John Innes Park and Recreation Ground are named after the wealthy property developer and philanthropist John Innes, who is often credited with the original development of Merton Park as an attractive Victorian suburb in the 19th Century.
John Innes (b.1829) and his elder brother, James, were from a prosperous London family. They traded in wine and property with considerable success and in 1864 formed the City of London Real Property Company, which later became part of Land Securities plc. John Innes acquired a large amount of land in Merton, intending to develop housing with an easy rail link to the City. He never married and by 1871 was living at the Manor House on Watery Lane, Merton (now part of the Rutlish School).
Innes played an active role in the life of Merton with schools and local politics engaging his considerable talents. He was generous to his employees and neighbours, and children especially benefited from parties and outings. The Masonic Hall and the Manor Club on Kingston Road and the Merton Boys Club had his active involvement. He controlled the development of housing in Merton with great care.
John Innes died in 1904 and was buried at St Mary the Virgin in Merton Park where his tomb and memorial window can be seen. The bell he provided in 1897 is still rung.
With no family of his own and an even richer brother he bequeathed the John Innes Park to the people of Merton, and his will created the John Innes Horticultural Institute. This world-renowned research organisation developed the John Innes range of composts in the 1930s. It later moved from Merton to Bayfordbury in Hertfordshire and is now at Colney near Norwich.
The park created from the former garden of the Manor House contains many varieties of holly, which was a favourite plant of John Innes. These can still be appreciated today, as can facilities for tennis, croquet and bowls. The park is in the care of Merton Council.
The John Innes Society of Merton Park plays an important role in preserving the park. In 2004 the fountain and other features were restored to commemorate the centenary of Innes's death and an annual Music in the Park concert is held near the bandstand.
The John Innes Park remembers a great man who provided practical help to those around him, as does his legacy today.
The John Innes Horticultural Institution
Upon his death in 1904, John Innes bequeathed his private estate and most of his money to the local community and towards horticultural research. The world-famous John Innes Horticultural Institution was established in Merton Park in 1910. The Institute was the first research centre for plant breeding and genetics in the United Kingdom. The Institute moved its premises to the 372 acre Bayfordbury estate in Hertfordshire after the Second World War. Declining land requirements prompted another move, this time to Norwich in 1966. In 1994 the John Innes Centre, an independent charitable company, was established following a merger with the Nitrogen Fixation Laboratory and the Cambridge Laboratory. The centre is affiliated to the University of East Anglia and is located in the Norwich Research Park.
The Centre currently houses the John Innes Archives, an important resource for scholars in the history of genetics. It also includes archival material relating to the Innes family, the foundation of the Institute, scientific notebooks, the works of John Bateman and the fruit breeding work M.B. Crane. There is also a renowned collection of rare books embracing four centuries of botanical research and literature.
Following the relocation of John Innes Institute in the 1940s the land was occupied by Rutlish School and its playing fields.
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