Person of the month: Frederick Bates

Gardener's Bothy at Calke Abbey

Every month, we’re stepping back in time to meet characters from Calke’s past. Join us on this journey as we discover the people who lived and worked on the estate, and then meet their modern-day equivalents who help to keep Calke alive today.

We’d like you to meet…

Frederick Bates, Head Gardener c1886–1911

Frederick Bates was born in 1843 in Stoke Poges, in Buckinghamshire. His father, William, was a gardener, working on the Stoke Park Estate when Frederick was young. By 1861, Frederick had followed in his father’s footsteps and is recorded as working as a gardener, along with his brother Arthur, and William’s grandson, John. 

By 1871, Frederick had moved to Leicestershire and was still working as a gardener. He boarded with a widow in Appleby Magna, possible working at the now-demolished Moore Estate at Appleby Hall, which was close to his lodgings.

Frederick married Ann Hooker in 1872 at St Pancras Old Church in London. The couple lived in London after their marriage, where Frederick worked at Kew Gardens – something he must have been proud of, since he registered with the Kew Guild after he left and remained a member until 1908.

Frederick at Calke

By 1881, Frederick was once again living in Appleby with wife Ann and children Annie, Edith, Frederick, Frederick William and Harry.

Frederick moved to Calke sometime before 1886. When Sir John, the 9th Baronet, died in 1886, Frederick was listed as the Head Gardener at Calke Abbey, and continued to work for Sir Vauncey. Frederick and Sir Vauncey were similar ages, and Fred was able to supply moths from the garden for Sir Vauncey’s extensive collection.

Vauncey’s only son, Richard, was a frequent visitor to the gardens and his diaries tell of moth-catching and visits to Ivy Cottage, a play house used by the children just outside the Kitchen Garden, where Richard kept his own moth collection and tended his garden. On Boxing Day 1893, Richard records Fred sugaring trees in the Pleasure Grounds. This involved painting the trees with a sugary solution to attract moths. When Richard turned 21, he was presented with a silver cup, to which Frederick contributed and attended the ceremony.

Fred Bates' daughter married Arthur Turner, pictured here
Historic photograph of Calke Mill Farmhouse
Fred Bates' daughter married Arthur Turner, pictured here

Family life

In 1891 Fred is recorded as living in Calke Village with his family, except daughter Annie, who moved to Kent to work as a servant for a wealthy farmer. Fred and Ann had another daughter, Lily, who passed away at ten months old and is buried in Ticknall. They went on to have another daughter, Clara, who was born at Calke.

In their time at Calke all the Bates’ children went to school in Ticknall, although none of Frederick’s children followed him into the gardening profession. Still working as a gardener at age 68 in 1911, Fred died the following year.

Fred’s daughter Clara went on to marry Arthur Ernest Turner in 1917, pictured second from left in the picture above. Arthur’s family ran Calke Mill and lived in Calke Mill Farmhouse. The Mill, together with the farm buildings, was lost under Staunton Harold Reservoir in the 1960s. 

Hear from a modern-day gardener

Héloïse Brooke, Head Gardener

Heloise Brooke Head Gardener Calke Abbey Derbyshire

I’m Héloïse, the Head Gardener at Calke, a role that is still fundamentally the same as in the past. Much like today, the role of a Head Gardener in Victorian times was to have the skills and training to lead a team of gardeners, keep the garden looking beautiful and ensure it was productive, so the family would never lack fruit or vegetables. Like Fred, Héloïse did her early training at Kew Gardens, which gave her the skills needed to become Head Gardener at Calke.

The Head Gardener would choose plants and design planting schemes, within a budget, and would answer directly to the owner. Along with their more experienced staff, they would also train up apprentice gardeners and pass on craft skills, much as the Calke gardeners do today.

" If Fred Bates visited today, he would recognise many of the daily tasks we do, such as seed sowing, pruning, digging, preparing beds, cleaning glasshouses and planting that are done in exactly the same way as in the past."
- Heloise Brooke

Today we use more machinery in the garden, such as mowers and hedge trimmers, and health and safety is now a much greater consideration! We use very few chemicals, whilst in Victorian times the use of poisons, such as nicotine to kill insects in the glasshouses and arsenic to kill weeds and other insect pests, led to sometimes severe health problems and reduced life expectancy. Gardeners would also have to keep the coal fired heating systems for the glasshouses going during the winter, which was a smoky and messy job that we no longer have to undertake. 

A team of gardeners

In the nineteenth century there were up to eleven people working in the gardens, including a boy and three weeding women. Now we have three full-time gardeners, two part-time seasonal gardeners, a trainee and a team of gardening volunteers. The gardens were a private preserve of the family and their chosen guests, and were probably seen by very few people, whilst we now welcome visitors almost every day of the year. 

Perhaps the most visible change in the role of Head Gardener is that it’s just as likely to be held by a woman as a man, luckily for me!