Herbarium History

Something unexpected happened in the Manchester Museum!

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By Eirini Antonaki

The herbarium of Manchester itself  is a collection of some 750,000 specimens of preserved plants. Most are in the form of pressed specimens on flat sheets. Some are in small packets such as the mosses and lichens and some are even 3D e.g. our collection of fruits and seeds. Apart from them it has also books, plant illustrations , slides projector, microscopic slides, plant models and  many more to explore.

 

 

 


Finally something that you can’t miss is our brand new modern greenhouse. You should definitely check out! 

The Greenhouse is a hidden gem, located on the third floor of Manchester Museum. It accommodates plants from all over the world in an artistic installation that has been realised with the collaboration of  Nonsense_indoor_plants ,  Jeanette Ramirez founder of The Clorofilas (@Theclorofilas) and our Curator of Botany Rachel Webster.

It is next to Sylvia’s study room, which is a multi purpose room near the new third floor cafe. What a wonderful idea to study or have a meeting with a view of  ferns, cacti and tropical plants  in the middle of the winter in Manchester!

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Want to see more about the Greenhouse?
Then you can follow our instagram profile  @mcrmuseumgreenhouse   and you can upload your own photos with the #mcrmuseumgreenhouse.

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There and back again! A Materia Medica Tale by Jemma Houghton

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By Jemma

 

For the past few weeks I have been back at the herbarium returning the materia medica collection to their cupboards following work undertaken by estates.

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Boxes of materia medica jars to be organised back into the cupboards.

 

half done cupboards
First cupboards filled with specimens.

 

This project is somewhat reminiscent of my placement year over two years ago at the herbarium when I photographed, databased and organised the collection into their current system.

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Completed organisation of the materia medica collection two years ago.

 

The materia medica collection at the Manchester Museum contains over 800 specimens of plants, animals and minerals that were used for medicinal purposes. It dates from the latter half of the nineteenth century and was originally used as a teaching tool for medical and pharmacy students at Owens College.

 

Following the 1858 Medical Act, anyone wishing to be a practicing physician first had to be included on the medical register. This required them to pass at least one of the qualifications recognised by the General Medical Council – such as those by the Royal College of Physicians – and the majority of these involved some form of examination into materia medica. As such, materia medica was an essential subject for any medical student during the nineteenth century.

 

The role of the materia medica collection as a teaching resource, therefore, meant that it was a vital part of medical education at Owens College. This was particularly evident given that the collection at the time had its own dedicated museum at the medical school!

 

The building that housed this museum no longer exists so the collection no longer has its own museum, but instead resides in the tower of the Manchester Museum as part of the herbarium.

Paris

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A trip to the Paris herbarium in the Jardin des Plantes, Paris.

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I was given a guided tour of the Paris herbarium by Marc Jeanson: 8 million specimens, fully imaged and sorted into APG III order. Citizen science project Les Herbonautes encourages volunteers to catalogue the collection online photos.

 

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Grandes Serres (Greenhouses) contain drought tolerant and tropical plants:

 

A menagerie:

 

 

Systematic beds, alpine garden and historic trees

 

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Gallery of Evolution

 

Gallery of Botany:

 

GALERIE DE PALÉONTOLOGIE ET D’ANATOMIE COMPARÉE

 

Plant obsessions at Biddulph Grange

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Last week, Daniel Atherton and Leslie Hurst from the National Trust gave us an wonderful tour of the gardens of Biddulph Grange (see Campbell’s post on the Egyptian garden here).  Unfortunately, little information is available about the gardens as they were being created by the horticulturally-enthusiastic owners James and Maria Bateman (between 1840 and 1861). With the Head Gardener’s logbooks missing, the restoration of the garden has relied on other sources such as letters between Bateman, botanists and plant hunters, books logging out-going plants from specialist nurseries and descriptions from garden visitors.

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The Leo Grindon Cultivated plants collection is full of specimens from notable gardens as well as a host of newspaper cuttings, magazine prints, notes and letters. With such a wealth of information, progress has been slow in documenting this collection, and so it remains an exciting treasure-trove of little-explored gems. I wondered whether there would be any references to Bateman or Biddulph Grange in the collection ….but where to start?

James Bateman is famous for his beautifully illustrated volumes on orchids, and sure enough, it wasn’t long before I uncovered some articles which Leo Grindon thought interesting enough to add into his ‘general Orchid’ selection.

