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The Measures brothers, south London orchid growers

This post focuses on the history of the Southwark and Lambeth based orchid collections of Richard Isaac Measures and his brother Robert Herbert, their business and the scandal that has left a legacy for business law today.

Previously we have written in this blog about Nellie Roberts, who lived on Loughborough Road all her life and was the first and longest serving orchid artist for the Royal Horticultural Society. The article about Nellie can be read here. This makes mention of Richard Isaac Measures, and the role he and his gardener Henry J Chapman played in introducing Nellie to the Royal Horticultural Society. 

Richard Isaac Measures and his orchid collection at Cambridge Lodge

Richard Isaac Measures lived not far from Loughborough Road, in Flodden Road, just north of Myatt’s Field Park and south of Camberwell New Road, between the mid 1870s until he died in 1907. 

Richard, known as R. I. Measures, was born in Thorley, Cambridgeshire in 1833 or 34. His younger brother Robert Herbert (R. H.) was also born in Thorley, in 1840. There was at least one other brother, George and a sister Alice, but it was R. I. and R. H. Measures that went on to establish vast orchid collections in south London and to run Measures Bros. (Ltd), a major iron and steel merchant.

In the mid-1870s, R. I. Measures, his wife Mary Ann and their young family of 7 children moved to a house in Flodden Road, opposite the Drill Hall, then the base of the 1st Surrey Rifles, now the Army Reserve Centre. Their house at 7 Flodden Road became known as Cambridge Lodge and was surrounded by open plots and market gardens when first built. It is believed the house shown on Flodden Road, opposite the Drill Shed, on the 1871 Ordnance Survey is the newly built Cambridge Lodge. 

Lambeth Archives. Ordnance survey map 1871

After Mary Ann died, R. I. Measures married Leila Neale in 1896.  In addition to Cambridge Lodge, their properties included ‘Ladymead’ in East Harting, and ’Claremont’ in Uckfield, both in Sussex.   They lived a prosperous life. 

It was at Cambridge Lodge that R. I. Measures developed his obsession for growing orchids, particularly Cypripediums (slipper orchids). By the mid-1880s, and with a new son Arthur born at Cambridge Lodge and a cook, housemaid and nursery nurse, Cambridge Lodge was a substantial home. 

Henry J Chapman was taken on as head gardener for the orchid collection in the early 1890s. Chapman had previously worked at Veitch’s nursery in Chelsea and at Sandringham. In 1894, and while working for R. I. Measures, Chapman was elected to the Royal Horticultural Society Orchid Committee. By then there was an estimated 6,000 orchid plants amassed in the 18 glasshouses at the rear of Cambridge Lodge, the collection was noted as being particularly strong in Massdevallia and Paphiopedilum plants. Each glasshouse provided different growing conditions and replicated different climates. The only known photograph of the collection appears in Orchids: Their Culture and Management. Henry Chapman co-authored the updated version of this book with William Watson, Curator at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. It was published in 1903, soon after Chapman had left Cambridge Lodge.  Chapman thanks R. I. Measures in the Editor’s notes in the book, for putting his extensive library at the Editor’s disposal. Sadly no image of the house itself has been found.

RHS Lindley Collections. Orchids as town plants-Cattleyas and Denrobiums in flower. Photograph of glasshouse belonging to Mr. R. I. Measures of Camberwell. From H. Chapman and W. Watson ‘Orchids: their culture and management’ (London : L. Upcott Gill, 1903).

Chapman was known for hybridizing and he was winning numerous awards. While Chapman was at Cambridge Lodge between the early 1890s and around 1900, R. I. Measures’ orchids received 30 Awards of Merit and 6 First Class Certificates for hybrids. 

