Thomas Andrew Knight

Thomas Andrew Knight (1759–1838), FRS, of Elton Hall in the parish of Elton in Herefordshire (4 miles south-west of Ludlow) and later of Downton Castle (3 miles north-west of Elton), was a British horticulturalist and botanist. He served as the 2nd President of the Royal Horticultural Society (1811–1838).

Thomas Andrew Knight FRS
Thomas Andrew Knight (1758–1838).jpg
Thomas Andrew Knight, portrait by Solomon Cole (1806–1893), collection of Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
Born12 August 1759
Wormsley Grange, Herefordshire, England
Died11 May 1838
London, England
Known forplant breeding and selection
ChildrenFrances Acton

Elizabeth Knight

Charlotte Knight
Scientific career
Author abbrev. (botany)T.Knight
Portrait of Thomas Andrew Knight, holding an Oak branch, dated January 1837, by Edmund Ward Gill (1794–1868), Hereford Museum and Art Gallery


Arms of Knight: Argent, three pales gules within a bordure engrailed azure on a chief of the last three spurs or[1]

He was born at Wormesley Grange, five miles north-west of Hereford in Herefordshire, the second son of Rev. Thomas Knight (1697–1764) of Wormsley Grange, Rector of Bewdley, Worcestershire, and Ursula (née Nash), a daughter of Frederick Nash of Dinham, Shropshire.[2] He was the heir of his unmarried elder brother the art connoisseur Payne Knight (1750–1824), MP, who had been the heir not only of their father but also of their uncle Richard II Knight (1693–1765) of Croft Castle and of Downton, and who had re-built Downton Hall as the surviving Gothic revival style Downton Castle.[3] Richard II Knight as the eldest of five sons was the heir of his father Richard I Knight (1659–1745), of Downton, a wealthy ironmaster of Bringewood Ironworks,[4][5] on the Downton estate, who founded the family's great fortune.[6]


Elton Hall, residence of Thomas Andrew Knight, before he inherited nearby Downton Castle from his elder brother

He attended Balliol College, Oxford. After graduation, he took up the study of horticulture. In 1795 he published the results of his research into the propagation of fruit trees and the diseases prevalent among them.[7] He used 10,000 acres (4,000 ha) of land he inherited and built a curvilinear greenhouse for breeding plants including strawberries, cabbages and peas. In 1797 he published his Treatise on the Culture of the Apple and Pear, and on the Manufacture of Cider and Perry, a work which passed through several editions.[8] His breeding experiments, between identified plant varieties, led to new cultivars of apples. He would select among hundreds of seedlings to pick out the few with improved characteristics. For example, the Siberian Harvey cider apple was among about 4 seedings he kept from 300 crosses. His work on the specific gravity and thus sugar content of apple juice were important to development of the UK cider industry. He also devised new horticultural and agricultural equipment such as a new turnip seed drill, razor sharpener and pineapple pit.[9][10]

He was one of the leading UK researchers in horticulture in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, but his personal papers disappeared after his death.

Knight performed new physiological experiments on plants. He investigated the effects of gravity on seedlings and how decay in fruit trees was passed on by grafting. In many respects his work looked back to that of Rev. Stephen Hales. His goals were always strictly practical, aiming to improve food plants by breeding for better qualities. In the mid-19th century, the Downton strawberry was a popular strawberry in Britain, until it was eclipsed by modern strawberry hybrids at the turn of the century.

It is not widely known that he studied variation in peas and made similar observations to Mendel, but he failed to make the same imaginative leap about the relationships between these changes.[11] Knight intentionally shut himself off from outside scientific influences but did maintain correspondence with others around the world as well as meeting some of them during his annual visits to London. He refused to read anyone else's scientific papers until Sir Joseph Banks, with whom he had a voluminous correspondence, persuaded him to do so. Knight also corresponded with Sir Humphry Davy.[9]

His research was, however, read and appreciated by his contemporaries. Charles Darwin acknowledged Knight's breeding experiments in The Origin of Species. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1805 and awarded the Copley medal in 1806.[10] He was given honorary membership and awards from agricultural and horticultural societies in Europe, Russia, the USA and Australia. Distribution of Knight's apple seeds and scions to the USA helped develop its apple industry.[9]

From 1811 to 1838 Knight was president of the London Horticultural Society, founded in 1804. Banks, president of the Royal Society, had recognised Knight's contributions to science and asked him to join the Horticultural Society, as it was then known. After the death of the first president, George Legge, 3rd Earl of Dartmouth, Banks proposed Knight as president. In 1864 the Society received a royal patent from Albert, Prince Consort, which permitted it to be known as the Royal Horticultural Society. Banks called upon Knight to write a "prospectus" for the society (what would now be called a mission statement), outlining its functions and purpose.

