Birmingham City Council

Jane Loudon

 Jane Loudon

Jane was born in August 1807, the daughter of Thomas Webb, a Birmingham manufacturer. They lived in Edgbaston, Birmingham until 1819 when Jane’s mother died. Jane and her father then spent a year travelling on the Continent, where Jane learned several languages. When they returned Thomas Webb’s business had suffered heavy losses, so he decided to sell the Edgbaston house and retire to another property he had bought several years previously; Kitwell House in Bartley Green, on the edge of Birmingham.

 

 Kitwell House, Bartley Green

Kitwell House, Bartley Green

At Kitwell Jane ran the house, and learned a little about agriculture – milking cows, how to get hens to lay, how to make butter. She would sometimes drive through the country to Dudley Castle, and later described the wild flowers there. Jane’s father, Thomas Webb, died in 1824, and Jane looked for a way to earn money. She wrote - she had already been writing poems at the age of twelve, and in 1826 her first book was published Prose and Verse. Her second book, The Mummy, [LS JL/64] was far more adventurous and unusual. Published in 1827, it is ‘A tale of the Twenty-second Century’. The narrator tells how she walked along a country lane on a June evening and fell asleep sitting in a meadow on a June evening. A spirit handed her a chronicle of the future. She later wrote another novel, Stories of the Bride; adventure stories told to an English lord and lady on honeymoon in Hungary.

John Loudon, a famous gardener, expressed a desire to meet the author of The Mummy. He expected to meet a man. John and Jane first met in February 1830, then got married in September. Jane moved to London to live with her husband at Porchester Terrace, Bayswater. They had one daughter, Agnes, born in 1832. Jane wrote two stories in which the Loudon family appeared, substituting the surname Merton for Loudon. Agnes: the value of money is a moral tale in which Agnes gives money to help a poor girl, and is rewarded by seeing her succeed in life as a dress-maker. During their marriage Jane helped her husband John with his botanical and gardening work, learning from him about plants. A number of his earlier books were republished at this time.

 

 British Wild Flowers

Illustration from Jane Loudon's book: British Wild Flowers 

John was much older than Jane, and died in December 1843 after a period of illness. Again Jane needed to earn money to support herself and her daughter, again she used her writing skills. She worked on new editions of her husband’s books, and wrote books about gardening for ladies. Then late in 1849 Mr. Evans who worked for the producers of Punch, contacted her to ask if she would be the editor of a new journal for women; The Ladies’ Companion. This was highly successful at first, but when sales went down in 1850 she was asked to resign. During the next few years she travelled abroad with her daughter Agnes, spending only some of her time in London. She died in July 1858.

The Archives and Heritage  section of Birmingham Central Library holds a collection of John and Jane Loudon's books. This also includes a biography of Jane Loudon:
Howe, Bea      Lady with Green Fingers