Any visitor to Mill Hill School will be aware of our beautiful parkland and, within this, our fine collection of trees. What we may forget is the foresight and vision that went into their planting to ensure that we can enjoy this splendid vista now. There are some splendid individuals who lie behind the story of our trees but none more significant on the wider stage than Peter Collinson. He was born on 26th January 1694 and lived much of his life in a house on the site of Mill Hill School.
Collinson was born at a time of social change, with opportunities for trade expanding into the new colony of America yet with restrictions still placed on personal belief and religious practice. These factors shaped the direction that Collinson would take in life and led, in part, to the trees at Mill Hill.
As a Quaker, Collinson had an expansive network of contacts held together by religious persuasion and trust. A growing number of Quakers had settled in America, led in 1682 by William Penn, who established Pennsylvania as a place where Quaker ideals could be put into practice. America was an ideal market for Collinson’s family trade in cloth and, through this, the family wealth increased. Having had a passion for plants from early childhood, Collinson was able to make contact with American botanists and scientists and expand both his knowledge base and his trading links.
Collinson joined forces with fellow Quaker and botanist, John Bartram. Together they established a scheme for the supply of seeds and seedlings to the gentry of England who were looking to establish impressive country estates. Lord Petre, for example, planted over 40,000 American trees on his Essex estate. This business was conducted from Collinson’s study at Mill Hill; many of these exotic species shipped over from America found their way into Collinson’s garden, which we now enjoy as part of Mill Hill School grounds.
As a tribute to Collinson in the 250 year since his death, a Collinson Memorial Garden has been planted at the School and will be formally opened on 21st June.