Market Lavington Museum

The Life of James Lye

Market Lavington gardener, James Lye was a giant in the field of fuchsia growing and hybridisation. Here – a response to requests for information – we present the details we have of his life.


James Lye was born in about 1830 in Market Lavington. His parents, Richard who was a labourer and Ann had him baptised at St Mary’s Church in Market Lavington on August 22nd of 1830.

A recurring problem with genealogy in Market Lavington is that the 1841 census has not survived for our parish. But a James Lye of the right age was a servant at Cornbury Mill for that census. Cornbury Mill is the first building in West Lavington where the census has survived.

In 1849 James married Maria Smith – a Market Lavington girl by birth.

In 1851 James was a gardener. Documentation suggests he was already in the employ of Louisa Hay at Clyffe Hall. He and Maria lived on Northbrook in Market Lavington with baby daughter Elizabeth.

In 1861 the census tells us that James was gardener to the Hon Mrs Hay. He and Maria now lived on White Street in Market Lavington and they had three daughters with them – Ann, Emily and Louisa.

By 1871, a cottage had been found for James on site – Clyffe Hall Lodge. James was gardener and bailiff for Mrs Hay. He and Maria had four daughters now – Elizabeth Ann, Harriet, Ellen and baby Letty.

Letty died in 1878. James named a fuchsia after her.

For the 1881 census, James was aged 50. He and Maria lived at ‘The Cottage’ Clyffe Hall and still had Harriet and Ellen at home with them – both described as dressmakers (out of employ). James was, of course, a gardener.

James Lye, fuchsia grower and gardener of Market Lavington - about 1890

Moving on to 1891 we find James and Maria together at Clyffe Hall Cottage along with daughter Ellen. Louisa Hay was still at Clyffe Hall and James was still her gardener and Bailiff.

We do not know just when James retired. His employer, Louisa Hay, died in 1898 and perhaps uncertainty over his future made him decide it was time to hang up his gardening gloves.

James and Maria celebrated their Golden Wedding anniversary in 1899 but we have no information about how they celebrated this occasion.

In 1901 James and Maria lived in Easterton on Oak Lane. Easterton had been a part of Market Lavington but became a separate parish in the 1870s. So James was not far from home there.

James died in 1906 and was buried in Market Lavington churchyard. Maria followed him some three years later.

The Gardeners Chronicle published this obituary for James

Gardeners Chronicle February 10 1906

Obituary _ James Lye

On Saturday last, at a ripe age, a victim to paralysis, there passed away at Market Lavington, Wilts a gardener in the person of James Lye, who had the warm esteem and regard of a wide circle of friends, and who had made for himself a good name in horticulture.

For very many years he was Gardener at Clyffe Hall Market Lavington, and there gave his attention largely to the raising and growing of Fuchsia and potatoes. Whilst the varieties of the latter which he raised have been elbowed out of commerce by newer ones, many of his Fuchsias today still rank amongst the very best in cultivation.

Indeed none are more beautiful, have better habit or flower more abundantly. Mr Lye was a very capable raiser and. first class grower of specimens and the noble pyramids he grew at Clyffe Hall 9 to 10 feet tall, and referred to in an article in Gardeners Chronicle February 14 1885, were never excelled out of the West of England.

He had retired from active life for several years, but still retained his love for Fuchsias to the last.