The Mystery of an old Botany Album (Herbarium)

One hundred years ago, on a fine September afternoon, a boy alighted from a tram at the Nottingham Road Terminus in Mansfield. In his knapsack was a flower press, some secateurs and some bread and Cheshire, in case of hunger. He knew his route well – a zig zag track through the countryside north towards Coxbench, avoiding roads wherever possible, and taking in the woodland around Breadsall Moor.

He was top of his class in year V and a keen naturalist, with a strong leaning towards botany. His parents had recently bought him a herbarium, something non-scientific folk might call a botany album. It was his pride and joy, top of the range, from Watkins & Doncaster in the Strand, with velum pages, each with tracing paper protection, a reward for coming top again.

He began cutting specimens from the wayside as he passed by the various habitats: stream and pond, the giant quarry, hedgerow, meadow and the Breadsall moorland. He had not heard of habitats before so he called these settings “associations”.

After three hours of walking and cutting he arrived home, and immediately transferred the cuttings into his floral press. Over the next couple of weeks they would be slowly compressed between the weighted sheets, and gradually dried out ready for assembly.

In due course the collection was ready to be placed in its final arrangement in the herbarium. Each page was to be filled with half a dozen specimens, carefully arranged for maximum aesthetic appeal (very important) and annotated as far as possible with species names in Latin.

The first page was reserved for a hand drawn map copied from the Ordnance Survey at a scale of three inches to one mile. He marked the collection sites and the local habitats, streams, the mineral line, woods and roads. And then the herbarium was complete, ready to be taken into school to show his science teacher. He would receive a school end of year prize as a result.

Time passed and the herbarium became scuffed from his continual observation. The titles faded, and one day he too faded. His children’s children’s children would find the collection in a cupboard and wonder at the dedication, before selling it at auction. A further forty years passed and the herbarium again found itself unloved, in a box marked “Charity” during a house clearance. It eventually arrived at Oxfam in Market Harborough, where the Antiquarian team took pity and carried out a little research.

Today the herbarium is in our back office; it has been photographed and reviewed, examined very closely for an exact date and will soon appear live in our online store with a new header: “Edwardian Schoolboy’s Herbarium”. You could buy it, really, but you will need to be quick because these objects are rare and people of a romantic mind like to collect them. They find a certain reconnection with the past. The specimens are also very old and one has already crumbled to dust, but 99 remain under their tape, preserved as a little piece of local history, ready for the next chapter in their story.

If you know anything about the album, or the boy, then we would love to hear from you. You know as much about his story as we do,

Chris Poulton


Footnote -The herbarium went live at 11am and was sold by 3pm to someone in Shropshire. Somebody got a bargain there. All those man hours!

We have done our bit for the greater cause. Thank you.


Comments about this page

  • Yes, I think you are correct there. The advantage of a little local knowledge!
    The herbarium wasn’t yours then?
    It is now on Ebay, at ten times the price at which Oxfam sold it, but still not gone after four weeks. Too high, too low, just right? Who could tell? We made the mistake of using the auction hammer price as the benchmark, but with hindsight that event was probably forty years ago.
    Ho hum, it is only money.

    By Chris Poulton (16/11/2022)
  • Breadsall and Coxbench are areas near Derby. I don’t think this is Nottingham Road, Mansfield

    By Richard (14/11/2022)
  • The herbarium is of such a terrific standard that I wonder if it might have been owned by the science master and not one of his pupils, but who knows?
    It was a very satisfying little project. Thank you for your encouragement Pauline. I might approach the buyer and offer him this link.

    By Chris Poulton (04/11/2022)
  • Thia is a fascinating story, who was this boy? and which school did he go to? You get the impression his parents were well off because a Herbarium of that quality would not have been cheap.


    By editors (03/11/2022)

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