Thomas Andrew Knight was born at Wormsley Grange on 10th October 1758 and grew up in the orchards of Herefordshire. He died in 1838 in London
Thomas Knight’s Childhood
He was the youngest son of Reverend Thomas Knight, and at the age of 3 his father died – nobody seemed to bother with his education, and at nine he was still unable to read or write. He was however hugely observant, and one day he spotted the gardener planting some beans in the ground; he asked why they were being buried and was told that they would grow into plants which would bear more beans. When the event happened as promised, he decided to plant his pocket knife in the hope of growing more knives, but when nothing happened he considered the cause of the difference in the two cases……….these early thoughts led to his later brilliance with plants.
Thomas Knight’s Schooling
Thomas was eventually sent to school at Ludlow, and was then moved to Chiswick.
Although he went to Balliol College, Oxford University, he didn’t stay long enough to take a degree, choosing instead to return to Herefordshire to take up rural pursuits and indulge his keen interest in all things horticultural, funded partly by an inheritance from his grandfather, the wealthy ironworker Richard Knight.
Thomas married Frances Felton in 1791, after moving to Elton Hall near Ludlow, and began to seriously settle to working on development and cultivation of fruit and vegetables, building a walled garden, and installing hothouses.
He was described as being very knowledgeable of the classics and higher branches of mathematics, as well as on subjects of general information.
He was an active Magistrate, and a promoter of every public improvement.
Thomas Andrew Knight & the Horticultural Society
Thomas wrote a paper entitled “The grafting of fruit trees”, in which he noted how many old varieties of fruit trees were disappearing, and talked about the causes of disease, and this paper was noticed by Sir Joseph Banks of the London Horticultural Society. Sir Joseph was greatly encouraging and the pair frequently corresponded.
In 1809 Thomas Knight inherited the large estate of Downton Castle from his brother, and he was able to continue his research and to breed vast quantities of disease resistance fruit trees. His work didn’t stop with trees – vegetables also came into the equation, including peas, cabbages, potatoes and strawberrys.
The fruits of his labours (sorry!) were quickly adopted by others, and before long everyone was planting his new disease resistance trees and vegetables and were getting great results.
In 1804 Thomas Knight became a founder member of the Horticultural Society London, which later became the Royal Horticultural Society, and in 1811 he was elected President – he was re-elected every year until his death in 1838.
The Death of Thomas Knight Jnr.
Thomas Knight Junior, the son of the above Thomas Andrew Knight was born in 1796 and died tragically in 1827.
His death was a tragic accident; one Thursday, a party of his friends met at his father’s mansion preparatory to the Ludlow Assembly that evening of which he was to have been President. In the morning, they went hunting but returned early when no fox was found.
Thomas Knight was keen to further entertain his friends, so took a couple of them pheasant shooting in the woods near Downton. About a mile from the castle, a pheasant rose, and one friend brought up his gun to shoot – at the very instant that he pulled the trigger, Thomas came from behind a tree into the line of shot, and received most of the charge which entered one eye and penetrated his brain.
The friend was beside himself with horror and remorse whilst Thomas was taken home where two surgeons, Baines and Wakefield, declared that they were very much afraid that Thomas was in great danger.
Thomas died at ten the following morning surrounded by family. He was just 31.
The Hereford Journal Eulogy
Blessed with an understanding of the first order – heir to a large fortune – and rich in mental endowments, Mr. Knight was equally remarkable for his unassuming deportment, his exemplary moral worth, his contempt for the vicious, and his respect for the virtuous.
He was a most affectionate son and brother, a kind and indulgent landlord almost adored by his tenants, and to the poor, a discriminating and benevolent friend. Whilst a mere youth he had selected the sterile regions of the north as the first sphere of his travels, and escaped many perils in the adventurous excursion. He afterwards visited the Continent, and with a mind improved by travel, and a truly English heart, despising the littleness which seeks distinction amongst the follies of the age, he chose the nobler and more virtuous career of usefulness; and in the bosom of his affectionate and admiring family, fulfilled the amiable duties of an English country gentleman. He gave employment alike generous and considerate to all the poor and aged around him, visiting them at their humble dwellings with a courtesy that enhanced even the boons of charity and kindness; and providing for their wants and the permanent welfare of their families, he was justly termed the poor man’s friend.
By his equals he was universally beloved, admired and respected, and was distinguished by liberality, generosity, benevolence and charity.
He gave bright promise of future eminence in the more imposing duties of public life, by the best of all pledges, moral worth, in a private station, and those duties he would have doubtless been called upon to fulfil if providence had spared him.
To the truth of all we have shortly said, the deep regrets alike of the rich and the poor in the vicinity of Mr. Knight’s late happy residence and of his friends in more distance places, bear ample testimony, and by them his virtues will long be remembered, and his early death deeply lamented as a serious private calamity and a public loss.
The Burial Place of Thomas Andrew Knight
He was buried at Wormsley, near to the tomb of his uncle, the late R.P. Knight.