The Sorby Natural History Society, SheffieldCovering a full range of natural history interests in Sheffield and the surrounding area, providing for both interested beginners and specialists.
The History of Sorby Natural History Society 1918 to 1954
Presidential Address delivered on November 6th 1954 by Alan Ward, B.A.
First published in Sorby Record No.1 in 1958 and reprinted in Sorby Record No.34 in 1998.
In the Sheffield Public Library there is a copy of an “Address to the Public on the proposed Literary and Philosophical Society”. It is a four-page folder dated March 5th. 1822 printed by James Montgomery and no doubt largely written by him. It beings: “It can scarcely be necessary in the present state of social refinement to insist on the advantages attending the cultivation of literature. The utility of science is everywhere visible, she is no longer a recluse in the cell of a monk, but walks abroad in the bustle of the world, mingles with our ordinary pursuits, lights our streets, descends our mines, gives motion to our ships, and it is the presiding genius of our manufactures”. It is stated that Literary and Philosophical Societies have already been formed in Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds and Newcastle. “It is planned to have at least eight lectures a year for members and others, delivered by eminent professors, to which it may be expedient to admit the public on reasonable terms”. It was proposed to have two classes of members: Proprietors, who should pay two guineas entrance money and two guineas subscription, which entitled them to go to all meetings and bring two guests, and Annual Subscribers, who should pay one guinea subscription, which would enable them to attend the regular monthly meetings delivered by members of the Society. It was intended to form a library of reference, a collection of Natural History, and a cabinet of minerals. “The Promoters cannot conceive that out of a population of fifty thousand souls there shall not be found a sufficient number of liberal minded and enlightened men to institute a Society of this nature, and maintain it with proper spirit and respectability”.
In the City Museum, Weston Park, there is a copy of the Proceedings of the Public Meeting which followed this Address. The Meeting was held on December 12th.1822, in the Cutlers’ Hall. Dr.Knight was in the chair, and amongst those present were Mr.T.A.Ward and James Montgomery. The first paragraph is as follows: “A most respectable meeting of gentlemen, all called by public advertisement, took place in the Cutlers’ Hall on Thursday, December 12th. 1822, for the purpose of taking into consideration the propriety of establishing a Literary and Philosophical Society on liberal principles in the town of Sheffield”. At the end of the 31 page Report of the Meeting are printed the ten resolutions which brought the Society and its constitution into being, and a list of about seventy Proprietors and nineteen Subscribers. Dr. A. Knight was the first President, James Montgomery the second. The first Report was published in 1824. It stated that “the number of both classes of members far exceeds the utmost hopes of the founders”. There were ninety-seven Proprietors, eighty-two subscribers, producing an income of £300 per year. The first Report is beautifully written (by James Montgomery?) and I wish I had time to quote it all. The receipts for the first year were £600 and the expenditure £250, leaving a balance of £350.
Meetings were first held in the Cutlers’ Hall, which was lent free for this purpose. In the first series of lectures there were three on geology, but no others on natural history. James Montgomery was President from 1824 to 1827, and again in 1833. The next year the income was £344 and the expenditure £130. We are told that the members had increased. In the list of lectures given in the year there was not one on natural history. By 1827 a considerable sum was being spent annually on buying apparatus, specimens for the museum and books, and in 1828 there were several (apparently voluntary) Curators of the museum. The lectures in this year were on such subjects “A History of Eloquence”, Phrenology, Calvinism, The Nature of Poetry, Prison Discipline: others on various branches of Physics and Physiology, and one on Joint Stock Companies.
Much interesting Sheffield history is contained in the six large bound volumes in the Public Library of the Reports of the Society, covering the period of its formulation in 1822 to its winding-up in 1932. The museum collection increased year by year; extraordinary objects were presented to it, including in 1837 a “black woman’s head”. In this year the library had 350 volumes. The Society met in the Music Hall, and I believe its museum was also kept in that building in Surrey Street. On the wall containing the Sheffield Collection in the Public Library there is, by the door, a stone on which appear the words “This, the first stone in the Sheffield Music Hall, was laid by William Young, M.D., by desire and in the presence of the Proposers on the 31st March 1823, and in the fourth year of the reign of His Majesty George IV, whom God preserve”. By 1836 courses of lectures on various branches of science were given, for example, Astronomy, Meteorology etc. At this time the Society seems to have been doing the work which was later done by the Workers’ Educational Association, etc, and the University Extra-mural Department. In the Report for this year is a list of Mr. Salt’s collection of flowering plants, which was then in the possession of the Society, and of 400 specimens in the Museum.
Jonathan Salt, who was connected with the firm J. & J.Salt, table knife cutlers, 61 Hollis Croft, died in 1815. His death is recorded in “The Iris” of August 15th. 1815, where it is stated that “He was an upright and amiable man. In Botany and Natural History his attainments were very considerable, and acquired for him the friendship and correspondence of many persons distinguished for Science”, Salt formed a very extensive collection of plants, found mostly by himself in the vicinity of Sheffield. He added the plant Carex elongata to the British flora, which he found at Aldwarke, near Rotherham, in 1807. The first dated plant in the Herbarium, which can still be seen in the City Museum, bears the date 1773. This is one of the earliest herbaria in the country; the greater part was probably made between 1796 and 1807. At the time of Salt’s death it contained 914 species. It was added to by others, and finally had over 1,300 species. The following is an extract from the introduction to Jonathan Salt’s list of Plants, published by the Sheffield Literary and Philosophical Society.
“At a public meeting for the purpose of establishing a Literary and Philosophical Society in Sheffield, held at the Cutlers’ Hall, on Thursday, December 12th. 1822, Mr.James Montgomery spoke of Mr.Salt and his labours in the field of Botany as follows: -‘Botany might be presumed to be the last walk of Science in which a Sheffield manufacturer would be found, yet within my remembrance there lived in this town ONE, who was attracted into the path by a peculiarly delicate sense of whatever is beautiful and curious in the lowliest productions of nature. The late Jonathan Salt — for he is now no more — engaged in the interesting pursuit with such patient ardour and uncloyed delight, that he not only acquired a correct and comprehensive knowledge of plants, but was regarded by the first professors of his day as an ornament and benefactor to the science, having by his elaborate researches and discoveries even in this neighbourhood, added to the stock of general information. A late friend of mine, highly gifted with genius, and accomplished in every branch of natural philosophy, was so charmed with the genuine intelligence of Mr. Salt on subjects, with which few have more than a showy acquaintance, that he considered an hour in his company, when they could freely interchange thoughts, (giving and receiving fresh hints on their favourite topics) as an hour of privileged enjoyment. With a pleasure which none but botanists can know — for such congenial spirits do not encounter every day — they were wont to welcome each other when my friend came to Sheffield. On such occasions, while I have watched their countenances and hearkened to their discourse, though from my ignorance I could enjoy but little of the latter, the expression of the former was perfectly intelligible, and highly exhilarating to a spectator who had anything of human sympathy about him. I have known Mr.Salt mention a rare plant as growing in this neighbourhood, when my friend, for joy scarcely believing that there was no mistake, desired to be conducted immediately to the spot and away they went into the depths of the Old Park Wood, where the one had the triumph of showing his discovery, and the other the joy of seeing for the first time (I believe) on British ground, the coy recluse which was then in full flower.
“There must have been a native elegance in the mind of him who could thus attach himself to a solitary study, in a range beyond his ordinary occupation: and there must have been an unconquerable love of the science in this man, who, in such circumstances, could make himself master of its terminology (the engraftment of all manner of barbarian words on a classic stock), and its technical phrases, borrowed from a language in which he was unskilled except in its adoption to botany. I cannot choose but envy the pure transports of an enthusiast, who could quietly steal away from the bustle and care, the dirt and meanness (if I may hazard such a term here) of the warehouse and workshops, and the visit, according to the seasons of the year, one locality or another within his pedestrian circuit, where he knew that he should meet with peculiar plants which flourished there and nowhere else. Conisborough, the woodlands, the high moors, the Peak of Derbyshire, were so many rounds of amusing excursions to him. On every hill and in every valley he was welcomed and accompanied by the flora of the scene, who showed him her loveliest children crowding their path, or beautifully scattered throughout her little domain. He is gone, and the places that knew him now know him no more. Who amongst our youth will tread in his footsteps, and be the heirs to his innocent pleasures in the field, both of nature and of science? His humble name and praise deserve an apter eulogist than I am. Such as they are, however, these few flowers of speech are gratefully scattered upon his grave by one who at least knew how to respect his modesty and his worth’ “.
