From George Street shop to Camp Road nurseries

Although he was generally known as Friederick (Frederick), Mr Sander was born Heinrich Conrad Sander. He came over from Hanover, Germany, and settled in south London, where he was employed by James Carter, seedsman, from 1867. By 1870 he had moved to St Albans in order to set up his own business.

  • Frederick and Elizabeth Sander.
  • The grand front entrance of Orchid House in Camp Road.
  • Working on the seemingly endless benches of orchid plants sent to the nursery from plant hunters across the world.
  • Workshops and offices lining Camp Road. The original railway bridge has been removed and replaced by the Blue Bridge.
  • One of several nearby roads taking their names from orchids or specialist breeders.
  • The halt at which visitors, employees, and those for the nearby Salvation Army Works arrived and departed. An earlier halt had existed on the far side of this bridge.
  • The company had named road vans and railway vans for identity.
  • Nellie Roberts, an artist for Sander's orchids and daffodils for Peter Barr at Tooting, the Daffodil King.
  • Coal for heating the greenhouses was unloaded at a nearby siding and manually pushed across the bridge and around the nursery site.
  • Artist Henry Moon who completed the mammoth task of drawing all of the pages for the four-volume Reichenbachia.
  • Mr Sander before St Albans

    Heinrich Friederick Sander (anglicised to Frederick) was born in Bremen, Germany, in 1847, serving his apprenticeship with a small horticultural firm. He then gained a position at the very English-sounding business of Peter Smith & Co, Hamburg.

    In 1865 Frederick decided to further his career in the UK and was employed by the nurseries of Carter & Co, Forest Hill, London. It was while working here he encountered orchids for the first time, one of the plant types in which Carter's specialised.

    Sander became acquainted with three notable orchid plant collectors: Benedikt Roezl, a Mr Endres and Gustav Wallis. In addition to receiving copious quantities of plants, not all of which survived hazardous journeys from distant places, Frederick also received prolific data about the environments, climates and eco-systems in which the samples were discovered.

    For these transactions to succeed Frederick needed his own premises and so purchased the former business of Josling's in George Street, St Albans. The upstairs groaned with the weight and mass of orchid samples, and the rear plot was covered in glasshouses for them.

    Frederick's ambition was always well ahead of his ability to manage the stock he received; from up to 22 plant travellers and up to one million plants of over two hundred new or rare orchid species.

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  • Land and nurseries

    A major part of Sander's vision was his acquisition of land when first moving to St Albans in the 1870s. He clearly had the funds to purchase the Gaol Field which lay between Camp Road and the county prison adjacent to the new Midland Railway (today the Breakspear housing estate). He also purchased from St Peter's Farm the remainder of the Fete Field, part of which had been sold to the Midland Railway. This is now the recreational part of Clarence Park.

    The key transfer was the former nursery belonging to Willam Watson, which extended from Hatfield Road, opposite St Peter's Farm, down to the branch railway (now Alban Way). He divided off the top half and had houses built – the Cavendish estate. The income from this development was used to create his nurseries. The nurseries are today closed but remain the location of Ss Alban & Stephen Junior School.

    Frederick and his wife, Elizabeth, had a splendid home near the corner of Camp Road and Cecil Road, and there was also other accommodation for key staff. Lining Camp Road was a block of workshops and offices, and over a period of time the rest of the site was crowded with glasshouses kept to varying temperatures according to the range of orchids which would thrive in them.

    So crowded was the site the Sander's private garden had to be accommodated on the north side of Camp Road – when part of the company was closed in the 1930s the former garden was acquired by Ss Alban & Stephen Elementary School (now the school's infants department).

    A short platform was built at the railway line for visitors to enter the nursery estate directly; visitors, often wealthy clients, arriving by road carriage entered via the ornate porch and central hall of Orchid House, which was festooned with myriad orchids.

    There is the remains of a platform a little further along the former railway line – today it has the waymarker sign Salvation Army on it. There came a point when Sander's and Salvation Army Printing Works had to share a platform, since both firms could not have their own platforms opposite each other on a single track line. Staff of both firms used the second platform and a siding for Sander's arriving and departing orchid vans curved away from the line just before the blue bridge crossing Camp Road. Coal for heating the glasshouses was also pushed across the original bridge manually.

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  • Henry Moon, artist

    The eldest of Frederick and Elizabeth's children was Eliza. Eliza married an artist: Henry Moon. Henry was brought up in Barnet and developed a talent for drawing and painting, especially plants. One of his early commissions was with a monthly magazine specialising in gardens, at which he was a staff artist. He also undertook work for others, and in that capacity he first visited the Sander Orchid Nurseries in Camp Road.

    Within a short time Frederick Sander had recognised the fine quality of Moon's work and engaged him to produce a number of drawings for a significant publishing work he had in mind. This eventually grew to become the four-volume Reichenbachia, which were all weighty books, produced in very small quantities at enormous cost.