Younger members of the Society were inspired by his example, such as Thomas Laxton. Laxton adopted methods of careful observation and practical goals that resulted in improved varieties of apples, peas and sweet peas among many others, together with a thriving seed business.

Personal lifeEdit

He married Frances Felton, a daughter of Humphry Felton of Woodhall in Shropshire, and they had the following children:[13]

Death and burialEdit

He died in 1838 and was buried in the churchyard of St Mary's Church, Wormsley,[15] where his surviving chest tomb is a grade II listed structure.[16]


Knight was the author of over 100 publications published by the Horticultural Society or Royal Society. He also wrote books.[9] These publications included:

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Burke's Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Landed Gentry, 15th Edition, ed. Pirie-Gordon, H., London, 1937, p.1306, pedigree of Rouse-Boughton-Knight of Downton Castle, 1st quarter. Blazoned similarly for their cousins Knight of Wolverley, Worcestershire, in: Victoria County History, Worcestershire, Vol.3, 1913, Parishes: Wolverley, pp.567–573 as: Argent, three pales gules in a bordure engrailed azure on a quarter gules a spur or (Victoria County History, Worcestershire, Vol.3, 1913, Parishes: Wolverley, pp.567–573)
  2. ^ History of Parliament biography of his brother Richard Payne Knight
  3. ^ History of Parliament biography of his brother Richard Payne Knight
  4. ^ Ince, L., The Knight family and the British iron industry 1695–1902 (1991), 6
  5. ^ R. Page, 'Richard and Edward Knight: ironmasters of Bringewood and Wolverley' Transactions of Woolhope Naturalists' Field Club 43 (1979), 15.
  6. ^ Thomas Andrew Knight's inheritance from his brother Payne Knight was discussed in great detail by the judge in the case of Knight v Knight (1840)
  7. ^ Rines, George Edwin, ed. (1920). "Knight, Thomas Andrew" . Encyclopedia Americana.
  8. ^ Gilman, D. C.; Peck, H. T.; Colby, F. M., eds. (1905). "Knight, Thomas Andrew" . New International Encyclopedia (1st ed.). New York: Dodd, Mead.
  9. ^ a b c d e "Gentleman of Genius". Apples and People. Retrieved 21 February 2022.
  10. ^ a b "Knight; Thomas Andrew (1759 - 1838)". The Royal Society.
  11. ^ Zirkle, Conway. (1951). Gregor Mendel & His Precursors. Isis. Vol. 42, No. 2, pp. 97–104.
  12. ^ IPNI.  T.Knight.
  13. ^ Burke's Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Landed Gentry, 15th Edition, ed. Pirie-Gordon, H., London, 1937, p.1305, pedigree of Knight of Wolverley
  14. ^ Burke's Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Landed Gentry, 15th Edition, ed. Pirie-Gordon, H., London, 1937, p.1305, pedigree of Knight of Wolverley
  15. ^ St Mary, Wormsley, Churches Conservation Trust, archived from the original on 18 February 2011, retrieved 21 October 2010
  16. ^ "Thomas Andrew Knight Monument about 15 yards northeast of the northeast corner of the Church of St Mary, Brinsop and Wormsley", Heritage Gateway website, Heritage Gateway (English Heritage, Institute of Historic Building Conservation and ALGAO:England), 2006, retrieved 21 October 2010


  • Fletcher, H.R. 1969, The Story of the Royal Horticultural Society 1804 -1968, Oxford and London, Oxford University Press for the Royal Horticultural Society, (Portrait facing page 52)

External linksEdit