Alfred Smee, born on June 18th 1818 in Camberwall, was not only a surgeon but also a chemist, metallurgist, electrical researcher and inventor, and the son of the accountant-general to the Bank of England, William Smee. He attended St. Paul’s School from November 7th 1829, later becoming a medical student at King’s College in London. Whilst a student, he won the silver medal and prize for chemistry in 1836, as well as the silver medals for anatomy and physiology in 1837, demonstrating his talent in this area. Once he left King’s College, he entered St Bartholomew’s Hospital, becoming a surgical assistant and receiving his diploma as a member of the Royal College of Surgeons in April 1840. That same year, on June 2nd, he married Elizabeth Hutchison, who he had a son, Alfred Hutchison Smee, and two daughters with.
Alfred Smee devoted his later life to horticulture, specifically on an experimental garden in the hamlet Wallington in Surrey, on which his work ‘My Garden; its Plan and Culture’ (1872) revolves around. The garden covered a huge 7.925 acres of land and water!
On January 11th 1877 Alfred Smee died from Diabetes, and was buried in St Mary’s Church, Beddington, in Surrey.
Alfred Smee describes his book ‘My Garden: its plan and culture’, published in 1872, as a general description of his garden’s geology, botany and natural history. His work is illustrated with 1250 engravings. Although had no formal training in gardening, he was an enthusiastic amateur gardener horticulturalist, describing in his book the planting of the garden at ‘The Grange’ in Beddington Park in Wallington, the on the backs on the famous River Wandle. He furthers discusses the natural history and archaeology of the area, detailing the damage caused by pests and parasite as well as untreated effluent from a local sewerage works.
SMEE GRANGE GARDEN, BEDDINGTON PARK
Smee Grange Garden is an ornamental garden designed by Smee himself from 1850, located on the north side of the lake in Beddington Park, formally Wallington village mill pond. The original garden contained a vinery, vegetables, fruit trees, a croquet lawn, glasshouses, a summerhouse and watercress beds as well as flower beds, tress and the alpine area and fernery. The Grange house was built after Smee’s death by his son, but was unfortunately destroyed by fire in 1960.
Despite the numerous gardens existing along the River Wandle, Smee Grange Garden is the best preserved and documented, being very popular in the 1860s. The garden is now owned by London Borough of Sutton resting within the Beddington Park Conservation Area. Although it has changed since then, the original layout is still visible; some of the original trees planted by Smee have even survived! The most notable remaining feature is the small area of rockery around a water course and a small stone bridge, both of which are on London Borough of Sutton’s local list of buildings.
This blog was written and researched by Nonsuch High School for Girls student and Whitehall volunteer, Yasmin Truelove. Visit the accompanying May Object of the Month display now on at Cheam Library (Church Rd, Sutton, SM3 8QH) during regular library opening times to learn more about Smee’s garden and see excerpts from his book.