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


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