A Sprig of Nobility running to seed …

A recent post about the Beachamwell Apple mentioned that it was also known as Motteux’s Seedling.  John Motteux, who raised this variety, inherited Beachamwell Hall and estate from his father, also John Motteux, in 1793. He evidently took a great interest in horticulture. He was an early member of the Horticultural Society (later the Royal Horticultural Society) and in 1826 he was awarded the Society’s silver medal for ‘his great attention to the Cultivation of Fruits in his Garden in Beechamwell in Norfolk as proved by his frequent exhibitions of its produce to the Society’.

Also in 1826 George Cruickshank published his satirical print Exhibition Extraordinary in the Horticultural Room. It depicts officials of the Society and others in the Great Room of the Horticultural Society in London and contains a wealth of detail and political allusions which presumably would have been familiar at the time.

Exhibition Extraordinary in the Horticultural Room
Exhibition Extraordinary in the Horticultural Room by George Cruickshank  © Trustees of the British Museum.

In the foreground stands a figure in a blue jacket, arms akimbo. He is described as follows:

 A dandy, out at elbows and with patched trousers, stands aggressively in back view: A Sprig of Nobility running to seed—mem—while in this state not to be trusted out of doors—if kept under lock & key it will receive the benefit of the Act [for the relief of debtors] (‘Mr. Motheaux’, i.e. John Motteux, d. 1843, a Vice-President of the Society, and very rich).

And so we have this tantalising glimpse of Beachamwell’s John Motteux … or do we? The British Museum cautions that the identification of Motteux in the print may be mistaken. And indeed H.R. Fletcher’s history of the RHS describes Motteux as ‘short and stout’. Nevertheless it It would be satisfying to know if this portrait and description are in any way accurate.

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