The answer is John Tradescant and his son introduced pineapples to Britain. Here is an image of the son whose name was also John
Who were these dudes? They lived in the 16th and 17th centuries and were gardeners. Well, not just gardeners.
Adventurous travellers, diplomats, horticultural pioneers, and polymaths, they were also collectors, acquiring (and asking their friends to acquire) specimens of the wonders of the world. Their growing collection was made accessible to the public in a large house — “The Ark” — in South Lambeth, London.
And what a collection they assembled! Here is a description from a German visitor
In the museum of Mr. John Tradescant are the following things: first in the courtyard there lie two ribs of a whale, also a very ingenious little boat of bark; then in the garden all kinds of foreign plants, which are to be found in a special little book which Mr. Tradescant has had printed about them. In the museum itself we saw a salamander, a chameleon, a pelican, a remora, a lanhado from Africa, a white partridge, a goose which has grown in Scotland on a tree, a flying squirrel, another squirrel like a fish, all kinds of bright colored birds from India, a number of things changed into stone, amongst others a piece of human flesh on a bone, gourds, olives, a piece of wood, an ape’s head, a cheese, etc; all kinds of shells, the hand of a mermaid, the hand of a mummy, a very natural wax hand under glass, all kinds of precious stones, coins, a picture wrought in feathers, a small piece of wood from the cross of Christ, pictures in perspective of Henry IV and Louis XIII of France, who are shown, as in nature, on a polished steel mirror when this is held against the middle of the picture, a little box in which a landscape is seen in perspective, pictures from the church of S. Sophia in Constantinople copied by a Jew into a book, two cups of rinocerode, a cup of an E. Indian alcedo which is a kind of unicorn, many Turkish and other foreign shoes and boots, a sea parrot, a toad-fish, an elk’s hoof with three claws, a bat as large as a pigeon, a human bone weighing 42 lbs., Indian arrows such as are used by the executioners in the West Indies- when a man is condemned to death, they lay open his back with them and he dies of it, an instrument used by the Jews in circumcision, some very light wood from Africa, the robe of the King of Virginia, a few goblets of agate, a girdle such as the Turks wear in Jerusalem, the passion of Christ carved very daintily on a plumstone, a large magnet stone, a S. Francis in wax under glass, as also a S. Jerome, the Pater Noster of Pope Gregory XV, pipes from the East and West Indies, a stone found in the West Indies in the water, whereon are graven Jesus, Mary and Joseph, a beautiful present from the Duke of Buckingham, which was of gold and diamonds affixed to a feather by which the four elements were signified, Isidor’s MS of de natura hominis, a scourge with which Charles V is said to have scourged himself, a hat band of snake bones’.
In other words, this was eccentric in the extreme. Or at least it seems so to us, who admire classifications of things rather than the connectedness of things. Hmmm … something to think about! The Guardian has this comment about their guiding principles
– they brought together the natural, the artificial and the supernatural: carvings on cherry stones, seashells, the cradle of Henry VI, a stuffed crocodile, religious objects, talismans. This was more than whimsical mixology: it was a view of the world based on the connectedness of things.
We might not know about this except for the adventures of a married couple, who lived in the 20th century, Rosemary and John Nicholson. I have no idea how this came about, but they were devoted Tradescant fans. Then one day back in 1976
Rosemary Nicholson’s (discovered) in the overgrown churchyard of St Mary-at-Lambeth … the Tradescants’ tomb.
Hmmm … but St. Mary’s was not in good shape at the time.
St Mary’s had been desconsecrated and at the time of the Nicholsons’ visit, was a desolate ruin. Soon afterwards, Rosemary Nicholson attended a function at Lambeth Palace at which the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Donald Coggan, told her that the church was scheduled for demolition to make way for a coach park for Waterloo Station, adding that it was “very, very sad”. When she expressed her horror, he suggested that if she could think of something to do with it, she should try and get the decision reversed.
What to do?
Rosemary and John Nicholson asked the Church Commissioners for a stay of execution and set about mounting a campaign to save the building and turn it and its churchyard into a museum of garden history.
And due primarily to Rosemary’s very clever networking among the rich and famous, they made it happen. But a museum of garden history? That sounds a bit odd. It is odder when you consider that St. Mary’s is in the city, not the country. It has the only garden in the immediate area. And yet, that may be the perfect place for it. Director Christopher Woodward has some interesting ideas about how it connects to the world around it
Woodward wants the museum to do more than preach to already converted garden enthusiasts, and to be open to children who may never have seen an earthworm. He wants it to be a place of debate about the public spaces of the city, which makes the events space in the middle of the church important. He’d like to put ideas into practice by contributing to local parks, whose budgets have been hit by local authority spending cuts. The museum’s building and gardens, nuanced, open, distinctive and responsive to its unusual setting, are a good start.
Check out the Guardian article for a review of the museum. Better yet, check out the museum itself! And you might ask yourself, does my city or town have a museum of gardening history? Perhaps it should!
BTW John Tradescant (the elder) is the subject of the novel Earthly Joys by Philippa Gregory.