Eleanour Sinclair Rohde; a spiritual friend

Eleanour Sophie Sinclair Rohde (1881-1950) is one of the most interesting women I have met through the pages of my library. How I would have loved to sit down to tea with her and perhaps her friend Maud Messel or even her acquaintances Gertrude Jekyll and Ellen Willmott to discuss the roses of the day. These women must have been a force to be reckoned with in the horticultural world at this time and I know their love of roses was a driving force in their lives.

Eleanour Sinclair Rohde. (Courtesy of The Mary Evans Picture Library)
Eleanour Sinclair Rohde. (Courtesy of The Mary Evans Picture Library)

Eleanour must have lived and breathed horticulture; the thirty books she wrote in the thirty-five year period bewtween 1913 and 1948 surely prove this fact. Strangely only one of these ‘Rose Recipes from Olden Times’ is dedicated to the rose but the chapter ‘The Old Roses’ from her book ‘The Scented Garden’ is the piece of her rose writing I love so much. It makes up for the rose books she didn’t write!

Another piece of her writing I am so grateful for is the article she wrote for the September 1933 edition of ‘The Journal of the Royal Horticultural Society’ about the Garden Library at Nymans. Knowing this library burned down in 1947 her article is the nearest thing to a bibliography of all the books it contained.

Some of Eleanour's horticultural writings.
Some of Eleanour’s horticultural writings.

It is not surprising that Eleanour used her education from Cheltenham Ladies College and St Hilda’s Hall Oxford together with her love of herbs and flowers to write about horticultural issues which interested her. Her career began with a number of articles about gardens and gardening in magazines such as The Field, The Queen and My Garden. She also wrote for The Cornhill Magazine and the RHS Journal among others and became the president of the Society of Women Journalists.

Eleanour was an innovative gardener and grew and tested old and obscure flowers, herbs and vegetables in her garden at Cranham Lodge in Reigate, Surrey where she lived most of her life. On several occasions she collaborated with friends to design herb gardens, notably for the Chelsea Flower Show in 1919 and for Lullingstone Castle in Kent. Herbs were a major interest for her with ‘A Garden of Herbs’ being one of the first books she wrote in 1921.

Painting of old roses by Patricia Dale taken from 'The Scented Garden'.
Painting of old roses by Patricia Dale taken from ‘The Scented Garden’.

It is known that Eleanour often visited the Messel family at Nymans where Maud had her rose garden and I believe it to be the garden to which she is referring when she wrote

” . . .If you do not grow the old roses, look at their beauty as depicted in the paintings of the old Dutch flower painters; or look at those glorious roses portrayed in the three great rose books of a century ago – Redoute, Andrews and Miss Lawrence. In their masterpieces, the beauty and the glorious colouring of the living flowers of over a hundred years ago are immortalized. But best of all, see them as I see them now, loved and tended in a secluded enclosure. This garden is famed, yet only a minority of those who come to see the treasures it contains visit the rose garden, which is filled with the beauty and fragrance of the old roses. This morning I got up very early to see what is surely one of the fairest sights in the world – the roses ‘spreading themselves towards the sun-rising’.”

The Scented Garden (1931).

Eleanour dedicated this book and at least one other to her friend Maud. It is likely that she used the library at Nymans for some of her research and perhaps her book ‘The Old English Herbals’ (1922) was inspired by Leonards great collection or at least she possibly used his library for research for this book. It is known that Leonard Messel proof read some of Eleanour’s work for her. It was possibly this friendship with the Messels and her knowledge of the library that prompted the RHS to commission Eleanour to write the article about the Garden Library at Nymans. Whatever the reason thank goodness they did; no record of the library at all would have been devastating. A 1973 reproduction of the book.

Although comparatively little of her writing is about roses I have a great admiration for her work. To write thirty books in as many years is a feat in itself but the nature of some of her books would have meant hours spent in research in various libraries and a tremendous amount of dedication. Not only did she write the bibliography of ‘The Old English Herbals’ but also a bibliography of gardening books through the years ‘The Old English Gardening Books’ (1924). These must have taken many hours to compile. Even ‘Rose Recipes from Olden Times’ would have meant considerable research in old texts. Other titles are ‘The Story of the Garden’ (1932), ‘Shakespeare’s Wild Flowers’ (1935) and ‘Herbs and Herb Gardening’.

Book by Eleanour Sinclair Rohde
A first edition.

I have a good number of Eleanour’s books because I admire her dedication, her intelligence and her life. To live through two wars cannot have been easy but I do not know how they affected her personally. As with all my research there is always so much more to be done and this brief story about Eleanour is no exception. As far as I am aware there has been no autobiography written.

5 thoughts on “Eleanour Sinclair Rohde; a spiritual friend”

  1. Thanks so much for this piece, I am a great fan of Eleanor and own many of her books. I agree with you about the lack of a comprehensive biography of this really impressive woman, would be a good PhD project.

  2. I am currently living in Cranham Lodge, Reigate and sadly after her death in 1950, the gardens were neglected and part of them subsequently sold off. A range of interesting characters and families lived in the house since the 1950’s and all have in one way or another, left a stamp on this house. My query is if anyone has any details as to the front garden of Cranham Lodge from the period of Ms Rhodes tenure as we are trying to bring this part of the house back to its original state. As a footnote I am quite shocked no formal recognition of Ms Rhodes exists as her authorship, university education when it was uncommon, president role and other achievements should in some way be formally acknowledged.

  3. I’ve only just discovered Eleanour whilst researching the old herbals but what a treasure that is! A biography would be lovely, whether a PhD thesis or not, I’m tempted to have a go myself.

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