Saturday, 31 March 2012

The Historical Background to the Study of Natural History in the Manchester Region - Sources

OK, so I said that I was going to write three or four articles in this series ... but this is the sixth! I promise you, though, that this is the last one (apart, that is, from the odd historical snippet that I feel the need to pass on). It's not very exciting, though, as it is a list of sources. So if anyone out there has found this series interesting (?) then, using this list, you might be able to find out a bit more for yourself. It's also, of course, good form to acknowledge one's sources.


Altrincham and District Natural History Society, history of: Society’s website (http://www.pettipher.me.uk/altnats/history.shtml)
Material on Bailey, Charles in Manchester Museum Herbarium Department.

Broady, Hilda, ‘Diary, Notes & Drawings of Specimens’, unpublished MS, 1959.

Buxton, Richard, ‘A Botanical Guide to the Flowering Plants, Ferns, Mosses and Algae
Found Indigenous Within Sixteen Miles of Manchester’, Longman And Co, 1849.

Material on Caley, George: Wikipedia Article (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Caley)

Coward, T.A., ‘Bird Haunts and Nature Memories’, Frederick Warne, 1922.

Material on Coward, T.A.: Wikipedia Article (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Coward)

Material on Crowther, James: ‘The Late James Crowther, The Naturalist’ obituary in ‘The
Manchester Guardian’, 13th January, 1847.

Gaskell, Elizabeth, ‘Mary Barton’, Penguin Library Edition, 1970 (first pub. 1848).

Grindon, Leo, ‘Country Rambles and Manchester Walks and Wild Flowers’, Palmer and Howe, 1882 (omnibus edition of two earlier works).

Manchester Field Club, history of: Society Website (http://www.webspace.mypostoffice.co.uk/~christine.walsh/)

Manchester Microscopical and Natural History Society, history of: Society Website (http://www.manchestermicroscopical.org.uk/mmshist.html)

Material on Harthan, Bess from Exhibition in Mersey Valley, Sale Water Park Visitors’
Centre, 2003.

Lancaster, Roy, ‘In Search of the Wild Asparagus’, Michael Joseph Ltd., 1983.

Percy, John, ‘Scientists in Humble Life: The Artisan Naturalists of South Lancashire’, in
Manchester Region History Review, Vol. V, No. 1, Spring/Summer 1991, ps. 3 - 9.

RSPB, history of: Society Website (http://www.rspb.org.uk/about/history/)

Rochdale Field Naturalists Society, history of: Society Website (http://www.rochdalefieldnaturalistssociety.co.uk/)

Secord, Anne, ‘Science In The Pub: Artisan Botanists In Early Nineteenth-Century Lancashire’,
in History of Science, Vol. 32, September 1994, ps. 269 – 315.

Shercliff, W.H., ‘Nature’s joys are free for all: A History Of Countryside Recreation In
North East Cheshire’, pub. W.H. Shercliff, 1987.

Weiss, F.E., ‘Leopold Hartley Grindon (1818 – 1904)’, North Western Naturalist, Vol. V, 31st
March 1930, ps. 16 – 22.

Dave Bishop, March 2012

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

The Historical Background to the Study of Natural History in the Manchester Region - Part 5

The study of natural history in the Manchester region in the 20th century does not appear, to my knowledge, to have as been as well chronicled as it was in the century before, and the available material is more diffuse. Nevertheless, several Greater Manchester natural history societies spanned the century and are still active, today, in the second decade of the 21st century. Examples are the Manchester Microscopical and Natural History Society (founded 1880), the Rochdale Field Naturalists Society (1898), the Bolton Field Naturalists Society (1907), the Altrincham and District Natural History Society (1908) and the Manchester Field Club (1936).

The plantsman, writer and broadcaster, Roy Lancaster (b.1937) joined the Bolton Field Naturalists Society as a schoolboy. He recalled that they “organized lectures each week during the winter and weekend rambles in the summer”. He was initially interested in birds:
“One of my favourite pastimes during summer rambles was to show birds’ nests to members of
the group: I would run ahead of them as they walked along a path, all the while searching for nests in the hedge. When I found a nest, I would climb into the hedge and hold a mirror above the nest so that the members standing below could see a reflection of its contents.”

The young Lancaster’s interest was diverted from birds to plants by a member of the Society, a Yorkshireman named Mr Jackson:

“He was one of those people, rare now, who could put a name to most, if not all, the wild plants we were likely to find on our rambles ... [He] had a fund of stories to tell about plants – he knew their histories and lore as well as their uses in medicine and as food. Mr Jackson knew where plants liked to grow and often told me where to expect to find a particular plant before I actually discovered it for myself”.

Another of his mentors from the Society was the Reverend Shaw (“Vicar Shaw, ‘The Weed King
of the North’!). Lancaster writes:

“Vicar Shaw was an inspiration to me and we spent many happy hours looking for wild plants”.

I never, personally, met Vicar Shaw – but I knew of his reputation as botanist. When I moved to the Manchester suburb of Chorlton-cum-Hardy, in the 1970s, I was very excited to find a rare buttercup (Ranunculus sardous) on Chorlton Meadows – only to learn that Reverend Shaw had found it first!