    Henry Moon's colourful illustrations were acclaimed to be magnificently accurate. Although he did paint landscapes and scenes, Moon is mainly remembered for his orchid depictions. However, while the artist was proud of producing accurate drawings of the plants in front of him, Sander was insistent that where blemishes and other imperfections appeared on the plant these were to be altered to produce drawings of a "perfect plant". So there was frequent friction on the matter between the two men.

    The drawings shown on this page are all of Moon's work and have their places in one of the Reichenbachia volumes. Copyright Peter Sander.

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  • Nursery Manager Joseph Godseff

    Frederick Sander recognised he needed a very well organised and efficient manager for his orchid nursery. Enter Joseph Godseff. The two first met when Godseff was managing a nursery in Chelsea. Sander was impressed enough to offer Godseff the post, which he was pleased to accept. He, Emily and their first four children moved in to Orchid Lodge, a small house on the nursery site.

    Five further children were born to the couple, but the Godseffs outgrew Orchid Lodge and they were in the fortunate position of being able to purchase a larger detached house in Camp Road, opposite to where Lynton Avenue was later built. The house was given the name Cherry Grange.

    The house extended back to Beresford Road and possessed a wide frontage to Camp Road, sufficient for the majority to be given over to an orchard and smallholding. The houses of Oxford Avenue were later built here, and more recently Cherry Grange itself was torn down and the site redeveloped.

    Godseff may have been experienced as a general nursery manager, but Sander's required the manager to engage and pay large numbers of highly competitive plant hunters in many countries. The plantsmen were searching for unusual and rare orchids against considerable competition. In turn these agents required to pay considerable amounts to native men who brought them samples, and to other contacts who provided information.

    There was often disagreement between Frederick Sander and his sons about the financial and organisational efficiency of the Nursery. After the death of their father in 1920, the sons, who took over control of the business, were able to inspect the company accounts for the first time and noted the company's weak financial position. Joseph Godseff was dismissed.

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  • The next Sander generation

    Conrad Fearnley Sander (Fearnley after his mother's family) made his mark in establishing, with his father, huge nurseries in Bruges, Belgium, which were opened in 1894. Conrad lived much of his life there, only returning to London in the First World War. But he did retire to Woburn, Buckinghamshire. The government of Belgium recognised his services to national horticulture with an award of honour.

    Frederick Kropp Sander, the third child, also furthered the cause of the family firm, and is most remembered for the original orchid hybrid list produced and maintained by the company, and finally published in 1946. The original handwritten list is in the archives of Jersey's Eric Young Orchid Foundation which took over a considerable proportion of the Sander orchid collection after the closure of the Camp Road nursery.

    The youngest son, Louis Lochman whose main role was to work with his brother in the world renowned Bruges nurseries. Regrettably, during the First World War much damage was done to the structures and it is to Louis' credit that the nurseries were not only returned to health but were further enlarged. He also furthered the techniques of propagating orchids from seed.

    Of the next generation David Fearnley Sander was much involved in the running of the Camp Road nursery. Although he recognised the beauty of the plants on their own, he brought an extra dimension to the various shows the firm attended. His flair for displaying groups of orchids in naturalistic settings earned him much praise. He also took on responsibility for the orchid list. He began his own orchid nursery in Sussex after Camp Road closed, and it was David who collated the family's history for the book Sander: the Orchid King.

    Roger Sander lived in Battlefield Road, St Albans, and in the 1950s he ran the Russell's Nursery near The Grove in Watford, where, in addition to a range of flowering plants, he specialised in orchids.

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Photos in this section courtesy Wendy Hyams


A Tribute to Frederick Sander and Henry Moon

On Tuesday 23rd July 2019 a significant event took place at Hatfield Road Cemetery, St Albans, to mark the completion of restoration work on the family grave plot of the Sander and Moon families. The volunteer work was undertaken by members of the former Fleetville Diaries Local History organisation, together with a funded contribution by J J Burgess & Sons.

The plot had become overgrown with buddlea and brambles, and over time the stonework had lost its vertical alignment. The stonework was cleaned and replaced in its original position. Although missing lettering was not replaced, the letter cuts have been painted to restore legibility. The area inside the kerbing was laid with weed inhibiting fabric, fresh top soil added and the whole re-seeded.

Around eighty invited guests were present, including descendants of Frederick Sander and Henry Moon, some of whom were meeting each other for the very first time. Following a graveside tribute guests were invited to nearby St Paul's Church (where Frederick and his family had worshipped), for an informal gathering and a specially prepared exhibition.

Four volumes of paintings

Reichenbachia vol 1 cover

Henry J Moon's fine and accurate paintings of orchids are bound into four volumes. The books are named after the pre-eminent orchidologist Professor Dr Heinrich Gustav Reichenbach.

Cymbidium Lowianum

Cymbidium Lowianum

Cattleya Haryana

Cattleya Haryana

Phaius Tuberculosus

Phaius Tuberculosus


Cymbidium Winnianum

Above images courtesy Peter Sander