The Father of Modern Botany

For the last 12 years I have been a regular ‘behind the scenes’ volunteer in the Library at RHS Wisley.  Each week I never quite know what I will be doing and I have written before about my one regular job and about one of the perks of the job.  However last week I had one of the most interesting mornings I have ever spent in the library. 

Recently there has been a lot of boxing up of materials to go into temporary storage while building work is done on the library, but last week I had to unpack some of the ‘glass case’ books, rare and/or valuable books kept in a locked case.  The first box contained a copy of ‘The first and seconde partes of the Herbal of William Turner Doctor in Phisick’  printed in 1568.  Four hundred and forty four years old and still available to us today.  This was the first English herbal (book on herbs and plants) to scientifically record the plant kingdom and was such a landmark publication that it led to Turner being christened the ‘father of modern botany’.  In the twentieth century this book had been beautifully rebound and given to ‘Prudence A. Bosanquet from Mother, February 28. 1948’ who in turn gave it to the RHS in January 1977.  The skills I learned at the Research workshop held in the Autumn, helped me to look up and understand the Lindley Library catalogue record for the book which reveals many more details about the provenance and contents of this book. 

Apart from being an amazing book my interest was sparked as Turner came from my home town, Morpeth in Northumberland.  Although it is not known if he ever returned to his birthplace after he left to study at Pembroke College in Cambridge, Morpeth celebrates the connection with a Turner Garden in the centre of town.  A recreation of this garden was awarded a Bronze Flora medal at the 2004 RHS Bicentennary Chelsea Flower Show.

To further the feeling of a personal connection with the man, Marilyn Tweddle, wife of my father’s history teacher, co-produced a modern facsimile edition that faithfully reproduces the beautiful sixteenth century black-letter text and woodcut illustrations. It also contains a modernized transcript, translating the gothic script of the original into something more easily read.

Four more boxes held other wonderful volumes but nothing matched the thrill of that book taken out of the first box.

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