The membership of the Literary and Philosophical Society seems to have remained for some years at about 150; this figure includes both Proprietors and Subscribers. H.C.Sorby’s name first appears as a Proprietor in 1847. The usual series of lectures continued year by year. In 1849 we are told that an excursion was made to Castleton, where the party visited High Peak Cavern and heard a lecture by Mr.Lee on the Geology of the District. Earlier excursions had been made to Roche Abbey, but after 1849 I can see no reports of other outdoor meetings. Sorby first became President in 1852, and from now until his death in 1908 he was a very prominent member of the Society. He was the President in 1852 and Honorary Secretary in 1863. In 1864 there were 116 Proprietors and 110 Subscribers. The Society now had a balance in hand of £434. Nearly all the lectures on Natural History appearing on the programmes were given by Dr. Sorby. In 1869 the Society moved to the School of Art, where the museum and library were housed, a rent of £94 being paid. The Meetings were held in the Cutlers’ Hall for these fifty pounds rent was paid.
In 1869 it was resolved that ladies should be admitted to the monthly lectures as Subscribers or as guests of the Proprietors. By now the Society had a balance in hand of £655, and was indeed flourishing. Professor S. Earnshaw, a Senior Wrangler, was President in 1874. Large increases in membership were now being announced in the annual reports. The Society still gave little attention to Natural History; as a rule only one lecture on this subject was given each year.
In 1871 the possibility of a formation of a Public Museum was being discussed. In spite of the success of the Society, the number of Proposers and Subscribers was remaining at about 300. In 1875 the Western Park Museum was formed, and the Literary and Philosophical Society’s collection formed the nucleus of its collection.
By this time the annual Conversazione, which was held in the Cutlers’ Hall was a great social event, and was attended by about a thousand people. To quote from the “Sheffield Independent” — “One of the most enjoyable gatherings of the year took place on the evening of February 11th. At the Cutlers’ Hall, and was as successful in every respect as any that have preceded it. The Promoters have ascertained from years of experience precisely the attractions that will win people from their comfortable homes on the most wretched of February nights, and on this and on former occasions they succeeded in providing them. And what were the attractions? Spacious and brilliantly lit rooms in which the company could promenade to the strains of soft, sweet music, freely indulge in social chat, or inspect the few objects of special interest that had been collected, and at one point in the evening gather round the President and listen to a short appropriate address”. By 1881 we are told the attendance at lectures at the Cutlers’ Hall exceeded the capacity of the room. There were still very few on Natural History, but a lecture on spiders was sandwiched between one on “High Life in the Middle Ages” or “The Humours of Bygone Fashions” and one on “Number One, and How to take Care of Him” by J.J. Pope, M.R.C.S. By 1884 the Society received legacies of over £2,000. I noticed the name of my father, Thomas W.Ward, is amongst the Subscribers who joined in 1887. The lectures were now becoming more popular: courses on one subject were no longer given. The following is a list of those given in 1878:
- An Evening with Mendelssohn
- Torpedoes and Torpedo Warfare
- Automatism, or Modern Views of Mental Physiology
- Geological Periods of the Earth’s History, as interpreted by the Remains of Gigantic Animals
- Polarised Light
- Ideal Commonwealths from Plato Downwards
- Cleopatra’s Needle, illustrated with Oxy-hydrogen Light
- The Minstrels of Olden Times
Eight papers were read at General Meetings, and six to the Natural Science Section which had now been formed. In 1890 we are told that the Society was prosperous beyond precedent, and there were 490 members. Eighteen public lectures were given and audiences were sometimes “inconveniently numerous”. There were still few talks on Natural History; but Dr.Sorby and A.T.Watson gave Natural History talks to those in the Natural Science Section. This year we are told, “At the Conversazione many collections of paintings were shown. The attendance was extremely large, but the crushing which had been noticed on former occasions was not this year experienced”. The income in Subscriptions was this year £667. The Society presented a printed report of 74 pages, in which the lectures were described in detail. In 1895 the Society moved into rooms in Leopold Street, over the Assay Office. Dr. Sorby was again President. In 1897, to commemorate Dr.Sorby’s Jubilee the Society arranged for his portrait to be painted by Mrs.Waller. This portrait was placed in the Meeting Room of the Society and is now in the Cutlers’ Hall. In that year 1,100 people attended the Conversazione. We are told that at this Conversazione, the “learned President”, was congratulated on all hands on having reached his Jubilee in connection with the Society. “Mr.Peck’s Band occupied the gallery of the Banqueting Hall, and in the Drawing Room Miss Edith Royal-Dawson gave recitations with much acceptance. Dr. Addison showed on a fluorescent screen skiagrams of the bones of the living hand, The members were much interested in seeing the bones of their own hands in this way”. The Sheffield Society of Artists lent pictures to decorate the rooms. Subscriptions mounted to £708, but the Society was running into debt. The Conversazione, although a social success, cost the Society up to £300 each year, and the cost of retaining a librarian and sub-librarian was £180, and the Society had to pay heavily for its rooms. At the end of the year there was a balance owing to the Treasurer of £138.
In 1906 the Society acquired the Old Sheffield Library, which was established in 1771, and moved into its new premises in St. James’ Chambers, Church Street, where it remained until it closed down in 1932. We are told that the number of Subscribers was now falling slightly, the lectures were of a popular nature; in this year there were none on Natural History, and the Report had been reduced to twenty pages. A Conversazione was held in this year, and although attended by 1,200 people the cost to the Society was £188, and it was decided that the Conversazione should not be held annually in the future. Three concerts were arranged during the evening. It was also agreed in this year that in future only members and friends should be admitted to Conversaziones, and not members of the outside public who appear to have formed the majority of those attending. In the 1903 Report we are told that the lectures (which were now usually held in the Albert Hall or the Montgomery Hall) were “filled with attentive listeners”. In this year the last of the regular Conversaziones was held. The decision was taken not to hold one in 1904 because “the securing of the advantages of Conversazione in its best sense is very largely dependent upon members making every effort to be present themselves, a factor which appears in some danger of being overlooked”. In the place of a conversazione, Mr.Henry J.Wood, the conductor of Musical Festivals in Sheffield, was engaged to deliver an illustrated musical lecture entitled “Wind Instruments”. This lecture was attended by more than 1,100 people. By 1905 there was a considerable sum owing to the Treasurer. In this year a fee for electrical light appeared for the first time amongst the expenses. In 1907 we are told that the library was being much used. It consisted of over 3,000 volumes, but much light fiction was now being bought. The average attendance at public meetings was over 1,000, and at the Monthly Meetings (which were addressed by members of the Society) the attendances were increasing, but the Society now owed the Treasurer £884. In this year, for the first time, “telephone charges” appeared amongst the expenses. The death of Dr. Sorby was reported in 1910. In the early days (about 1847) when Sorby joined the Council it was the custom to find members of the Council 6d. and the President 1/- for non-attendance, a practice which, if revived, would not fail even now to produce revenue. But such was Dr. Sorby’s devotion to the work which he had undertaken that the small amount of his fines was always the envy of his less fortunate or less diligent colleagues. Dr. Sorby was President of the Literary and Philosophical Society seven times between 1852 and 1898. He left many of his books to the Society. At the end of this year the balance due to the Treasurer was £1,036.