It was during the latter part of Chapman’s time at Cambridge Lodge that he and Measures became aware of Nellie Roberts, a young woman who lived at 72 Loughborough Road who was a largely self taught skilled botanical artist. R. I. Measures invited Nellie to paint some of his orchid collection having seen one her orchid paintings in her father’s shop window on Loughborough Road. A letter written by Nellie Roberts to a Mr Stearn, dated 14 December 1949, recounts how Mr H. Chapman, a member of the Orchid Committee, informed her ‘the Committee was considering the advisability of having paintings of the awarded orchids’and suggested she send in a specimen of her work. Mr Measures is reported to have lent Nellie a painting of one of his orchids she had done to send in. Nellie was taken on for a 6-month trial with the Committee in January 1897, painting for them for the next 56 years.  She went on to paint 13 of R. I. Measures’ award winning orchids, but painted many more in his collection. 

Lambeth Archives. 1894 Ordnance Survey map showing location of 72 Loughborough Road and Cambridge Lodge. 

In addition to creating hybrids, orchids were brought into Cambridge Lodge from many different collections. In 1892 a Botanical Certificate was awarded by the RHS for a Pleurothallis punctata (now P.loranthophylla), a Cambridge Lodge orchid, saying that it was the only plant of that species in cultivation in the country at that time. Between 1876 and 1907 R. I. Measures’ orchids received 85 awards from the RHS Orchid Committee, one Certificate of Cultural Commendation (noting H J Chapman as the grower along with the owner R. I. Measures), 36 Botanical Certificates. 35 Awards of Merit and 13 First Class Certificates were awarded for hybrids.

For an amateur collector the R. I. Measures collection was vast. R. I. Measures himself published three editions of small volumes of his Cypripediums collection, 1887, 1889 and a third edition in 1894.

R. H. Measures and his orchid collection at Woodlands, Streatham

While all this was happening at Cambridge Lodge, younger brother Robert H. Measures had moved to ‘The Woodlands’ a large house in Streatham and was growing an equally impressive orchid collection, some 30 glasshouses. By 1901 Herbert Measures, the eldest son of R.H. Measures had moved into a neighbouring property called ‘Beclands’ on Tooting Bec Road with his wife and children.  Both Woodlands and Beclands had numerous domestic servants and gardeners working for the Measures family. 

Image courtesy Layers of London (www.layersoflonodon.org). Original Ordnance survey map 1893-1896. Woodlands top right. Building the left of Woodlands is Beclands where Herbert Measures, R. H. Measures’ son lived. The orchid glasshouses are the buildings marked with crosses.

Although R. H. Measures’ orchids didn’t win any RHS awards, it was an internationally renowned collection detailed in a book commissioned by R. H. Measures himself, The Woodlands Orchids. Published in 1901, in London and New York, the book was written by Frederick Boyle, a well-known journalist and writer about orchids of the time. The book documents the collections in the different Woodlands glasshouses, but also describes the adventures of some of the collectors despatched around the world to hunt for and bring back new species. An e-copy of the book can be read here on The Project Gutenberg site.

Illustrations for The Woodlands Orchids book, were done by J L Macfarlane who painted many orchids for private collectors.

LÆLIO-CATTLEYA × ELEGANS var. CYANTHUS. by Macfarlane, The Woodlands Orchids, 1901. Image courtesy of The Gutenberg Project.

In the 1899 Orchid Review, R. H. Measures writes about the challenges of growing orchids in the London smog: “In one glasshouse we lost 228 Cattleya spikes, and in another 260 leaves of Cypripedium insigne [now Paphiopedilum insigne]. In some cases, plants looked like they had been sprayed with parafin and soot.”

Several of R. H.’s sons, including Herbert and Gilbert followed him into engineering. Another son Robert junior became a Catholic priest. The Rev. Measures was a member of the Walworth Mission and later Superintendent of a West Grinstead orphanage.  

Robert H. Measures funded the building the English Martyrs Catholic Church in Streatham in 1892. The church can be seen on the above map next to Woodlands, opposite the larger St Leonards Church of England. According to the Canterbury Journal in 1893, Measures himself was a protestant but his wife and children were Catholics. Measures and his wife Mary, also contributed toward the building of a new Catholic Church at Walworth. 

Newspaper image © The British Library Board. All rights reserved. With thanks to The British Newspaper Archive (www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk). Canterbury Journal, Kentish Times and Farmers’ Gazette – 22 April 1893.

