Clarence Henry Ralph Hancock was born at 20 Keppoch Street, Cardiff, Wales on 2 July 1893. The eldest of three brothers. Charles, born in 1896 and Edward (Ted) in 1905. The three brothers are pictured right.
At the time of Ralph's birth, their father, Clarence Hancock Senior, worked as a clerk for a company known as Evans and Hughes who were Auctioneers and Estate Agents based at Borough Chambers, Wharton Street, Cardiff. The company was disolved in August 1899. One year later, Evans and Hancock was also disolved after only 9 months in business. Mr Evans had taken the decision to retire. The company was then taken over solely by Clarence Senior. He retained the name Evans and Hancock and continued to undertake work as Auctioneers, Estate and Insurance Agents and Accountants. Clarence Senior is seen here (left) with his wife Clara and possibly their grandson, David (son of Charles)?
We know very little of the early life of Ralph Hancock. No records can be traced and memories have long faded. Rumour has it that he was interested in Orchids as a child, but that may be just pure speculation? Once Ralph reached his 20's and he entered the business world, records and information become a lot easier to trace.
The Cardiff Directory of 1914, show's Ralph as being the Assistant Secretary to the Cardiff and Penarth branch of the Royal National Life-boat Institution. There is also a later record, from the same directory, for a company of Shipbrokers called Martin and Hancock, based at 39 St James Street, Cardiff. This is very likely to have been an enterprise between Ralph and a Mr (?) Martin as we do know that in 1917 Ralph's occupation was listed as a Marine and General Insurance Broker, based at 37 St James Street.
In 1915, aged 21 years and 1 month, Ralph was called up for military service. His enlistment papers show him working as an Accountant for his fathers firm. He was to serve in the Great War with the Welsh Brigade of the Royal Field Artillery. On 19 December 1915 he was promoted from the rank of Private to that of 2nd Lieutenant. But, by 25 September 1916 he had been invalided out of the regiment and had been awarded a Silver War Badge.
In 1917, the now 24 year old Ralph married 20 year old Hilda Muriel Ellis (known as Muriel) at All Saints Church, Penarth, Their ﬁrst son, Clarence Neville Bramley Hancock (Bramley), was born in 1918. He was followed by a second son, Denys Hallen, also born in Penarth, in 1920. Records show that at the time of Bramley's birth, Ralph’s occupation was listed as a Marine and General Insurance Broker working from James Street, Cardiff.
What prompted his career change is unknown. But, we now know that Ralph left Wales and arrived in Shapwick, Somerset in the early 1920's. How Hancock started his illustrious career can be found here. We also know that In 1926 Ralph paid his two guinea membership fee and became a Fellow of the Royal Horticultural Society.
In 1925, Ralph and his family moved to 'Letchworth', Downside Road, Sutton, Surrey, England and in 1928 a daughter, Sheila Muriel was born. It was from here in 1926/7 that Ralph undertook the ﬁrst of his more famous garden projects, designing and constructing a rock and water garden and also an Iris garden for H.R.H Princess Victoria at her home “Coppins” in Iver, Buckinghamshire.
(Seen left are Ralph with sons, Bramley and Denys).
Ralph was reportedly extremely proud of the garden. Princess Victoria was pleased enough that she presented Ralph with “a little diamond and sapphire tie pin”, one of his most treasured possessions. Newspaper reports of 1926 and 1927 describe the garden as having a lawn second only to that of the Centre Court at Wimbledon. The reports also tell how the Princess spends a good deal of time in her gardens. And, that she has personally directed their layout, on which she has some original and distinctly artistic ideas. The princess is also described as a keen hobbyist gardener.
Ralph's main inﬂuences were William Robinson and Gertrude Jekyll. Ralph incorporated their "arts and crafts movement" style into his early designs.
This image, taken from the 1935 edition of 'When I Make a Garden', was signed by the Princess who can be seen standing on the rustic bridge in the middle of this picture.