In the 1909 Report which is cheerful in tone, the proportion of readers amongst its members was said to be improving, but there is a complaint that it was still the lighter kind of literature which was most in demand. The balance due to the Treasurer was now reduced to £432, largely owing to a legacy left by Dr. Sorby. The Natural Science Section came to an end in this year. We are told in the Report that the Society’s Seal, which was made in 1830 and had been lost for some years had been found. It bore the legend “Dare to be Wise”. In 1910 and 1911 the Society was flourishing. Attendances at the lectures were said to be larger than ever. I notice that on February 10th. Earnest Thompson Seton spoke on “Animals at Home and in Sport”, in the Albert Hall. I mention this as it was, I believe, the first of the Society’s lectures which I attended. In 1914 we are told that the attendances and members were as large as ever. The Society was financially in a better state, and at the end of the year owed its Treasurer only £36. In 1916 the effects of the War were hitting the Society. We read that “The darkened conditions of the streets meant starting lectures at 7 instead of 8”, yet almost as many lectures and papers were delivered in the year as in the previous one. There is a complaint that some of the lectures were subject to entertainment tax, and the provision had to be made for dark blinds. In 1917 we are told that “the modest cup of tea which the Council had since 1822 ushered in its labours had been for the present abandoned, in deference to the necessities of the times”. By the end of the War, the Society was running into financial difficulties again, and the Subscription for Proprietors was raised to 21/2 guineas. In 1920 “the tea urn was restored to its place opposite the President, to the manifest mitigation of all dryness of discussions, and whereas in the very early days of the Society the tea was partly paid for by fines inflicted on Members of the Council who did not attend, the practice is now for each Member who is present to pay for his own”.
In 1922 the Society held its Hundredth Anniversary. It was celebrated by a conversazione in the University, and the publication of a “Centenary Retrospect”, which was given to every member. Unfortunately I have not been able to see a copy. In 1922 Dr.R.G.Abercrombie read a paper on “Sleep”. Canon Odom was President in the next year, in which the Society was said to be “of increasing vitality”, with a membership which had increased to 526. In 1925 the Society had a successful year, but there was a decline in membership. The financial position of the Society was described as “very satisfactory” the income being £1,149. 6s.6d. and the expenditure £1,147.1s.0d. By 1926 the effects of the trade depression were beginning to be felt. Many members resigned, and there was a deficit on the year’s working. From this year onwards it is a sad tale of decline. We are told that in 1928 attendances at meetings were still good, but there was a loss of members and an increased deficit. The same is true of 1929, and in 1930 membership was only 372. In this year the lease ran out, and a new lease could only be obtained at a very much higher rent. The Society sold many of its books, and occupied only part of its former premises. In 1931 the membership was 323, and in 1932 although the lectures were said to be still well attended, it had decreased to 281. Great efforts were made by the Committee to save the Society, two thousand persons in the town were written to personally by the officers, but only ten joined. The members were circularised to ascertain how many wished the Society to continue merely as a Lecture Society, but only one third were in favour. It was therefore decided to close down in 1932, as it was financially impossible to continue. The books in the Library were given to the Public Library, the Sheffield University, and to other libraries. The last lecture was given on December 9th. 1932 by Captain Knight on “Eagles of the Sea” in the Victoria Hall.
I have asked a number of the members of the Literary and Philosophical Society who knew it in its heyday why they think it declined. Several said the development of broadcasting made the lectures less popular, and the improvement in the Sheffield Public Library and commercial libraries development took away much of the need for the Society’s library. My own feeling is that the Society became too popular. In its latter years nearly all the books bought were light fiction. Other literary and philosophical societies which have had a more serious purpose in view have continued in being, for example, the Society at Newcastle, whose 161st. Annual Report I have seen is still prosperous. It spent £2,100 last year on books, of which £623 was on fiction. It issued 164,000 books in 1952.
The Sheffield Microscopical Society was founded in 1877, with Mr.G.E.Vine as first President. The first meeting was held in Messrs.W.Jenkinson’s premises in Chapel Walk. It was arranged to hold fortnightly meetings from October to May. At the first Meeting, the President gave a paper on “The Preparation of Thin Sections of Coal Plants for Slides for the Microscope”. He said that he prepared these sections by cementing a piece of rough coal plant material on to a glass slip, and rubbing it down to the appropriate thickness upon his wife’s kitchen sink. In spite of these crude methods, Mr.Vine’s work was successful: his work on fossil polyzoa was recognised by the British Association by grants of money to enable him to buy books, etc., to continue his researches.
The club seems to have been successful during its first years, but in 1880 it had only twenty-two members. In 1888 Mr.Newsholme was elected Secretary and seems to have given it new life. There is a sentence in the Report for this year – “Hitherto the Society has been conducted in such brotherly terms that no Rules have been formulated”. In 1889 Rules had been drawn up and adopted by the Society. Dr.Sorby was President of the Sheffield Microscopical Society three times. In 1889 we are told that a Conversazione was held in the Masonic Hall, Surrey Street. There were displays of instruments and slides by Members, and also by firms of opticians. “The music and singing were much appreciated. There were a hundred people there, and the catering was faultless”. In this year a deputation from the Sheffield Naturalists’ Club had suggested amalgamation with the Microscopical Society, and we are told that “the terms offered gave us only a subordinate position to that society, with increased subscription. After careful consideration it was decided to retain our independence”. The amalgamation refused in this year was brought about in 1918.
Very few reports or programmes of meetings issued by the Society have survived, and so it is impossible to describe its history in detail. There is a Report for 1898-9 in the Public Library, in which we read that there were 154 members and that 43 new members had been elected in the previous year. In 1898 Mr.Jaspar Redfern gave a practical demonstration of Colour Photography. “Three separate photographic images were taken through different coloured mediums; red, green, and blue were projected on the screen through mediums of the same colours. The red and green produced bright yellow, blue-green or sky blue, and the three circles together produced white; but when obstructed by the photographic images the three primary colours were entirely lost, and in their place natural tints were shown”.
All the Society’s Meetings held in this year appear to have been Indoor Meetings, of which there were twelve during the winter months.
There are programmes for 1907 and 1908 in the Public Library, on which fourteen Meetings were announced for the winter months between October and May. Many of the lectures were much like those arranged by the Sorby Society. There were also practical nights and demonstrations. We do not hear of the Society again until 1917, when the amalgamation with the Sheffield Naturalist’s Club was arranged, to form our Sorby Society. The Sheffield Microscopical Society was revived in 1950 with Professor H.Moore as President.
This club seems to have been started as a section of the Sheffield Field Naturalists Society, whose first (and, as far as I know, only surviving) Annual Report is dated March 1863. It is stated in this Report that ‘the Sheffield Field Naturalists Society was formed last Midsummer. The success which has attended similar societies in Manchester, Liverpool and other important towns induced a few gentlemen to attempt something of the same kind in Sheffield’. After some correspondence on the subject in one of the local papers, an inaugural meeting was convened by the Rev.Greville J.Chester, and a Society was formed for the purpose of taking excursions into the country to study various branches of field natural history. Twenty-two meetings are described in this Report, at such places as Norton, Fox House, Endcliffe Woods, and Dore. The subscription was at first eighteen pence. It was later increased to half a crown. The charges for printing (by Messrs.Pawson & Brailsford) were 8s.0d. and the Society finished the year with a balance in hand of £2.8s.0d.
At the beginning of the next winter a number of members associated themselves together under the name of The Sheffield Naturalists Club, with an annual subscription of half a guinea, for the purpose of keeping up interest in the objects of the Society during the period when there were no excursions. The Meetings were held in the rooms of Messrs.Robert Leader & Sons, Bank Street, and various objects such as a collection of butterflies and moths, of British Ferns, British Seaweeds and eggs of British birds were exhibited. Papers were read on Ornithology, Geology etc. We are told that one of the special objects of the Sheffield Naturalists Club was a compilation of a fauna and flora of the district around Sheffield, and the formation of a local museum. I have been unable to find any more information about the Sheffield Naturalists Society.
The Sheffield Naturalists Club appears to have existed as an individual entity in 1870, when Mr.A.T.Walker, in the British Association Handbook of 1910, says, “It was founded, with Dr.Sorby as first President”, though in its earliest Report it is stated that the Club was started in 1872, with 15 Members. In these early years Dr.Dallenger, FRS, was a member of the Committee. The earliest Report in the Sheffield Public Library is dated 1881, when the membership was 239. The subscription was then 10s.6d. for men and 5s.0d. for ladies. On March 18th. 1880 we are told that a conversazione was held in the Cutlers’ Hall, which was attended by 654 persons, the largest attendance at this annual event up to that date. Great interest was shown in Dr.Dallenger’s microscopic objects. On March 24th. the Public Museum offered the Society its Committee Room for an evening Meeting each week, and also the use of its microscopes, on condition that specimens of local Natural History collected by members should be placed in and given to the Museum. On April 26th. we are told that 150 specimens of local flora had been mounted and given to the Museum. On that date, at a Members’ Meeting, Mr.Edward Birks spoke on “How to Form a Herbarium” and Mr.E.Howarth who was then Curator and remained in that office until 1928, spoke on “Methods of Dissecting Objects for Microscopical Examination”. Four other lectures were given that year, and there was an excursion with the Yorkshire Naturalists Union to Rivelin Valley, and other excursions to Cromford and Dovedale, Stoney Middleton, Conisborough and the Dukeries, at which we are told there was a good attendance.
