Oxford University Press: The Story of John Spyers

02.12.2016 | category: General

It is no secret that many of Brown's foremen were highly skilled and traded in their own right. They were recruited, some from Northumberland and presumably known to Brown in his youth (William Ireland and perhaps Nathaniel Richmond), some from other gardens and from related trades (James Clarke may have been a nurseryman). Some were specialists: John Spyers was a surveyor, Lapidge had both surveyed and carried out waterworks at Cassiobury, Hertfordshire, before joining Brown, Benjamin Read was another lake-maker, John Hobcroft and Henry Holland the elder were builders. Within this latter category sat surveyor John Spyers. You can read about his life in full via this free article in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

John Spyers (c.1731–1798), surveyor and topographical artist, was the third son of Christopher Spyers (1690–1737), a gardener and nurseryman of Isleworth, Middlesex, and his wife, Anne (d. 1751). John appears to have joined his paternal uncle Joshua (d. 1768) in a successful nursery business in Twickenham, and to have specialized in surveying as was customary for junior members of this profession. On 6 January 1754, at St George's Church, Mayfair, London, Spyers married Elizabeth Bonneau (1730–1810), the sister of Jacob Bonneau (1717–1786), a respected drawing master. He and his wife had a son, Joshua, and four daughters.

In 1763 at the latest Spyers began receiving commissions for surveys from the garden designer Lancelot (‘Capability’) Brown, who at the time was living in Hammersmith. One of the first was a magnificent plan of Blenheim Park prior to Brown's most famous commission, but as demand for Brown's services grew Spyers's designs became more workmanlike. Although all plans for improvements from Brown's business were signed ‘L. B.’, it is likely that Spyers assisted with many of them, and with drawings of garden buildings and bridges. Brown's place of business became Wilderness House after he was appointed his majesty's chief gardener at Hampton Court Palace in 1764 and, not long after, Spyers took an apartment in Hampton Court Palace.

The Oxford DNB online is freely available in public libraries across the UK. Public libraries offer ‘remote access’, allowing public library members to log-in and read the Dictionary online - at home or anywhere - at any time. You can also listen to 250 life stories from the Oxford DNB via the Oxford Biographies fortnightly podcast, including that of Lancelot Brown himself. Each episode lasts between 10 and 30 minutes and episodes cover a huge range of characters from Boudicca to Bobby Moore, Mrs. Simpson to Mills & Boon.

Information and Story from The Oxford University Press.


Our Partners

Find out more about our partners.

View Partners