Thomas Cripps started his nursery in 1837 when aged about 27 in Tunbridge Wells, UK. By 1847 he had an office and florist shop in Tunbridge Wells High Street. In the 1851 Census he is recorded as having 17 acres of land and 14 labourers.
The nursery was successful and in 1842 he introduced the first white fuchsia with white petals called 'Venus Victrix'. Perhaps it was no coincidence he named one of his new lanuginosa type clematis cultivars 'Venus Victrix' hoping perhaps it would make as much money as the fuchsia.
When the lease ran out on his land he moved to a new site. The nusery continued to expand and he reclaimed 80 acres of nearby scrubland. This was soon joined by a further 30 acres. Cripps' catalogue for autumn 1866 - spring 1867 lists 24 clematis. George Jackman's success with clematis hybrids must have acted as a spur for within three years of C. 'Jackmanii' being shown to the public Cripps was producing some fine cultivars of the late flowering types such as 'Star of India', 'Victoria' and 'Madame van Houtte', which received the RHS recognition in 1867.
The practice of most nurseries of naming cultivars after wealthy or influential patrons was followed by Cripps with names such as 'Lord Nevill' (prior to 1875) and 'Lady Caroline Nevill' (c1886) who were a prominent titled family from whom Cripps leased his nursery land.
The name of the nursery from 1837 was "Thomas Cripps" but at some point it was changed to "Thomas Cripps and Son". There were, in fact, two sons and it is not clear to which one the title refers. However, both pre-deceased their father and, when he died in 1888, the business was carried on by his daughter Ellen Hephzibah Cripps until her death in 1902. Advertisements for the nursery in the local Kelly's directory continued until 1911. A catalogue/stock book for autumn 1906 - spring 1907 listed 76 clematis cultivars and species. In 1912 the nursey changed hands and soon ceased traing. Some of the old Cripps nursery land was re-opened as a nursery in 1920 and the trade continued there until, in 1967, the ground was sold for development.
There is a memorial in the shape of an obelisk in Tunbridge Wells cemetery which, on the front face, says: "In loving memory of Thomas Cripps founder of Tunbridge Wells Nurseries who fell asleep on the 17th April 1888 in his 79th year." It is fitting that the memorial is within sight of the place where his nursery was situated.
Adapted extracts from Thomas Cripps (1809-1888), Nurseryman from the Past by Everett Leeds in The Clematis Spring 2001, with the permission of its editor and the author.