The Club finished that year with £66 in hand. The accounts are presented in the old-fashioned way headed “Treasurer in Account with for the Sheffield Naturalists Club”, with the Annual Subscription, which amounted that year to £91.0s.6d. on the debit side. On the credit side is an item of £4.11s.0d. for “Commission paid to Mr.Townsend for collecting Subscriptions”, and a similar item appears in every Report (or those that have survived) to 1914. This Report consists of 34 pages, and lectures and meetings are described in it at length. The Society had in this year five sections, namely, Conchological, Entomological, Geological, Ornithological and Botanical. At the Annual General Meeting described in the Report the President said that the Society numerically and financially, compared favourably with any in Yorkshire. At this Meeting Dr.Sorby described some of the objects dredged up in his summer cruise in his yacht the “Glimpse”. A talk by Dr.Sorby on such objects is described in almost every Report that I have seen.
At the conversazione which was held in the Cutlers’ Hall there again was much interest shown in the microscopical objects arranged by Dr.Dallenger and it is stated that “Only during the delivery of the Presidential Address in the Old Banqueting Hall was locomotion easy in the exhibition rooms”.
The next Report in the Public Library is the 13th. dated 1884, and in it reference is made to the death of John Alfred Bladen. His collection of 5,000 local fossils and geological specimens was bought by the Museum, as was the Collection of Flowers made by Amos Carr, who died in the same year. The attendance at the conversazione (in the Cutlers’ Hall on April 4th.) described in this Report was 550. It was followed by a Subscription Ball in the New Banqueting Hall, which was attended by 180 persons out of which a profit of £8. was made. Prizes were offered in this year for essays on Natural History, but only two papers were sent in. The Society presented 150 mounted specimens of plants to the Museum (not all collected locally), also 30 specimens of mosses and 40 fungi.
The next Report is dated 1889. By this time the Society is not nearly so flourishing. The membership has dropped from 239 to 84, and Dr. Dallinger’s name no longer appeared amongst the list of members. Sums received in subscriptions had dropped from £90 to £35, and the Report contained only 16 pages of very open print. Four lectures were held and four excursions, of which one was abandoned owing to bad weather. The conversazione was now held in the Montgomery Hall. Mr.E.Howard was now President and Professor Denny spoke on the “Life History of the Liver Fluke”. The event concluded with a Cinderella Dance until midnight. In the Report for 1890 it is stated that of four excursions announced, three had to be abandoned owing to bad weather. There were five lectures and a conversazione in the Cutlers’ Hall, though there was no dance to conclude the event – (the omission disappointed some of the members and their friends). Mr. Arnold T. Watson’s name appears for the first time in this report; he spoke on “Studies of the Habits of the Tube Building Worms”. Membership was now 74. In 1894 the Society produced a better Report, with 34 pages. The membership was now 81. In this Report occurs the name of Mr.E.Snelgrove who was the first President of the Sorby Scientific Society. The Report speaks of increased activities and a conversazione was held in the Public Museum and Art Gallery. There were four lectures, and excursions to Castleton, Sherwood Forest, and Ashopton. A Ramblers’ Section was formed to compile records of local flora and fauna. This section made five visits to Ecclesall Woods, Wharncliffe Woods (twice), Rivelin and Holmesfield. Mr.E.Snelgrove acted as Recorder. On July 20th. 1894 the Society met in the conservatories of the Botanical Gardens, “where living specimens of Date Palm, Tapioca Plant, Venus’s Fly Trap, the Victoria Regina, and the Sacred Lotus were seen amongst many others”.
At the conversazione in addition to the lectures, there were songs, selections of music, a talk on the “History of the Guitar”, with musical and limelight illustrations, Mr.Harvey gave a trombone (Ora Pro Nobis) and Mr.Jackson a clarinet solo (Passing Thoughts). A visit was made this year to the Ruskin Museum, and a list of about 350 local plants appears in the Report.
There is now a long gap in the Records, and I have been able to find nothing until I come to the copy of the Society’s Proceedings Vol.1. price 2/6 printed by Northend’s, in the Public Library, dated 1910. The president is now Mr.T.Skelton Cole, the Vice-presidents are Mr.Cosmo Johns and Mr.P.J.Hay, and on the Council are Mr.Howarth, Professor Denny, Mr.E.Snelgrove, Mr.G.W.Roome, and Professor Patten; the membership is now 94. Amongst the names that appear is that of Mr.J.H.Highfield (who died on the day this Address was delivered) who has been for long associated with our Society and is now an honorary member. Mr.J.M.Brown is referred to in the Preface but he does not appear to have been a member. 1910 was, of course, the year of the visit to Sheffield of the British Association, and the Society took a large part in preparing the Handbook; indeed, the Proceedings, Vol.1., consists of the articles on Geology and other branches of Natural History which appeared in the British Association Handbook.
On January 27th. the conversazione was held for the first time in the rooms of the Literary and Philosophical Society. There were several talks and a musical programme by Mr.Callum’s Band. In 1910 the Society arranged nine meetings, including a public lecture in the Victoria Hall on December 2nd. by Professor W.Stirling of Manchester, entitled “Animal Movement”, which was illustrated by the cinematograph. 900 persons attended and the lecture was enthusiastically received, but there was a loss on this meeting of £5.13s.0d. At the Members’ Night 6 members took part. There were five excursions, which were all well attended, amongst them a Fungus Foray at Ringinglow on October 15th. The Society finished the year with £24. in hand.
The Second Volume of the Proceedings was published in 1914; with it is included the Annual Reports for 1911-12 and 13. A copy of this Volume is in the Public Library. It contains a most interesting account of Dr.R.Deakin by Mr.Innocent. Dr.Deakin was born in Nottingham in 1809 and settled in practice about 1833 in Attercliffe, which is described as being “the largest village in the Parish of Sheffield”, reached from Sheffield by a lovely country road. Dr.Deakin was a keen botanist. While still young he discovered the Cornish Bladder Seed Danas cornubiensis (which until then had been thought to be an exclusively British plant) growing in sandy fields on the north coast of Portugal. He was a friend of Sir William Hooker. In 1835 he published “The Florigraphia Britannica” which came out in monthly parts. The price of each part was 1/- coloured and 6d. plain. Each part contained two illustrations by Deakin and a description by Marnock, who was the first Curator of the Botanical Gardens and editor of the Floricultural Magazine, which was published by the Sheffield Mercury in 1839. Marnock went to London and became one of the leading landscape gardeners of the day. In 1875 he laid out Western Park, “Florigraphia Britannica” was published as a complete work between 1841 and 1848, with over 1600 plates and 1500 pages of text, price £5.4s.0d. plain and £9.8s.6d. with coloured plates. In looking today (November 1954) at a catalogue of botanical books sent to me by Messrs.B.Quaritch of London, I noticed a copy of this work, which is described as “rare” price £8s.10.0d. – a cheaper edition published in 1887. This book, which was the first of its kind published in Sheffield, was printed by G.Ridge, in the Mercury Office, King Street. The aims were said to be “to place in the hands of botanical students and the intelligent admirer of our native flora a work which should at once be cheap, full, accurate and respectable”. There was to be a treatise on plants of the whole of Britain, with engravings, and of plants as seen by the naked eye and also as seen under the microscope. Deakin was a member of the Council of the Literary and Philosophical Society, and read a paper to that Society on “British Lichens”. He appears to have tried to please both botanical students and the general reader, for the work contains minute descriptions of plants, and also articles on such subjects as “how to make wine from parsnips”, and there occur long quotations from the works of Ebenezer Elliott, R.Blackmore etc. Deakin travelled much on the continent, especially in Italy, where he made many paintings. In 1855 he settled in practice in Rome, and published a “Flora of the Colosseum of Rome”, which contained descriptions of 420 different species which he had found growing on that building. (Mussolini, I am told, gave orders that the Colosseum was to be stripped of its plants, and it now has no flora). Deakin later published a chart of Meteorology of Rome, and became interested in Italian Nationalism. He also listed and painted some hundreds of fishes caught at Nice. He returned to England about 1860, settled at Tunbridge Wells, and in 1871 published a Flora of Tunbridge Wells and neighbourhood, in which each plant mentioned had well-drawn illustrations. He took up photography and photographed every cathedral in England. He died in 1875, and the local paper in an obituary notice, said that “his active mind, never happy unless employed and always bent on something good and profitable, could in a moment descend from lofty studies to the little details of life and concentrate itself on a poor man’s trouble as wholly as on a scientific question”.