After the death of Mary in 1901, R. H. Measures married Laura Winifred Gilbert in 1904 and they continued to live at Woodlands. Laura’s brother, the Rev Gilbert performed the marriage ceremony. Their daughter Kitty was born in December 1905, when R. H. Measures was 63 years old and Laura was 26. 

Sale of Woodlands Orchid Collection

In July 1907, just 3 years after his marriage to Laura, R. H. Measures sold the entire Woodlands orchid collection by auction. There were reportedly 1000 lots, sold off over 6 days.  The Field magazine wrote that “It is to be regretted that established collections of this character have, by force of circumstances, to be broken up though there is consolation in the knowledge that a large number of new collections are being formed by British amateurs who possess wealth as well as a love of the plants both of which are essential in fanciers of orchids who wish to shine.”

Newspaper image © The British Library Board. All rights reserved. With thanks to The British Newspaper Archive (www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk). The Field 13 July 1907.

The scandal of Measures Brothers (Ltd) 

As prolific orchid collectors and growers, the brothers continued their managing interest in their business Measures Bros. (Ltd). That set them apart from many of the other orchid collectors at the time, who were largely from wealthy landowning or banking families. Measures Brothers was formed by R. I. and R. H. Measures in 1870 and it prospered as an iron & steel merchant supplying girders, bridges, and components for large contracts, including British and foreign governments. 

In 1899 Measures Bros. Ltd was formed into a public company and shares offered to investors. At the time R. I. Measures was Chairman and Managing Director. He retired from the business in 1902 due to ill health. This led to his brother R. H. Measures taking over as Chairman and Managing Director, although apparently reluctantly. 

In 1903 there was a proposal to shareholders to merge the engineering business H & G Measures of Croydon, owned by Robert’s sons Harry & Gilbert, into the larger Measures Brothers (Ltd.) After some initial objections it was agreed. By 1904 Robert’s son Harry was a Director of Measures Brothers Ltd, along with his father who was Chairman. By the beginning of 1906 Robert H Measures was announcing to shareholders that profits had declined sharply over the last year with orders dropping. 

Then in 1907, the same year that R. I. Measures died, his brother Robert resigned as Chairman of Measures Bros Ltd though he retained a seat on the board.   Richard T Measures, the son of R. I. Measures, was elected Chairman and took over as joint managing director with Robert’s son Herbert J. T Measures. The Board and management were still entirely controlled by the Measures family. By the beginning of 1908 shareholders were demanding an enquiry. Amongst allegations of fraud and falsifying balance sheets was also accusation of a mass share sell off by the Measures family and a large transfer of shares between family members. An inquiry by the Board of Trade followed and the allegations upheld. Robert H Measures was charged with publishing balance sheets which he knew to be false. 

Newspaper image © The British Library Board. All rights reserved. With thanks to The British Newspaper Archive (www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk). Croydon Guardian 1 April 1911.

The trial of R. H. Measures at the Old Bailey commenced in October 1911 and was reported in many newspapers of the day.  The allegations centered on his role as Chairman of Measures Brother (Ltd) using an irregular accounting practice in 1904-1906 to inflate the stock value to make it appear on the balance sheet that the company had higher value assets. The Measures family then offloaded 100,000 of their shares within four months between 1905-1906 at a time when the value of the shares was high. In 1907 the company stopped using the incorrect stock formula and the value of the company plummeted and the shares became practically worthless.  In his defence, many witnesses from the company said R. H. Measures was a good and honorable man who had worked exceptionally hard for many years, but he had been ill and was not always hands-on with the stock-take.  The jury found him guilty of 3 offences in November 1911 and he was sentenced to seven months imprisonment at Wormwood Scrubs. It is unclear how long he spent in prison, if at all. He was 72 years old.

