The Monument to the Tradescants at the Garden Museum, etching, published by Nathaniel Smith after Wenceslaus Hollar, 1793
The Tradescant Ark
The Tradescant Ark is a new gallery to be built, dedicated to telling the story of the Tradescants, father and son, renowned plant hunters, gardeners and collectors, who were buried in the church which is now home to the Garden Museum. The Tradescants created the first public museum in England at their home in Lambeth. The gallery will showcase objects from the Tradescants’ seventeenth century cabinet of curiosities from the collections of the Ashmolean Museum, which, with exceptional generosity, are to be loaned to the Garden Museum from 2016.
The Tradescants were famous gardeners to King Charles I and Henrietta Maria, and renowned for the plants they brought back to England from their travels all over the globe, including to Russia, North Africa, and North America. They had a botanical garden, alongside their museum at their home in Lambeth where they gathered their plants. St-Mary-at Lambeth was their local church where they would have worshipped.
The Tradescants created an Ark, or museum, to show off their amazing collection of artefacts which they had picked up on their travels, or acquired from the many wealthy patrons, merchant ships’ captains, and collectors which the family knew. The Ark was one of the wonders of seventeenth century London - objects which could be seen at their museum, included the cradle believed to have belonged to King Henry VI, the youngest person ever to succeed to the throne at the age of just nine months. Material from countries across the world, such as shields, shoes, swords, beads and dishes of precious stone could be seen, as well as miniature carvings of amazing skill, executed on cherrystones or plumstones. Rosaries, crystal balls, and religious talismans were also on show in the cabinet, as well as ‘natural history in a nutshell’ - animals and fish which might have been seen by the most well travelled of the time such as the North American elk, the Arabian gazelle, and the Scandinavian reindeer.
Tradescant the Younger promised the collection to a shrewd lawyer and scholar who had helped catalogue the rarities, Elias Ashmole. However in his will Tradescant left the collection instead to his wife Hester, and a court dispute unfurled. Hester lost - although she was allowed to keep the collection during her lifetime. A series of bitter remarks led Ashmole to force her to publicly apologise for her slander, after which he began to spirit the collection away to a house he had bought next door.
Hester drowned in her garden pond in 1673. In 1683, boatloads of the Tradescants’ antiquities were travelling down the Thames to Oxford, from the home of Elias Ashmole to their new home, the museum in Oxford which was to bear his name, the Ashmolean Museum.
The Tradescants were buried in an important tomb which can now be seen in the Museum’s garden. Ashmole himself wasalso laid to rest at St Mary’s, and our project will also uncover his tomb.