Sarah Paxton (née Bown, 1800 - 1871) was the daughter of a small engineer and Matlock mill owner. Her aunt, Sarah Gregory, was the housekeeper at Chatsworth. They married in 1827 not long after Joseph arrived.
Sarah Paxton is considered one of the unsung heroines of the nineteenth century; she took over many of the duties of Head Gardener and Land Agent in Joseph's absence; acting as his proxy in the garden, enacting his instructions sent by letter.
This put a huge level of responsibility on her. In a Victorian world dominated by men, she was expected to manage the foremen, instructing them directly. She had an in-depth knowledge of plants in the garden, as well as impressive business and financial management skills.
Much of Paxton’s Chatsworth was constructed under the trained eye of Sarah rather than Joseph, and it is unlikely that Joseph would have achieved the feats he did without Sarah’s intelligence and hard work.
The Paxton Papers, a collection of more than 2000 papers including letters exchanged between Joseph and Sarah, reveal the extent of her involvement, her in-depth knowledge of horticulture, and her wide range of duties, which included arranging payments for workers, recruiting staff for the house and garden, managing tenants on the estate, and recording significant horticultural events such as the flowering of the Victoria Regia Lily for the first time in the UK.
Sir Joseph Paxton (1803-1865) was head gardener at Chatsworth under the 6th Duke.
The stories of Joseph and Sarah Paxton
Exploring the relationship between Joseph and Sarah Paxton through letters in the Chatsworth Archives.
History of the Garden
Discover the changes made to the garden during the tenure of the 6th Duke.
William Spencer Cavendish, 6th Duke of Devonshire (1790-1858)
Extravagant and charming, the 6th Duke spent 47 years improving his houses and adding to the Devonshire Collection.
History of Chatsworth
Learn more about the history of Chatsworth House, Garden, and Estate and the Cavendish family.