R. H. Measures died seven months later in June 1912 after a brief illness. He had been living with his wife Laura and young daughter at Creeksea Place, Burnham on Crouch in Essex, a 12 bedroom Tudor manor house surrounded by 140 acres which newspapers reported had been purchased by his wife in 1909 at the time the initial investigation was taking place.  R. H. Measures left a relatively modest amount in his will of £1,071 to his son the Rev Measures and the Rev Gilbert, his wife’s brother. Measures Brothers (Ltd) was eventually wound up by court order. Important case law was created on the role of directors including when a company goes into compulsory liquidation, the powers of its directors cease and they are automatically dismissed from office (Measures Brothers Ltd v Measures [1910] 2 Ch 248).

Sale of Cambridge Lodge and its orchid collection

R. I. Measures died at Cambridge Lodge in August 1907, aged 74. Cambridge Lodge, with its 17 rooms and outbuildings, was eventually sold by his family soon after his death, along with its 400ft run of greenhouses. His estate including paintings, some perhaps done by Nellie Roberts, and over 500 orchid books, was sold off and his beloved orchid collection was auctioned in October 1907, a few months after the Woodlands collection was sold.  In his will R. I. Measures left an estate fortune worth £166,843 to his children and second wife Leila, with gifts to his brother George and sister Alice.   Leila continued to live at the Sussex property, Ladymead, a 16th century house on 8 acres until she died in 1934. 

Newspaper image © The British Library Board. All rights reserved. With thanks to The British Newspaper Archive (www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk). London Evening Standard 19 October 1907 

Woodlands and Cambridge Lodge today

Nothing remains of Cambridge Lodge or Woodlands and their gardens, other than a couple of small hints of where they once stood. 

Cambridge Lodge was severely damaged by a bomb in World War II. At the time it was Girls Friendly Society Lodge (GFS). GFS provided facilities for the young women under its protection, with its lodges offering cheap, good-quality accommodation to young women working in domestic service. Cambridge Lodge was left derelict for nearly 20 years after the war. A block of flats, built in the 1960s, now stands on the site of Cambridge Lodge and the adjacent house (no. 5) Flodden Road. The plot where the R. I. Measures’ glasshouses once stood stayed vacant for a while longer. It became the site office for the Myatt’s Fields Estate that was built in the late 1970s, early 1980s. An L&Q Housing Association small estate of houses was built on the site c. 1990 sitting on the almost exact footprint of the glasshouses.

Soon after The Woodlands Estate was sold off in 1907, a row of houses was built on the site where the Woodlands House once stood. The gardens remained for a few more years until Fernwood Avenue was build over them. Beclands, built in 1893, where R. H. Measures’ son Herbert lived, still stands on the corner of Fernwood Avenue and the English Martyrs Catholic Church that R. H. Measures built next to Woodlands, is still active today.

This article was co-writen by Tracey Gregory and Christine Beddoe.

Thanks to Clare Hermans for additional information about the Measures orchid collections and awards, to Gillian Messiah for information about her grandfather Henry J Chapman and Crestina Forcina of the RHS Lindley Library for assistance with the some of the images.

Sources for the article, not stated elsewhere, include:

  • The Woodlands Orchid Collection, Graham Yearsley, The Orchid Review Vol. 105 1997
  • Richard Issac Measures: The Cambridge Collection, Graham Yearsley, The Orchid Review, May/June 2006
  • 125 Years of the RHS Orchid Committee, part 2, Clare and Johan Hermans, The Orchid Review, March 2015
RHS Lindley Collection/Nellie Roberts. Paphiopedilum Leander ‘Cambridge Lodge’. Watercolour on board.  Award: First Class Certificate. 14.1.1902.Exhibitor R. I. Measures.

2 replies on “The Measures brothers, south London orchid growers”

[…] As a young woman, Nellie had developed some skill in botanical painting, particularly orchids. Her father proudly put some of her paintings in his jewellery shop window. The story goes that the son of local orchid collector, Richard Isaac Measures who lived nearby in Flodden Road, spotted Nellie’s paintings in the shop window and she was invited to paint some of the orchids in the Measures collection. This was housed in 18 glasshouses at the rear of the house on Flodden Road. Richard Measures’ gardener Henry Chapman was a member of the Orchid Committee in 1896 and it is thought he may have suggested Nellie as a possible artist to document the Committee awards. (More about the Measures orchid collections in our post here.) […]

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