore with promenade.

He went to become JP, Deputy Lieutenant and Sherriff of Denbighshire. Still active in business during the 1880s, Pochin became director of the Metropolitan Railway Company, however he was beset by ill health and died in 1895, passing on the estate to his daughter Laura.

Henry Pochin and friends tree planting at Bodnant Garden circa 1885. His daughter Laura is seen, right, and head gardener Joseph Saunderson, kneeling
Henry Pochin and friends tree planting in The Dell at Bodnant Garden circa 1885.