Victorian botanists

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……

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Is that Richard Buxton’s nose?

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Painting discovered in box of paperwork

Rummaging through a box at the back of the herbarium earlier today we came across this lovely painting of a botanist (nothing like having a fern in the lapel to demonstrate your occupation!).

Looking at a display panel in the herbarium, we thought the man in the portrait looks rather similar to the daguerreotype of Richard Buxton aged 65 (on the right). What do you think?

Stansfield, Nowell and Buxton

Richard Buxton (1786 – 1865) was a very interesting man, born in Prestwich and apprenticed to be a children’s shoemaker, he decided to teach himself to read. From there, he moved on to educating himself about the plants he found growing around him, firstly by reading Culpeper’s Herbal, before reading more scientific texts which explained the Linnaean system for classifying plants. He became a renowned local botanist and wrote floras of the plants found around Manchester. We are proud to have plant material collected by such a remarkable man in our herbarium collections, and so we have some out on display in our Manchester Gallery.

Packaged mosses prepared by Buxton and Nowell

Herbarium Films 1

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Over the past week we have been very busy making a series of films to show you behind the scenes of the herbarium at The Manchester Museum.  Although we admit the clips are far from professional, we do feel they have a certain charm…

Leander introducing the herbarium and showing off some of our Charles Darwin specimens.

Leander introduces Charles Bailey, Cosmo Melvill and Leo Grindon – the three main contributors to the herbarium’s collection

Specimen of the Day: 11/12/2009 – Black Spleenwort

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Manchester Museum Specimen collected by Robert Lloyd Praegar

On this day in 1892 Robert Lloyd Praegar collected this specimen of Black Spleenwort (Asplenium adiantum-nigrum var. acutum).  Praegar was an extraordinary man and one of my all time botanical heroes.  He practically surveyed the whole of Ireland single handedly at weekends.  I didn’t know we had any Praegar specimens in the collection at all.  So I was delighted to find this one.

Daisy Letters

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Daisy Specimen from the Leo Grindon Collection

One of our volunteers, Priscilla, found this interesting daisy specimen in the Leo Grindon collection of cultivated plants.  It contains two letters from children who have written to him describing their interesting daisies:

“Board School, Waterhead, Oldham, 1 May 1896

Dear Sir, I send you a curious Daisy which my father found in the fields.  My teacher says you like wild flowers and will perhaps tell me about it some day in the City News.

I am respectfully yours, Rebecca Hershaw, Standard 5”

“Brookfield, Chorlton cum Hardy, 27th April

Dear Mr Grindon, I found this beautiful little daisy in our paddock today.  Mother said perhaps you would like to have it, as it seems so uncommon.  I hope it won’t be dead when you get it.

I am your little friend, Una Lucas

The shape as you see it, is exactly as I found it.  It is not crushed by the box.”

The specimen also contains an illustration from William Curtis’s Flora Londinensis, 1777-1789

Lydia Becker mystery

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We have a bit of a mystery here in the Herbarium and were wondering if anybody out there can help us?

Many of you may have heard of a lady called Lydia Ernestine Becker (1827-1890).  She was born in Manchester and became a famous suffragette. She is best remembered for founding and publishing the Women’s Suffrage Journal between 1870 and 1890.  However,  most people don’t  know that Becker was also a botanist and astronomer: in 1862 she was awarded a gold medal by the Horticultural Society of South Kensington, and in 1864 she published a small volume entitled Botany for Novices.

In the Herbarium we have some specimens that have been stamped  ‘Ex herb J Lydia Becker’ which denotes that they once belonged to the herbarium of J Lydia Becker.  The accession number (Kk398) indicates that the specimens came to the Manchester Museum from a collection belonging to Henry Hyde, donated in 1909.

What we are trying to find out is why there is a ‘J’ prefixing the Lydia Becker?  The dates and localities of when and where the specimens were collected fit in with them being collected by Lydia Ernestine Becker but why the ‘J’?

Also, does anybody know anymore about the British Botanical Competition, 1864, which is printed on the labels?

Finally, Henry Hyde.  Does anyone know anything about him?  On page 267 of the Whitelegge obituary in an earlier post, it states that Whitelegge had advanced Botany lessons from a Mr H Hyde from Manchester – my guess it is the same man.

Any help, suggestions or clues gratefully recieved…

Whitelegge’s Obituary

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Following the Australia lead, I contacted Rose Docker, an archivist at the Australian Museum, Sydney, and made enquiries regarding Whitelegge.  Rose replied immediately (what a great service they give there!) with a very detailed obituary of Whitelegge written by Frank A McNeil, for the Records of the Australian Museum.

View The Whitelegge Obituary

What a life Whitelegge had!!  His childhood was incredibly hard.  He worked in a tarpaulin factory, become a ‘piecer’ in a cotton mill, worked as a weaver and then a nut tapper and bolt threader in a machine shop – all by the age of 11!

The obituary has cleared up the whole ‘breaking indentures and living as a fugitive’ cloud that was hanging over Whitelegge’s reputation…

At the age of eleven he entered Christy’s Hat Manufactory at Stockport, after undergoing medical examination and being certified as a youth of fourteen years. After gaining an insight into this trade, the youth signed indentures and became bound as an apprentice to another hat manufacturer for a term of seven years. The wages were six shillings a week for the first two years of this employment, and then an increase of two shillings per week until half of the apprenticeship term was served. After that Whitelegge was to be put on journeyman’s rates but was to receive only one third of these earnings. Just prior to this last employment he was receiving only four shillings per week, on which he and his mother subsisted during the awful days of the Lancashire cotton panic, brought about by the American Civil War. During the whole of one year the little family had no meat of their own buying, and in order to replenish the larder young Whitelegge used to rise at daylight on Sundays to scour the countryside for blackberries and mushrooms and occasionally seized potatoes and turnips from the properties of unsuspecting farmers. At this time his earnings provided the rental of a house. at one shilling and sixpence per week, leaving a balance of two shillings and sixpence for food and clothing. It was pitiful to here Whitelegge relate these facts, and to realize that the family would have been better off if he had been out of employment, as the relief money given at the time of the cotton panic amounted to two shillings and twopence per head. Having all this suffering still vivid in his memory, Whitelegge soon became acutely aware that the terms of his apprenticeship were iniquitous and after some contemplation he deserted his master. Setting out on foot towards Ashton-under-Lyne in Lancashire, he reached the Village of Hurstbrook near this town, and succeeded in getting work as a Journeyman with a kindly hat manufacturer to whom he confessed his trials. With his new employer’s help, Whitelegge evaded police inquiry, and sheltered at a farmhouse some distance away, where all available work was taken him. Except that he was all but arrested on several occasions when surreptitiously visiting his mother at Stockport, his stay of two years on the farm, was spoken of by Whitelegge as one of the most enjoyable periods of his life.

Whitelegge certainly lived an eventful and interesting life.  The stories I have discovered about Whitelegge’s life and work will really bring his specimens to life when they go out to our local communities in our ‘Museum Comes To You’ boxes.