On or around the night of January 25th, many Scots celebrate the life of Robert Burns with a Burns supper, eating haggis and neeps, drinking whisky and listening to the works of Robert Burns. My Great Great Grandfather, John Robert Box, although not born in Scotland, may well have celebrated the night. He had a copy of ‘The Complete Poetical Works of Robert Burns’, dated 1875, when he would have been around 26.
He had also lived with his uncle, Robert Bryson, in Edinburgh for several years around 1871, so would have been exposed to the National Bard during that time.
Although born and growing up in Edinburgh, haggis did not feature prominently in our diet at home. My brother and I worked summer jobs in a cafe called County Fayre on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile. As it was, at the time, the first place, if you set off down the hill from the Castle, where you could sit down for a hot meal, it was very popular during the Festival, and many of the customers were American tourists. Haggis was one of the traditional Scottish dishes on the menu, so it fell to the person serving at the counter to explain Haggis to the customer, without putting them off. We did discover that Americans do not use the term ‘mince‘, which we had been using, and that ‘it is a bit like ground beef, but made from sheep’ worked better. The job was an eye opening experience, and gave me a lasting insight into what goes on behind the scenes when eating out, and an understanding of what it is like to be working in the industry.
He was awarded a copy of Richard Whatley‘s commentaries on Bacon’s Essays as School Mathematics Prize in 1868.
He was a nurseryman, Begonia specialist, Seed Merchant.
In the 1861 Census he is visiting his Great Uncle, George Braund, who was a Linen Draper in Dartford, Kent at the time.
In the 1871 Census he would have been 21, but is not in his parents household and is probably at the home of Robert Bryson, his uncle in Edinburgh.
In the 1881 Census he was 31 and living with his parents, in Hornsey, at 1 ??Caln Terrace, and his occupation is “Seedsman, Nurseryman and Florist at 7, ??Dest (possibly Forest??) Hill, Kent employing 50 men and boys”
His advertisement in The Gardeners Chronicle of 1887 says
BEGONIA SEED.- Box's Jubilee varieties,
choicest from latest prize singles, per packet, ls. and
2s. 6d; double, the most reliable, very special, per packet,
2s. 6d. and 5s; very extra pure double white, per packet, 5s.
and 10s. Sow now. See other Advertisement of Tubers.
J. R. BOX (for last ten years J. Laing's partner), Surrey
Seed Warehouse, Croydon.
John Laing (whose catalogue from 1894 is shown below) was another Begonia specialist.
BOX'S BEGONIA SEED.— For germination
and quality of flowers superior to all others. Per
packet, single mixed, 1s. and 2s. 6d. ; larger packets, 5s. ;
double mixed, packets. 1s. Qd. and 2s. 6rf. ; larger packets, 5s.
Sow now. Ask for PRICE LIST of Tubers, and Pamphlet
JOHN R. BOX, Seedsman and Begonia Grower, Croydon.
I have never been able to obtain such good results, either in germinating power or in quality, from bought seed (single or double) as from that of my own saving ; but I may perhaps be allowed to say that by far the best Begonia seed, double especially, I have ever obtained was from Mr. J. R. Box, of Croydon ; both in quality and germinating power nothing better could be desired.
It is possible that the Begonia Rosie Box was named after his eldest daughter Rosina.
In the 1891 Census he was living at 65, Wellesley Road, Croydon, Surrey, England, with Ada, Rosina, Leonard, Dorothy and Margaret, as well as Margaret Waller (22), a Nurse, and Jessica Giles (18), a general domestic servant.
He married Ada Webster on 6th February 1894 at He had one son, my Grandfather – Leonard Box (1886 – 1967) and five daughters, Rosina Janet Braund Box (1884-1969), Dorothy Box (1887-?), Edith Mary Box (1889-1959), Margaret Ada Box (1890-1986), Norah Constance Box (1898-1987).