One of the articles in Volume Two of the Proceedings is entitled “The New Field Botany of the Sheffield District”. This is by A.W.Bartlett, who says that he is concerned with the relations of plants to each other and their environment, and with the means by which plants become adapted to their surroundings conditions and not just with their names. The Volume also contains a list of 171 local fungi found on Forays in 1910, 11, 12 & 13.
At the Annual General Meeting for 1914 I find that Professor Patten was President. Nine lectures had been arranged, including two by Professor Fearnsides and one by Mr. Arthur Whitaker, and there were seven outdoor Meetings. The subscriptions were dropping a little, and the reserves were diminishing. The 45th. Annual Report, published in 1915, says that seven members had joined the Forces, and that there had been no new members during the year. Mr. Bentley was now President. Eleven meetings had been held in the previous year, and a systematic botanical survey of the Ewden Valley was started.
I have been unable to find any further Records of the activities of this Society until it joined with the Sheffield Microscopical Society to form the Sorby Scientific Society in 1918.
Our own Society, which was first named the Sorby Scientific Society, was founded on January 1st 1918, as is stated on the back of our yearly programme. The first entry in the Society’s Minutes Book states that at a combined meeting of the Sheffield Naturalists Club and the Sheffield Microscopical Society held on December 14th. 1917, in the University, it was resolved that these two societies should amalgamate on 1st. January 1918, and that the joint Councils of the two societies should draw up a new Constitution.
The first General Meeting of the Sorby Scientific Society was held in the University on January 25th 1918, with Mr.B.H.Bentley in the Chair. A letter was read from the President and Secretary of the Sheffield Junior Naturalists Club, asking if the latter Society could join the amalgamation, and this was agreed. Draft rules which had been drawn up by the Joint Councils of the Naturalists Club and the Microscopical Society were accepted, and a Council for the new Society was elected. This consisted of seven members from the Naturalists Club, seven from the Microscopical Society and one (Mr.T.Goddard) from the Junior Naturalists Club. The names of the members of the first Council are Mrs.Mawson, Mr.Bentley, Mr. Booker, Mr. Howarth, Mr.Cosmo Johns, Mr.E.Snelgrove, Mr.C.H.Wells, Mr.J.Austen, Mr.J.Joseph Gibson, Mr.C.F.Giddings, Mr.Hoole, Professor Patten, Mr. Roome, Mr.Whitehurst, Mr.Goddard; Mr.Snelgove was elected President, Mr.Hoole Treasurer and Mr.Roome recorder. Mr.C.H.Wells was the first Secretary, and it is in his beautiful handwriting that the Minutes are written through the greater part of the first Minutes Book.
At an early Meeting the following resolution was passed: “Should the Society be dissolved, its property and funds must be conveyed to some other local scientific society with cognate objects, or to the University of Sheffield, as the Society may decide. Its property and funds must on no account be distributed among members”. No doubt the framers of this resolution had mainly in view the very valuable Cocker microscope, which had been given to the Sheffield Microscopical Society and was now the property of the new Society.
At a Meeting on March 18th it was agreed that the Minutes Books and Records of the Sheffield Naturalists Club be deposited in the library of the Sheffield Public Museum. Unfortunately, this does not appear to have been done. Neither Mr.Baggaley nor Mr.Singleton have seen those Minutes Books, and it must be assumed that they have been lost. The inaugural General Meeting of the Society was held on March 25., with the President, Mr.Snelgrove in the Chair. About forty members were present. The President delivered a short address, mentioning the names and work of several prominent local naturalists and scientists, and referring specially to Henry Clifton Sorby. This was followed by a talk by the President entitled “Botanical Contributions to Wartime Needs”. The latter referred especially to the potato and its allies, potato diseases and to sphagnum moss and its use in the treatment of wounds.
I will describe this first year of the Society’s life at some length. The first Field Meeting was held on April 27th. in the Ewden Valley, under the leadership of Mr.C.F.Innocent. 33 Members were present. An attempt was made at this time to obtain the permanent use of a room in the Literary and Philosophical Society’s premises in Church Street as headquarters of the Society, where its property could be housed, but the attempt was unsuccessful. Excursions were made on May 25th. to Cordwell Valley, on June 22nd. to Kiveton Park and Lindrick, and on July 27th. to Lindrick Dale. On September 28th. a Fungus Foray was held in Clumber Park, led by Mr.Joseph Gibson. A list of the 31 species identified is still in the Minutes Book, with the descriptions of their frequency, condition, etc. At the bottom of the list is written “a number of very small or micro-fungi I was unable to identify”. The party returned on Sunday evening having experienced a very successful time, “not the least satisfactory feature being, according to the leaders graphic account, the excellence of the provisions and culinary success at Normanton Inn”. On October 25th. an evening was devoted to the life and work of Dr.Sorby, at which Dr.Hicks, Professor Arnold, Professor Denny, Mr.E.Howarth and Mr.Cosmo Johns spoke.
The next meeting was on November 15th 1918. This seems to have been a Members’ Night, as seven members spoke. The President made a reference to the fact that this was the first occasion on which the Society had met in times other than those of war, with a final and victorious peace in sight, and expressed the hope that the Society, whose objects were essentially those of peace, would continue in a prosperous and flourishing career, having emerged from a period of unparalleled difficulty and strain”.
On December 13th. Mr.W.H.Hanbury lectured to the Society on “Extinct Animals”. The first Annual General Meeting was held on January 31st. 1919. Mr.Snelgrove, the President, was in the Chair, and 22 members were present. It was at this meeting that Mr.A.L.Gibson, who has audited our Society’s accounts since its formation, was elected a Member. Mr.C.H.Wells, the Secretary, appealed for a larger membership and for the appointment of a Recorder, and suggested that the Society should print a volume of Transactions. He said that fourteen new members had been elected during the year, and five had resigned, leaving a present membership of 162. Five outdoor excursions had been held, and four lectures. The average attendances at the excursions was 16 and at the indoor meetings 33. Mr.Snelgrove was re-elected President.
I will deal more briefly with the next years of the Society. On April 26th. 1919 we are told that a Field Meeting was held in Stainborough Woods, and that the party was “conducted over Wentworth Castle, and the many and varied objects of art were much admired”.
At a Council Meeting held on May 24th. 36 Members were said to be behind in paying their subscriptions, and a number of these were struck off.
The Second Annual General Meeting was held on January 29th 1920. The membership was now 130. The Secretary said that five outdoor Meetings had been held, and in spite of a railway strike, bad weather, and other obstacles, the average attendance was 12, and at the lectures it was 29. His report ends with another appeal for increased membership. Mr.G.W.Roome was elected President and Mr.Snelgrove Recorder. At this Meeting Mr.H.L.Belbin joined the Society.
At the Third Annual General Meeting in 1921 Mr.Joseph Gibson was elected President, and Mr.W.H.Wilcockson became a Member. Mr.Tucker was now the Secretary. At this Meeting Mr.Roome gave his Presidential Address dealing with Dr.Sorby’s work as an amateur scientist, and spoke of the value of purely amateur work of a scientific character as compared with professional and subsidised research. The Secretary reported an increase in membership to 147, 27 new members having been elected in the year and he said that attendances at meetings had increased. In this year the Geological Section appears to have been formed with Mr. Dalton as Hon. Secretary. The Section arranged several excursions in 1921, and lectures at which Professor Fearnsides spoke on Geology and Commerce and Mr.Wilcockson on the Development of the Don Valley. At a Meeting of the Society held on March 22, a resolution was passed and sent to the Town Clerk protesting against the destruction of Ecclesall Woods. At a Council Meeting held in August 1921 it was agreed that the Society headquarters should be at the Church House in St.James Street, where they remained for about seventeen years.