His early experiences with the Bolton Field Naturalists Society led Lancaster to participate in expeditions to such exotic locations as Nepal, China and Tibet in search of plants and to a distinguished career in horticulture.

Other local naturalists have been less celebrated:

Bess Harthan (1905 – 2002) of Stretford, for example, studied the plants and fungi near her
home and further afield for most of her long life. I remember meeting her in the 1980s dressed, as always, in her walking boots, weather-defying coat and hat and carrying a wicker basket for specimens. On her death her notes and exquisite water colours of her finds were donated to Liverpool Museum.

Recently a loose-leaf folder was found in the archives of Chorlton Civic Society. It contained notes and drawings made by Mrs Hilda Broady during the course of the year 1959. She had selected a spot on Chorlton Meadows (her ‘plot’) and observed the plants and insects which lived on it during the course of that year (it is surmised that this may have been for a teaching project). I posted Mrs Broady’s diary entries on this blog during 2009.

There are still, to this day, many skilled and knowledgeable naturalists within Greater Manchester and I am pleased to know many of them through such organisations as the Manchester Field Club and the Friends of Chorlton Meadows. In spite of the fact that the membership of many of the traditional societies is ageing there are many younger people in the region who take an interest in the natural world around them.

I hope that I have been able to demonstrate that the study of natural history in the Greater
Manchester region has a long and distinguished history stretching back over at least 260 years and is very much a part of the region’s heritage.

Richard Buxton, John Horsefield and their colleague, James Percival are buried in adjacent graves in St. Mary’s churchyard, Prestwich. I have often wondered why there is not some greater memorial to these distinguished local amateur scientists. I can't help feeling that a renewed interest in, and concern for, our local wildlife would provide a more fitting memorial to them than any structure of stone or metal.
Dave Bishop, March 2012

Monday, 12 March 2012

The Historical Background to the Study of Natural History in the Manchester Region - Part 4

One of Leo Grindon’s near contemporaries was a wealthy Manchester businessman named
Charles Bailey (1838 - 1924), who lived for a time in Whalley Range. In the 1860s Bailey attended evening classes in botany run by William Crawford Williamson, Professor of Natural History at Owen’s College (the successor to the Manchester Royal College of Medicine and predecessor of Manchester University). Inspired by these classes Bailey developed a deep interest in botany. He began to build a herbarium based, initially, on specimens gathered in the South Manchester area. Eventually he conceived the idea of building a collection containing a specimen of every European plant from every country that it grew in (most of these specimens were pre- mounted herbarium sheets, obtained by purchase – rather than specimens gathered in the wild by Bailey
himself). Eventually Bailey accumulated around 300,000 specimens which are now housed in Manchester Museum’s Herbarium Department (along with Leo Grindon’s extensive herbarium). In 1957 Professor Vernon Heywood (himself a Lancastrian) and co-workers were awarded a Science and Engineering Research Council grant to begin work on ‘Flora Europaea’ – a scientific, annotated catalogue of all the plants found growing in the continent of Europe. The project drew on information contained in a number of different herbaria, including Bailey’s. ‘Flora Europaea’ was eventually published, in five volumes, between 1964 and 1993.

In 1889 a group of women in Didsbury, appalled at the barbarous trade in bird plumes used
to decorate women’s hats, founded a society for the protection of birds. This society merged with other, similar, societies in other parts of the UK and eventually, in 1904, was incorporated by Royal Charter to become the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB).

T.A. Coward (1867 – 1933) was a naturalist and ornithologist from Altrincham. He was born
in Bowdon and educated at Brooklands Road, Sale and Owen’s College in Manchester. He acquired an interest in natural history from his father and his uncle, Joseph Sidebotham (Grindon’s associate). He eventually became a full time writer and lecturer on natural history, topographical subjects and folklore and during the First World War acted as Keeper at Manchester Museum. He was a member of most of the important local natural history organisations and in the 1920s became an Extra Mural Lecturer for Manchester University. He was also the first Country Diarist for the (Manchester) Guardian.

Two of his early books were ‘The Birds of Cheshire’ (1900) and ‘The Vertebrate Fauna of
Cheshire’ (1910) – both written in collaboration with his friend Charles Oldham (1868 – 1942), who went on to become a celebrated ornithologist in his own right. Coward’s most celebrated book was probably ‘Birds of the British Isles and Their Eggs’ (1920), which is widely acknowledged to have been the book that did more to popularise the study of birds than any other publication produced during the first part of the 20th century.

In a poignant passage his book, ‘Bird Haunts and Nature Memories’ (1922) he described the
gradual destruction of Carrington Moss – a great peat bog near Altrincham and a favourite haunt of his boyhood – a place full of plants, insects, reptiles and birds now considered scarce or rare. He went on to relate how, in 1886, the Moss was purchased by Manchester City Council who drained it, ploughed it and dumped Manchester’s ‘night soil’ (i.e. sewage) on it to fertilise it. By the First World War it was more or less converted to farmland.

