Family’s history of gardening in town

Jamie and Richard Willison
Jamie and Richard Willison
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Not many families can say they have continued their line of work for hundreds of years - but for the green-fingered Willisons, gardening and growing vegetables is in their blood.

RA Willison- green grocer, fruiterer and florists shop - has stood on the corner of Baxtergate and Wellington Road since 1800 and is said to be the oldest business in town.

The Chubb Hill picture shows John Willison's nursery and market garden around 1870. Courtesy of Whitby museum before Pannett Park was created.

The Chubb Hill picture shows John Willison's nursery and market garden around 1870. Courtesy of Whitby museum before Pannett Park was created.

It was also the first ever fruitgrowers and greengrocers in Whitby according to father and son Richard (73) and Jamie Willison (25) who are its present owners.

They are helped occasionally at the shop by Richard’s sister Emma (24).

The trio are actually descendents of a renowned local family of nurserymen in Whitby, one of whom was William Willison.

Born in 1806, William who is Richard’s great great uncle is famed with being one of the best botanists and most successful gardeners in Yorkshire.

The family’s remarkable history has been documented by Linda Chapman, a member of the Wakefield and North of England Tulip Society - the only remaining tulip society in England.

She is particularly interested in William, as he grew what are said to be among the best tulip breeds today in the world - Sir Joseph Paxton and Juliet varieties which were first grown by him in around 1850.

Richard who has worked at the business for 45 years told the Gazette: “I love working here and I was actually born above the shop where we used to live. “

People often come into the shop and ask me if we have the tulips for sale and they still exhibit them. I would love to sell them in the shop if I could get them.”

Jamie added: “I’ve been working here since I was at school. We both feel proud of our family’s history. My dad has told me all about it.”

William was the fifth son of Alexander Willison who came to Whitby from Scotland and set up his own business with a market garden and shop in Baxtergate and established nurseries at Chubb Hill - before the creation of Pannett Park which opened in 1928, and at New Gardens at the top of Flowergate, where the family lived.

At least three of Alexander’s children became nurserymen including another talented gardener John, but by far the most prolific was William who after completing an apprenticeship at a nationally renowned nursery located in Tyneside, returned to town to join his father’s business becoming solely responsible for the cultivation and development of roses.

He started what became the first rose nursery in the North of England of a significant scale.

The Willison family also had strong links to the Whitby Floral and Horticultural Society, and records reveal that the family and William won many prizes at its shows.

Another of his passions was the tulip which William was to breed show and judge for the rest of his life until his death from a heart attack at the age of 69. Even today, the Wakefield and North of England Tulip Society continue to show his two breeds of tulips.

Linda added: “William’s horticultural accomplishments seem to have been forgotten now but his contribution to breeding and developing many plants should not be underestimated.”

Anyone who has information on Alexander and William Willison or particularly a picture of William is asked to email secretary@tulipsociety.co.uk.