At the Annual General Meeting held on January 18th. 1922 Mr.Bernard Hobson was elected President. Mr.Joseph Gibson, on retiring, gave his Presidential Address on “The Efficient Manipulation of the Microscope” and a number of members read short papers and showed specimens. The Treasurer’s Report for this year has not been preserved, but it is clear that a Microscopical Section had now been formed. In February Mr.Snelgove lectured to 50 members on “Wild Flowers and how to identify them”, and in March Mr. Kent Smith spoke on “Radium”.
At the Annual General Meeting in 1923 Mr.Cosmo Johns was elected President. Mr.Bernard Hobson gave his address on “New Zealand, its Volcanoes, Glaciers, and Fiords”. An Anthropological Section was formed now; Mr.A.Bayliss was elected Secretary, and the formation of Botanical, Ornithological and Entomological Sections was considered.
At the Annual General Meeting held on January 11th. 1924, Mr.Cosmo Johns gave his address entitled “The Relationship of a Local Scientific Society to the Community”. The Secretary said that the membership had now increased to 182. The Society was trying to open a library. At this meeting Mr.J.Kent Smith, C.B.E., was elected President.
In 1924 attendances at Field Meetings were becoming larger. On May 17th., 64 Members attended an excursion to Conisborough Castle. 42 Members visited Creswell Crags on June 14th., under the leadership of Mr.Armstrong.
At the Annual General Meeting held on January 1925, Mr.Kent Smith gave his Presidential Address on “Some Facts about the History of Iron”. Mr.J.Austin was elected President. There is no General Secretary’s Report for 1924. On March 10th., 49 Members heard Mr. Wilcockson speak on “The Rocks and Fossils of the West Riding”. 74 were present on an excursion to Conisborough and Maltby Common on May 16th. On June 13th., 97 went again to the caves of Creswell with Mr. Armstrong. This appears to have been a joint Meeting with the Hunter Archaeological Society and the East Derbyshire Field Club. There was an excursion to Mam Tor on July 4th. lead by Mr.Cosmo Johns. In November Mr.Bayliss resigned from the office of Secretary, and Mr.Hugill was elected in his place.
The Annual General Meeting was held in the Metallurgical Club, 198, West Street, in January 1926, when Dr.A.G.Mackintosh was elected President. Many minute alterations to the Rules were made, and the Secretary presented a cheerful Report. 40 new Members had been elected, and the membership was now 175. The average attendance at Field Meetings was 53 and 41 at indoor Meetings. Reports were also presented by the secretaries of the Geological Section (members now 44) which had held eight meetings, and the Biological Section, both of which were engaged upon a survey of the district around Stoney Middleton. The Society had also an Anthropological Section and a Microscopical Section, and there was talk of the formation of a Meteorological Section. Mr.C.H.Ashton was now elected Secretary. On the suggestion of Mr.A.E.Upton who generously offered to pay the first subscription, the Society became a subscriber this year to the Ray Society; the annual volumes issued by this Society are still being received, and are placed in the Society’s Library. We are told that Dr.Mackintosh was present at all the Meetings during his year as President, except for the Annual General meeting on January 15th. 1927 when he was away owing to an epidemic of smallpox in his district. At this Meeting Mr.A.L.Armstrong was elected President and Mr.Neep the Honorary Secretary. Mr.Armstrong gave his address on “Early Settlements in the Sheffield Area – Some Recent Advancements in our Knowledge”. Ecclesall Woods were acquired for the public in this year, there had been many Resolutions from the Society in previous years, urging the Corporation to purchase these Woods. A lecture on the Woods was given by Mr.A.Whitaker in December.
In 1928 Mr.C.H.Wells was elected President. He gave his address on “Bird Sanctuaries”, a subject which aroused much interest amongst members in view of the suggestion that part of Ecclesall Woods should be fenced off as a nature reserve. Mr.Baggaley was now elected General Secretary. A large scale map was bought to be used in the botanical survey of Ecclesall Woods, and an Ecclesall Woods Sub-committee was formed. We are told that on April 5th. there was a visit to Clifton Park Museum. “This was an extremely pleasant gathering, members were received by the Mayor of Rotherham, who gave a warm welcome and introduced a good deal of pleasantry into a racy speech, after which he kindly provided refreshments”. The Honorary Curator Mr.Ethert Brand, was present.
In the same month the Publications Committee met for the first time, and eight papers were approved for publication. At this time, the Society’s Meetings were well reported in the local press; three inches was given to a description of a visit to Stanton and Birchover, led by Mr.A.Armstrong, and five inches to the fungus foray on September 22nd. in Rockley Wood, which was attended by 50 persons. At a Council Meeting in October it was resolved to proceed with the printing of the first volume of the Transactions by Messrs.Titus Wilson of Kendal. The Council Members made themselves responsible for any deficiency.
At the Annual General Meeting held in January 1929 Mr.W.H.Wilcockson was elected President, and in his Address spoke on Field Geology. Mr.Baggaley was again elected Honorary Secretary; his accounts of Meetings were very full and clear. I find my own name among the new members elected on July 20th., my Proposer being Dr.R.G.Abercrombie; the first Meeting I attended was a lecture by Dr.Woodhead of Huddersfield on “History of the Vegetation of the Southern Pennines”. At a Council Meeting held in November it was said that the cost of the printed Transactions was £55. Members had subscribed £28.6s.6d. and a cheque for £30 on account was sent to the printers. There is no record of the payment of the remainder. I presume it was made privately by the Members of the Council who had guaranteed the deficiency. Mr.A.Whitaker was President in 1930. The title of his Address was “British Bats and their Prey”. The Secretary was Mr.J.M.Johnson. His Report of 1930 (the first for several years) states that the Society held four indoor meetings with an average attendance of 25, and five excursions with an average attendance of 20. The membership had dropped to 115; a few years previously it had been 160.
In 1931 the President was Mr.R.O.Ducker, whose Address was entitled “Problems of Plant Life”. In this year the price of the Proceedings was reduced from five shillings to two and sixpence. When the Society left the Church House in 1937 a large parcel of unsold copies of the Proceedings was brought to my premises in Chapel Walk by Mr.Belbin, who thought they were now unsaleable. During the war, when books of all sorts were scarce, I offered them for sale at one shilling. They sold so quickly that I put up the price to two and six. When the stock was getting low I raised the price to the original five shillings, at which price practically all were sold. As a result, I was able to give the Treasurer about £20 which had been raised by the sale of these books. On May 16th.1931 at Longshaw, the Society held its first Sorby Anniversary Meeting. (Dr. Sorby died on May 10th. 1908). Mr.Austin spoke on the work of Dr.Sorby, and he was reported at length in the “Sheffield Telegraph”. At this Meeting, we are told “Members were asked to make a good survey of this area before it became spoiled by public access”. Mr.A.E.Upton was elected President in 1932, and I became the Honorary General Secretary at this Meeting. Dr.Arthur Hall spoke on “Early Days of Microscopy in Sheffield”, and gave the Society a microscope which had belonged to his father. The “Sheffield Telegraph” gave a whole column to its report of the Meeting, and there was also a large photograph of the presentation. The membership was now only 99. In this year, the name was changed from the Sorby Scientific Society to the Sorby Natural History Society of Sheffield, and it was agreed to admit Associates at a subscription of 2s.6d. Mr.Upton’s Presidential Address was on “Pioneers on Yorkshire Geology”. At the Sorby Anniversary Meeting Mr.Upton laid a wreath on Dr.Sorby’s grave in Ecclesall Churchyard, and gave a short address. After the ceremony a visit was made to Ecclesall Woods. Shortly before this Meeting the Society had paid for the re-gilding of the lettering on Dr.Sorby’s gravestone.