Thomas Coward was described as “scrupulously accurate in all of his work and a great humanitarian who campaigned against blood sports. His friends said that he was, “a very lovable man, upright, sincere and overflowing with the milk of human kindness.”
Dave Bishop, March 2012

Monday, 5 March 2012

The Historical Background to the Study of Natural History in the Manchester Region - Part 3

We also learn (from Leo Grindon) of Joseph Evans (1803 – 1874) of Boothstown, who was the son of William Evans of Tyldesley, another self-taught botanist of an earlier generation. From the
age of ten Joseph used to be taken by his father to botanists’ meetings and, “was also his father’s constant companion in the fields.”
Joseph was tall and thin with a “lofty forehead” but:
“A vigorous frame and an admirable constitution enabled him undertake journeys on foot that
to many would be positively affrighting. He knew the contents of every wood and pond within twenty miles of his home ...”
After his death, in 1874, Evans was buried in Worsley churchyard. He was followed to his
grave by over a thousand people, including a hundred and seventy young children, many of them carrying chaplets of midsummer field-flowers.
Finally Grindon discusses John Martin (d. 1855), a handloom weaver, also of Tyldesley.
Grindon records that:
“He was especially well-informed respecting Carices [i.e. Sedges = genus Carex], and first drew the attention of the botanists of Manchester to the richness of the neighbourhood, supplying, in
regard of them, names and localities they knew not of, as well as many facts respecting the botany of Tyldesley.”
Another source tells us that Martin was also interested in mosses. At one stage he visited William Wilson, a ‘gentleman bryologist’ of Warrington, to request confirmation for his identification of a rare moss. Wilson immediately reported Martin’s find to the celebrated botanist, William Jackson Hooker. Wilson remarked that Martin was, “void of conceit and offensive familiarity: intelligent without arrogance: studious yet unassuming.” He confessed his poverty without
shame and had an, “air of decency” about him. Basing his judgement on the parcels of specimens that Martin sent him, Wilson judged that he was, “addicted to neatness”.
Hooker, a professor of botany at Glasgow University, considered employing Martin in his
Unfortunately, on visiting Martin’s cottage in Tyldesley Wilson found it more disordered and
less neat than he had expected and sent an unfavourable report back to Hooker. As a result Martin did not receive a job offer and, in fact, never even got to hear of it!
In the second half of the 19th century the artisan botanist movement went gradually into decline. The reasons for this decline are not entirely clear but many ‘independent’ trades, such as handloom weaving, had been in decline for most of the century and had been largely replaced by the factory system. Even Buxton found himself without work and income towards the end of his life as clogs replaced bats as children’s footwear. Horsefield became so impoverished that
the Prestwich Botanical Society exempted him from paying his share of the liquor money – but this was seen as fair exchange for his skill at naming specimens.
Other changes were having an effect, for example the temperance movement continued to grow in strength which meant that the societies continued to be criticised for meeting in pubs. In addition there were increasing problems involving land ownership and some of the botanists experienced clashes with land-owners and gamekeepers. At the same time suburbia continued to expand and these tireless walkers had to walk even further to find their plants – even though Richard Buxton, in his 60s, claimed to be able to walk 30 miles a day!
It’s likely that all of these economic and social changes gradually eroded the cohesion of the
movement and the independence of its members.
From the mid-19th century onwards the study of natural history became more and more a middle class interest. Although he had long supported and championed the cause of the artisan botanists Leo Grindon was also instrumental in promoting an interest in natural history among the middle classes.
Grindon (1818 – 1904) was born in Bristol and developed an interest in botany in his teens.
He moved to Manchester at the age of twenty to take up a post as a cashier with a local company. In the course of his long life he wrote many articles for botanical and horticultural journals and for local newspapers. He also wrote more than fifteen books, mostly on botanical themes. Whilst still holding his post as cashier, Grindon started to give private lessons in botany and in 1852
was appointed as a part-time lecturer at the Manchester Royal School of Medicine. In 1860 he founded, with his friend, Joseph Sidebotham, the Manchester Field Naturalists Society. In 1864 he gave up his post as cashier to concentrate full-time on lecturing and writing.
The Manchester Field Naturalists Society was intended “for ladies and gentlemen who are specially interested in natural history (which includes botany, zoology and geology)and is also open to those who, without paying minute attention to the objects of nature, delight to ramble in the country and find pleasure in the contemplation of its loveliness.” Thus the objective of walking in the countryside for reasons of health and recreation was added to the society’s
strictly scientific objectives.
The Society had a committee of six persons with Grindon as President and Honorary Secretary. Initial subscriptions were one guinea, 10s 6d thereafter (sums which were well beyond the means of working class naturalists). Apart from the relative affluence of its members the main differences between this Society and its working class predecessors were that women were now active participants and that the members could now reach more remote sites, in the countryside
surrounding Manchester, by train. The Society had indoor meetings during the winter and Saturday afternoon excursions at other times of the year.
Similar societies were soon being set up in other parts of the region. Several of these societies continued well into the 20th century.
Dave Bishop, March 2012