The RHS, or rather what later became the RHS, was founded at a meeting held in the then still young Hatchards Bookshop – opened just seven years previously - in Piccadilly.
Though it arrived on the scene nearly 150 years after the Royal Society its beginnings bear comparison with that august institution: both from the outset could boast their field’s great names, which in the case of the younger body included Joseph Banks , then president of the older. The originator of the idea for The Horticultural Society of London was John Wedgwood, elder son of the great industrialist Josiah , and it was he who would serve as the HSL’s first chairman. But like the Royal Society before it this was not just for gentlemen amateurs – it was not until Prince Albert gave the organisation his backing in the 1860s that it became the Royal Horticultural Society: William Townsend Aiton, like his father superintendent at Kew , was one of the founders; so too William Forsyth (as in Forsythia), in charge of the gardens at Kensington Palace and St James’s Palace.
Banks, famed for accompanying Cook on his first great voyage of discovery (though Banks saw it as the other way round), had a taste for starting learned bodies: in 1788 he had been involved in the establishment of the African Association. And the HSL was intended as a forum for discussion of academic and other research papers on horticulture; to promulgate such findings; and to reward achievements in the field.
In its early years the HSL ran its greatest shows in Chiswick ; later these shifted to Kensington ; and in 1913 to what is still their home, Chelsea .
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