One of my first duties as Secretary was the arranging of a visit to Thorne Waste on July 17th. by private bus, the price of the tickets being 3s.6d. This was to have been a Joint Meeting with the Lancaster Scientific Society, but as certain members of the latter objected to a Sunday Meeting we had to go alone. On September 15th. the Society met for the first time in the Botanical Gardens led by Dr.Abercrombie, and it was suggested that such Meetings should take place every year. On December 8th. a conversazione was held in Western Park Museum, at which 100 members were present. There were short talks by Members and various exhibitions, including one by Messrs.Watson, the famous manufacturers of microscopes.
At the next Annual General Meeting in 1933 I was able to announce that the membership had increased to 112, and that a Geological Survey of Bradwell Dale was now being undertaken by the Geological Section; the principal workers were Dr.Shirley and Mr.E.Horsfield. Mr.Upton was re-elected President. In May the Anniversary Meeting was again held in Ecclesall Churchyard, at which Mr.E.A.Smith spoke on Dr.Sorby. On May 21st. there was a successful tour of the Derbyshire volcanoes, led by Mr.Wilcockson; two buses were needed to accommodate members. On July 22nd. another Meeting took place in the Botanical Gardens, and in October a Fungus Foray was held at Longshaw.
On December 13th. the Society was allowed to organise a Public Meeting in the large hall of the Junior Technical School in Leopold Street. At that time the Adult Education Joint Committee arranged such Meetings every Saturday evening during the winter. The Society was allowed to sponsor this one. About 500 persons attended, but none, I think, joined the Society. Mr.Wilcockson spoke on the geology of Sheffield, and Mr.Ethert Brand gave a humorous lecture on “Unnatural History”, with slides showing illustrations from old books. There were many exhibits prepared by Members.
At the Annual General Meeting in 1934 a small increase in membership was announced, and better attendances. Mr.J.M.Brown was elected President and gave his Address on “The Natural History of Burbage Brook and Other Streams”. Mr.Upton was elected Honorary Press Secretary. On May 10th. Professor Fearnsides spoke on Dr.Sorby at the Anniversary Meeting held in Ecclesall Churchyard. On May 24th. the Society arranged a visit by train to Whipsnade, with the University Natural History led by Professor Eastham. Eight of our Members attended. On April 21st. the Society visited Hull; Members were taken round six museums in two and a half hours by the Curator, Mr.T.Sheppard. It was agreed that this year a Members’ Night should take the place of a conversazione. On September 22nd. Mr.F.A.Mason led a Fungus Foray. 63 species were identified.
At the Annual General Meeting in 1935 membership had increased to 132; Professor Fearnsides was elected President, and gave his Address on “The Structure of the Southern Pennines”. At the Fungus Foray at Longshaw in September Mr.W.G.Bramley identified 62 species. On December 7th. of this year the Society acted as hosts to the Yorkshire Naturalists’ Union when it held its Annual General Meeting in the University of Sheffield. About 100 persons attended. Dr.Pickard Cambridge, the Vice-chancellor, received the members, and Mr.W.S.Bisset gave his Presidential Address on “The Drift Succession in Mid and East Yorkshire”.
At the Annual General Meeting in 1936 I was able to announce that the membership had increased to 140; twelve Meetings had been held, and attendances were again higher than in the previous year. Dr.Abercrombie was elected President, and gave his Address on “Some Problems of Bird Behaviour”. At the Fungus Foray Mr.T.B.Rowe identified 63 species (Mycologists in the Society will be interested to hear that the names of the species identified in this Foray are contained in the Minute Book in the Public Library). On October 14th. a Resolution was passed asking the President to write to the Minister of Health requesting him to set up a National Parks Committee to investigate the Scheduling of certain areas of Great Britain as National Parks, and to include the Peak District, the Lake District, and Snowdonia. The Society’s Library, which had been kept at Church House, where it was not well displayed or easily accessible, was moved to my premises in 1937, and from this date all new books received were mentioned in Notices.
At the Annual General Meeting in 1938 Dr.Edna Lind was elected President. I reported that only ten Meetings had been held in the year and the membership had dropped to 109, but attendances had been slightly better. It was suggested early in this year that Members should meet at my premises at Chapel Walk every Monday evening during the summer, between 6 and 6.30 to show any botanical specimens collected during the weekend. A number of reference books would be available. On the first Monday following this announcement, six Members were present, on the next Monday two, and on the succeeding ones, one only, namely myself.
The Anniversary meeting was held this year at Barlborough, under the leadership of Dr.Rankin and Mr.P.Biggin, and after tea Mr.Roome spoke on Dr.Sorby. In June Members went by special Ramblers’ train to Laughton-in-Ribblesdale, where they were met by Mr.Chris.Cheetham, Secretary of the Yorkshire Naturalists Union, who took the botanists up Pen-y-Ghent. It was a very beautiful day, and well worth the long journey in spite of the fact that the train, which was delayed on its return, did not arrive back until 1a.m. In November the Council decided to move from Church House, which it had occupied for seventeen years. In those years the Society had accumulated a considerable amount of property, much of which it was decided to offer to Members. The first showing of Natural History films arranged by the Society took place on December 14th. in the Physics Lecture Room of the University, and drew a large attendance. In August a letter was sent from the President congratulating the Sheffield Council on having scheduled much property around Sheffield as a green belt, on which building would not be allowed.
At the Annual General Meeting in 1939 I was able to announce an increase in Membership to 114, possibly as a result of putting up public notices for the first time on the Public Library notice board. Dr.Lind was re-elected President, and gave her address on “Some problems of life in fresh water”. This was the last meeting which the Society held in the Church House. For the next few years the meetings took place in one or other of the meeting rooms which were then available in the Central Library. After this meeting, some of the Society’s books, microscopes, etc., were offered to members for sale, and in some cases were given away, but the Cocker microscope was retained in the Society’s possession. Certain volumes of the Society’s library had been offered to and been accepted by the University Library and the Public Library. Another expedition was made this year to north Yorkshire, the Society again using the Ramblers’ train and visiting the Grassington area. The last meeting held before the outbreak of the Second World War was held on July 15th., at Hooton Roberts; the leader, Mr.A.A.Dalman. The meeting arranged for September 16th. was cancelled owing to the outbreak of war, but a fungus foray was held at Longshaw on October 14th. led by Mr.W.G.Bramley, which was attended by five members.
An exhibition of Natural History films held in November was well attended, and at the Annual General Meeting held in January 1940 I was able to announce that membership and attendances were about the same. Mr.H.L.Belbin, who for many years had been our Treasurer, was elected President, while retaining the office of Treasurer. On October 17th. the Society (at the suggestion of Professor Pearsall) held a Members’ Night, the first for a number of years. Several papers were read by members. The exhibition of films on November 14th. was well attended. A lecture by Mr.R.H.Hall of Buxton, arranged for Friday, December 14th. 1940 was cancelled owing to the air raid on the previous night.
At the Annual General Meeting in 1941 I was able to announce an increase in membership to 131, and also an increase in attendances from 12 to 21. With the exception of Mr.Hall’s meeting all meetings had gone according to plan, and even the tea provided seem plentiful as before the war. (I was not able to say this for much longer!) Mr.Belbin was re-elected President, the title of his address was “Some Basic Igneous Rocks and their Scenic effects”. In 1941 the Society issued its first printed Report, a copy of which, as of all other Reports, is in the Public Library. Owing to aid raids on Leeds on March 4th. Dr.Sledge was unable to come to Sheffield to give a lecture arranged for March 15th. on “Some Notes on Irish Flora”. Dr.Grainger was unable to lead the fungus foray arranged for October 11th. owing to shortage of petrol. Miss Doris Downend (Now Mrs.Parkin) volunteered to act as leader in his place. At a Members’ Night held on October 16th. four papers were read and there were many exhibits, and 65 Members attended the exhibition of films in November.
Dr.Shirley was elected President in 1942, and the Society visited the new buildings of the University on February 27th. and were shown round the Botanical Dept. by Professor Pearsall and the Zoology Department by Professor Eastham. On October 11th. 1942 Mr.H.C.Belbin, who had been Treasurer since 1927 and who had given great service to the Society for many years, died. A number of Members attended the funeral and a wreath was sent on behalf of the Society.