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This article from the Gardener’s Chronicle (Saturday, November 25th, 1871) is a biography of Bateman and his importance in the 19th century horticultural world. This quote caught my eye:

“Some of the effects, from a landscape gardener’s point of view, were strikingly beautiful, many quaint and grotesque. Had these latter been carried out by a person of less natural taste than Mr Bateman, they would have degenerated into the cockney style. In Mr Bateman’s case there was the less risk of this as, in addition to his own good taste and feeling for the appropriate, he was aided by Mr. E. W. Cooke, the eminent painter, and we may write, plant lover.”

….but I’m still not certain how complimentary this is! Another clipping touches on Bateman’s position in the debate between emerging scientific ideas and the Christian view of the creation of the earth. The geology gallery at Biddulph is a remarkable melding of Bateman’s religion with 19th century scientific discovery in stones and fossils (follow PalaeoManchester for more on this story).

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Then there are a few cuttings covering James Bateman’s lectures giving summaries of the information he shared. These cuttings are typical of Leo Grindon’s collection as he rarely recorded the source of his material, or the date of publication. Presumably he was so familiar with the style of the various magazines and papers which he subscribed to that he never saw the need to write these details down.

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These cuttings show that Leo Grindon was definitely following the work of James Bateman, but what of the gardens of Biddulph? For the next installment I think we shall have to move into another famous section of the garden, the Himalayan Glen, and delve into the herbarium’s Rhododendron folders to look for more clues.

To be continued……

Everything in it’s place

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Of all the parts of the herbarium, our General Flowering Plants collection has had more that it’s fair share of disruption from the University’s programme of building improvements. Work began something like 7 years ago with the renovation of the tower (those crazy Victorian architects!) which meant that the three upper store rooms had to be emptied. From then until now, about half of the General Flowering Plants has been hard-stacked (box, upon box, upon box – about 800 times) and as a result, it’s been very difficult to work with.

Now that we’ve reorganised the herbarium, we finally have a shelf for every box. One of the pleasures of this is that we can now put all the herbarium sheets back in the correct place. As sheets have been returned from loans, exhibitions, events, etc. we have been accumulating ‘lay-away’ boxes with all the sheets arranged inside in taxonomic order and just waiting for the time to go back in. Thanks to our dedicated volunteers (particularly Christine) it’s all getting put safely away in the correct place.

Manchester Herbarium’s grand re-opening!

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After a year of full closure while the Museum roof was rebuilt and about a further 5 years of disruption since the window replacement work began, we finally have the herbarium back up and running. So we thought it was high time to host a party to remind the rest of the Museum and the University’s plant scientists just how lovely our store room is.

We laid out examples of our current projects, some of our favourite objects and quirky things that we’ve come across while we’ve been sorting the place out. After everyone had explored the collection we all headed off to the staff room for some delicious botanically-themed cakes.

We should do this more often!

The mysterious Miss Wigglesworth

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by Jemma

 

For the past few days I have been digging through the Museum’s annual reports from the 19th-20th century. During my search one name kept cropping up: Miss Wigglesworth. She was in every report for a long period of time so I decided to look into her.

A stack of Manchester Museum annual reports
A stack of Manchester Museum annual reports

Grace Wigglesworth was a student at Owens College from 1900 (which became The Victoria University of Manchester in 1904 and would later become the University of Manchester). She graduated with a B.Sc (Hons) in Botany in 1903 and later gained a Master’s degree in palaeobotany.

The first mention of Miss Wigglesworth in the 1903-04 report
The first mention of Miss Wigglesworth in the 1903-04 report

In 1908 she was admitted as a fellow in the Linnean Society of London, which housed (and still does) the collection and personal library of the father of modern taxonomy Carl Linnaeus. In January 1911, Wigglesworth was appointed Assistant Keeper of botany at the Manchester Museum. Assistant Keepers were in charge of curating the collections. During her time as Keeper, Wigglesworth cared and organised the museum’s collections, worked on gallery displays and lectured at the University.

Wigglesworth used record cards to keep track of the Herbarium's collections. This box contains some of those cards.
Wigglesworth used record cards to keep track of the Herbarium’s collections. This box contains some of those cards.

Wigglesworth was the second female within the Herbarium staff and held the post for 33 years. Even after she retired in 1944, Wigglesworth continued to help around the Herbarium until the 1950’s.