James Sanders (1831‒1916) was a florist, nurseryman and seed merchant, with premises on Trumpington Street and Petty Cury. He is best known for having discovered a hitherto unknown species of snowdrop.

James Sanders, the son of Ephraim and Jane Sanders, was born on 9th June 1831 and baptised on 10th July 1831 at Tempsford, Bedfordshire. According to census reports, he was still living with his parents in 1841 but, by 1851, he had become a groom in Bampton, Huntington. James was an ambitious young man and by the time he married Margaret Maguire in 1858, he had moved on to become an office clerk in London. In the 1861 census he was listed as a domestic gardener and he worked in horticulture for the rest of his life.

It is not clear exactly when James Sanders left London but on 6 October 1866 he placed an advertisement in The Cambridge Independent Press announcing that he had taken over the nursery business of Mr Brewer who was giving up due to ill health. He was now the owner of the old, long-established nursery in Trumpington Road, as well as the seed and flower shop in Trumpington Street. Here, Sanders sold bulbs, dried grasses, immortelles (dried flowers) and hyacinth glasses; while evergreen shrubs and flowering plants were sold from the nursery. In the following May, Sanders advertised that he had bedding plants for sale at his premises at 22 Trumpington Street and at the Trumpington Road Nursery. In the 1871 census, Sanders gave his occupation as florist and he used that title for the rest of his life – in the Victorian era, the term ‘florist’ was used for nurserymen as well as flower-sellers. Sanders’ business prospered and in 1871 he was employing two boys.

In 1877, James Sanders sent a bulb of an unusual snowdrop he had found in a farmhouse garden in Belford, Northumberland for identification to Rev. Henry Harpur-Crewe, a renowned plantsman. The flower was remarkable as it had a yellow inner segment mark and ovary. Harpur-Crewe confirmed that it was a new variant and called it Galanthus nivalis var. sandersii. Sanders also sent a bulb to James Allen, another well-known snowdrop-lover, who decided to call it Galanthus lutescens. This latter name became widely adopted and caused a great deal of confusion until Richard Nutt reinstated the first, and therefore correct, name of ‘Sandersii’ in 1993.

Margaret, Sanders’ first wife, died on the 29th June 1880 and was buried in the Mill Road Cemetery. He was still living in Trumpington Street as a widower in 1881. On 4 September 1883, he married his second wife, Mary Sophia Alliston in South Hampstead. Sadly James had no children with either of his wives but he was a family man and kept in touch with both Margaret’s and Mary Sophia’s families.

Although Harpur-Crewe referred to him as ‘Mr Sanders of Newnham, Cambridge’ in 1877, the first entry in Spalding’s street directory showing him at Newnham and Trumpington Street is in 1879. Sanders’ business was listed regularly in street directories for the next twenty years. In the 1891 census, Mary Sophia’s sister and her nephew, Montague, were living with them and assisting in the shop. Sander’s seed merchant’s premises at 23a Petty Cury appeared in the 1892 street directory. Neither James nor Mary Sanders appear in the 1901 census (perhaps they were away) but by 1911 they had moved to 14 Glisson Road. James was now 79 years old. In 1913, the local papers reported that the Sanders attended the funerals of Thomas Hunnybun and Miss Pryor, and Tom Child, a neighbour in Petty Cury, to whom they also sent a wreath.

Sanders attends Hunnybun funeral

Sanders attends Pryor funeral

James Sander died on 26 July 1916 at Daneholme, New Hunstanton and his death was registered by his sister Julia Peacock. He is buried in the same grave as his first wife Margaret, in Mill Road Cemetery. Probate was granted on 26 October 1916.

Montague Shirley Alliston (his second wife’s nephew) of East Dene, Tenison Road was granted the lease of his house and shop at 23a Petty Cury together with the goodwill of the business of seedman and florist plus fixtures etc. The bulk of the residue of the estate was left to Mary Sophia, including a life-interest in 14 Glisson Road and the properties at 82 and 86 Mawson Road, as well as Pembroke House, Hartington Grove. 14 Glisson Road went to Montague Alliston after Mary’s death. The estate value was given as £7,252. Mary Sophia died on 5 January 1932 at Roselea, Glisson Road and was buried with Margaret and James in the Mill Road Cemetery.

Sanders grave
Sanders grave



Parish : St Bene’t

See family grave page for more information






Ancestry – England, Select Births & Christenings, 1538-1975
Census: 1841, 1851, 1861, 1871, 1891, & 1911
FBMD 1858, 1880, 1883, 1916 and 1932
Probate Records and Wills
Cambridge Independent Press 1866, 1867
Spaldings Street Directories of Cambridge 1879, 1884, 1888, 1892, 1896
Bishop, Matt, Davies, Aaron, and Grimshaw, John, Snowdrops – A Monograph of Cultivated Galanthus (2006)

By Jennifer Harmer, Jane Kilpatrick, Ian Bent

James Sanders