Dr.Shirley was re-elected President in 1943, and in his Address spoke on “The Scenery and Geology of North Derbyshire”. On February 16th. Mr.Bottomley was elected Treasurer, the office which he held until January 1952. On June 10th. the Society held a Public Botanical Meeting in the Porter Valley, at which I acted as leader. This Meeting was advertised in the Corporation’s “Holidays at Home” programme, and I was apprehensive of the number of members of the general public who might attend, but there is a note in the Minute Book – “The public did not attend in embarrassingly large numbers”.
On May 16th. Mr.Ralph Chislett led a Meeting for the study of bird song at Hawkswood, near Anston. In spite of the bus and tram strikes, which necessitated walking to the station (for there were no private cars available for this purpose in those days) nineteen Members attended. Seven papers were read at a Members’ Meeting held in November, and fifty-five members were present at the exhibition of Natural History films on December 11th. In the Report for this year I stated that membership had increased by 23, and was now 156. There had been twelve General Meetings and also ten arranged by the Biological Section and five by the Geological Section.
At the Annual General Meeting in 1944 Mrs.Doris Parkin was elected President. The subscription, which had been five shillings for many years was now raised to seven and six. On April 19th. there was a field meeting at Grindleford which 45 Members attended. I quote from the Minutes Book – “The train was packed; there were 23 in my compartment. Tea was a problem, as the “Scotsman’s Pack” could accommodate 30 only. The remainder had tea elsewhere (I hope)”. At a well-attended “Bird Song” meeting at Shireoaks in May 14th. Mr.A.Thompson was leader, and 43 species were seen or heard. At this Meeting a Resolution was passed against the Corporation allowing building on the green belt. On June 18th. the Society arranged another public Botanical Meeting, this time in Graves Park, but only fifteen persons, all of whom were members, attended. In describing a Field Meeting at Castleton on July 23rd. led by Mr.C.Waite, I stated “29 persons ignored the discomforts of war-time travel and attended this Meeting”. The Members’ Night held on October 14th. is described as the most successful ever held; 4 talks were given and there were many exhibits. On November 18th. the Society held for the first time two Meetings in one day. In the morning the Geology Section arranged a talk by Dr.Hudson on “Lagoons and Atolls”, and there was a Members’ Meeting in the afternoon. Lunch was arranged in the Reform Club. There is a note in the Minutes Book – “May not this be the embryo of a Sorby Festival, which will some day grow into a week of lectures, demonstrations and discussions in the Oval Hall?” 70 Members attended an exhibition of films in December.
The report for 1944 begins – “This year was the most successful from every point of view (except, perhaps for that of Members who do not like crowds) in the history of the Society”. Seventeen General Meetings had been held; there were also six arranged by the Geological Section, and ten by the Biological Section. The average attendance at Field Meetings was 24, at the lectures 41; 47 new members had been elected and the membership had now increased to 187. At the Annual General Meeting in 1945 Mrs.Parkin was re-elected President, and gave her address on “Floral Memories of 1944”, which was illustrated with beautiful lantern slides. At a Meeting for the study of bird song on May 13th. at Shireoaks, the leader, Mr.R.Chislett was astonished to find that 55 persons descended from the train with him. His visions of stealthy approach to rare birds had therefore to be abandoned, but 37 species were identified during the day. An indication of slightly easier conditions occurs in the description of a Meeting at Lindrick led later in the year by Mr.John Brown. 24 persons attended and a number arrived in private cars, of which there were 4. Seventy members accommodated in two private buses attended a Meeting in the Worksop district arranged by the Geological Section. Many more wanted to come, but accommodation could not be found for them. Ninety Members attended the exhibition of Natural History films in December. The Report for the year opens with what I described as “A monotonous description of the year as the most successful in the history of the Society”. Sixty-three new members had been elected, and the membership had increased by 46 to 233. The average attendance at Field Meetings was 36 and at indoor Meetings 49. Membership of the Biological Section was now 93, of the Geological Section 57, and 13 General Meetings had been held. Dr.A.H.Rankin was elected President in 1946. In this year the Ornithological Section was formed, at the suggestion of a letter from Mr.L.Carr, which was signed by 17 members. Dr.A.H.Rankin was re-elected President in 1947. His Presidential Address was on “The Scenery of the Clyde”. At the Annual General Meeting I stated that the membership was now 251, 47 members having been elected in the past year. The Society was, however, getting into financial difficulties, as the expenditure had exceeded income by £11.
Two buses were needed to take members to Dovedale on May 18th. 1947, a Meeting led by Dr.Parkinson. In this year it was agreed that each section should arrange two lectures on its own subject during the winter months, to which all members should be invited. This arrangement still (1955) holds. It has resulted in a better balanced programme of winter lectures and in better attendances. In the Report for 1947 I stated that the membership was 250, 44 new members having been elected in 1946. The Society held in all (including sectional meetings) 39 meetings in 1947, six more than in any previous year. The Ornithological Section had now 50 members, and was very active, with Mr.Leonard Carr as Secretary. At the Annual General Meeting in 1948 Mr.T.L.C.Bottomley was elected President. He kindly agreed to retain the office of Honorary Treasurer, which he had held for some years. On May 22nd. a Meeting was arranged in Ecclesall Woods. Eight Members stayed the night in the woodman’s hut to hear the dawn chorus in the early morning. For six months from October 1948, a period during which I was ill, the Minutes are in Mr.Bottomley’s beautiful handwriting. At this time he appears to have been acting in the office of President, Treasurer, and Secretary, with much help from Mr.Upton, who was acting as Assistant Secretary. Mr.Bottomley was re-elected President at the Annual General Meeting in 1949. The membership was now 231, a decrease of 19 mainly due to the fact that a number of members had been struck off. Thirty-four new members were elected in 1948. The Biological Section had a membership of 103 and the Geological Section had a membership of 62, and so had the Ornithological Section. The latter Section was especially active, and had arranged long trips to Flaxfleet and Bempton during the past year. The Society held three fungus forays in 1948 and there was a good Members’ Meeting, more papers had been read than ever before, but there was a deficit of £8.16s.6d. on the year’s working.
At the Annual General Meeting in 1950 I stated that the membership was 221. Attendances at meetings were still good, and more books were being borrowed from the library. At this Meeting the subscription was raised to 10s.6d. Mr.Bottomley gave his Presidential Address on “The Life History of the Oak Gall”. 88 specimens were identified at the Fungus Foray, held at Longshaw, and seventy-three at a Foray held a week later, in Cordwell Valley. Some members of the Society were now helping in the revision of Linton’s Flora of Derbyshire. At the end of 1950 the Society’s increased subscription has resulted in a surplus of £9 on the year’s working. At the Annual General Meeting in 1951 I stated that the membership was 220. Mr.Bottomley was again re-elected President, and at this Meeting spoke on “Natural History of Bees”. 1951 was a successful year; much detail was given on the notices convening Meetings, and there were excellent reports by leaders. In the Minutes Book there are long lists of species found on the three Fungus Forays.
At the Annual General Meeting in 1952 Mr.Bottomley’s four year period as President came to an end, and I was elected in his place, Mr.Bottomley taking up the office as General Secretary, which I had held for twenty years. The annual exhibition of Natural History Films was now becoming less popular, only thirty members attending in 1952. This was attributed to the fact that such films were now shown more frequently in the public cinemas. At a Fungus Foray in 1953, 114 species were identified, the largest number ever identified at one Foray.
At the Annual General Meeting in 1954 I was re-elected President. In this year, on May 16th the Society arranged a trip to Snowdonia, a private motor bus starting at 7.30a.m. and returning at 10.30p.m. The price of tickets was 19s.6d. No time was allowed for meals in hotels, and yet two buses were needed, so large was the number of members attending. At the conclusion of my Address in November 1954, I stated that having read all the material I could find on the Sheffield Literary and Philosophical Society, the Sheffield Microscopical Society, the Sheffield Naturalist Club, I was convinced that no Society had offered to the citizens of Sheffield so many meetings during the year as our own Society had done in the past few years.
The history of the Sorby Natural History Society from 1954 to 2004 is currently in preparation. We would welcome any contributions in the form of recollections, photographs or reports of activities particularly from the 1950s and 1960s.
Please send material to Derek Whiteley, Beech Cottage, Wardlow, Derbyshire SK17 8RP (or email: ).