Northamptonshire Natural History Society

Botany Section

Section President
Patrick Rawlinson
Section Secretary
Seán Karley

The Herbarium

This was founded by Dixon as a Society function in 1878. He and many other members, including of course Druce, contributed many specimens to this. Some people also donated or bequeathed their own collections. Some of these dated back to the early days of Queen Victoria's reign. They included Dixon's Moss Herbarium for Northamptonshire.

A group of volunteers curated the Herbarium recently. We cleaned the sheets, creating a computer database of them, and re-arranging them according a modern systematic scheme. We use Kent's "List of Vascular Plants of the British Isles" 1992.

Seán at work

We had almost finished this stage in 2003 when the total number of sheets in the Herbarium was about 4500. The entries for the British Isles specimens were entered into the "Index Herbariorum", an on-line database of small herbaria operated by Hull University. Then Northampton Museum had a change of policy about which collections they would maintain. It was decided that their Herbarium was not relevant to the Borough, and it was offered to us. We accepted this and found ourselves with about 3,800 more sheets to curate. We have also been given several more small herbaria, so now we have over 8,500 sheets.

Within the Herbarium one of the most interesting parts is the John Downes Herbarium; Downes was a county clergyman for 50 years, first at Hackleton and later at Hannington. He started his collection when he was at Cambridge University, botanising with a young fellow called Charles Darwin, both studying under Professor John Henslow. Henslow was the man who, amongst many other things, arranged for Darwin to travel on the Beagle, with all that that led to. The Downes Herbarium includes 346 sheets given to him by Henslow.

These two pictures are out of the old Herbarium Cupboard. It was already crammed full when we received the additional sheets from Northampton Museum This has been replaced by a modern steel shelving unit clad in wood for protection and appearance.

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3 October 2012 (v 1)