Some recollections of past (and present) Society members by Bob Reed.
These recollections are purely my own words and thoughts, as I am looking back over 30 years there are bound to be inaccuracies for which I apologise and any mistakes are entirely my own for which I take responsibility. I joined the society in the late 1960s whilst a Sixth Former at school, meetings were being held in the what might be called the sewing room at the Herts and Essex High School.
Geoffrey to this day has encyclopedic knowledge of moths in particular and I have never known a specimen which he could not name. He lived in a thatched cottage at Bamber’s Green with his wife Jill and regularly ran a mercury vapour light Trail in the back garden. He was one of the trio including Charles Watson and John Fielding who dedicated themselves to make a list of the moths in our area and throughout the season would regularly visit any area of old woodland and marsh, setting up at least two mercury vapour light traps powered by a petrol generator which also had to be carried to the site. It was quite usual for them to stay on until the early hours and they frequently recorded well in excess of 100 species of moths. Geoffrey can be given credit for re-starting coppicing in Hatfield Forest and Birchanger Wood. I think that his interest must have been stimulated both by the decline in butterfly species that he had observed in the Forest over the years and the pioneering writing and work done by Oliver Rackham in getting coppicing restarted in other ancient woodlands. The group, which is still going today, was started by putting an advertisement in the free local newspaper in 1975 “Coppicers Wanted”, he had a surprisingly good response and at least one of the original recruits is still working with the group today after 40 years. Over the years Geoffrey served the society and held several of the key Officer posts.
Was a specialist on algae, his notes and records can be found in the section on Sawbridgeworth Marsh. He was in correspondence not only with some Cambridge academics but also with John Clegg and Lund, both authors of books on freshwater life, of the Freshwater Biological Association at Windermere.
Charles and Shirley Watson.
Charles and Shirley ran the South Road Nursery business in Bishops Stortford. Charles was not only a very knowledgeable entomologist but also a good botanist. He regularly ran a mercury vapour light trap in his garden in Thorley Park Road and took great interest in raising caterpillars and ultimately adult moths from eggs. He was not a collector and did this just for interest, the adults being released. In the latter years he took a special interest in bees, wasps and hover flies finding many and usual and rare species in our home area.
Along with his wife Shirley, who is also an extremely knowledgeable botanist, they together made a comprehensive list of our local flora which was duly passed to County Records. Shirley has written a list of rare plants for an area which can be found elsewhere on this site. They were both dedicated to our home area and it was not at all unusual to see both of them hard at work on some distant roadside verge busy recording plant species growing there.
One amusing episode took place when they discovered what was a very rare plant is not only for our area but the country. It transpired somewhat embarrassingly, that another one of our botanist members had ‘imported’ the seeds from France and placed them on one of our local roadside verges, later to be found by the Watsons when they were in bloom!
To this day, Shirley is active in the society and the one abiding impression is that she is always more than willing to help and encourage younger and less knowledgeable members of the Society to pass on her plant recognition and identification skills.
John and Mollie Godfree.
John and Mollie lived in a house that they had built on the side of the village green at Meesden which was always a popular venue for summer house meetings. For many years John was a biology teacher, later rising to a senior position at Hadham Hall School. He was an enthusiastic ‘old school biology teacher and would have been responsible for starting a lot of youngsters of on an interest in natural history. He was himself a very knowledgeable botanist with a special interest in alpine vegetation, the clue being the name of his house which was ‘Ben Lawers’. His particular speciality was the Saxifrage family, many of which he grew from seed in pots in his garden. John was responsible for getting a Clearwing Moths.
One of Charles Watson’s specialities was turning a section of the village green turned into a nature reserve against the general trend of clear mowing such areas which was the thing to do at one time. He would give regular guided tours around the area and point out the large variety of species growing on this special area which I understand continues to be preserved and managed for nature after his death.
John was a very keen and capable photographer, he put this into practice on their annual holiday to Norway and also through photograph in the wide variety of birds which visited the leading stations in his garden. At one time he was also warden of Patmore Heath Nature Reserve where he was instrumental in showing, through pollen analysis of the varied soil, that the Heath used to be covered in Heather and this has influenced management practices on the Heath today. As with other members John held a variety of Officer post over the years.
All Arthur and Mary Scholes.
Arthur and Mary lived in Stansted where Mary was one of the first people to work from home carrying out histological work on botanical material. They were
both enthusiastic and knowledgeable supporters of the Society. They kept regular rainfall measurements in their garden which can be found throughout the Minutes of the meetings, they worked in Imperial units and it is not uncommon to find measurements such as 11 9/64 of an inch of rain. I also remember that Mary was a capable local artist and that Arthur who had a love of wood and timber never wore any socks!
Michael and Cynthia White.
Michael was a solicitor in Bishops Stortford and they lived at the Sycamores where Michael grew tropical orchids in his greenhouse. They were regular hosts to our summer house meetings where people relished Cynthia’s cooking. Michael was a capable botanist and a keen photographer- one criticism which we all enjoyed was that he would take a large number of photographs of the same plant which would then appear as a contribution to one of our Members Evenings. Cynthia is one claim to notoriety was that she demolished the end wall of their garage as I suspect the car she was driving was an automatic!
Judith and Trevor Coombes.
Judith and Trevor lived in Stansted, Trevor was dentist by profession and a very keen woodworker and model steam train enthusiast. They both had a general interest in Natural History and were strong supporters and great organisers of the Society appearing in many of the photographs of field meetings.
Beatrice and Harry Turner.
Beatrice and Harry were very strong supporters of the Society for many years stop an article which appeared in the local newspaper can be found elsewhere on this DVD which completely summarises their commitment.
Charles and Steven Robbins.
Charles was senior craft master at what was then the Bishop’s Stortford Boys Secondary School. He was an enthusiastic supporter of the society as well as a good leader. Charles was the first Warden of Shadwell Wood and later of the Aubrey Buxton NR. Charles had a special interest in black and white photography, doing his own developing and processing in their own darkroom at home. Steve was my old school friend at Newport Grammar, together we used to travel around in his revitalised Ford Popular visiting various disused chalk pits looking for fossils. Whilst in the Sixth Form we both developed an interest in mammals, carrying out dietary studies on badgers at Hallingbury and Brent Pelham. Steve later departed to follow various careers in conservation and the family moved to Cornwall in the early 1970s.
Kay and Ray Thompson.
Dr Ray Thompson lived in an idyllic thatched cottage at Braughing. Ray had a special interest in wildlife video and had a purpose-built studio in his garden. They both developed an in-depth interest in dragonflies, Kay became an expert photographer of these insects whilst Ray recorded a lot of nymphal activity in aquariums. Their names crop up regularly in the ‘Dragonfly Diaries’ written by Ruary Mackenzie Dodds where they helped in the formation of the first dragonfly reserve at Ashton Wold home to Miriam Rothschild, I have to say that the main reference is to them turning up with quantities of wine and food which of course would always have been welcome!
Ralph and Audrey Gilbert.
Both Ralph and Audrey have been long-term supporters of the society, they have both held various Officers posts and Ralph is currently President. I am sure that they would not mind me saying that either of them is a specialist in any particular field but an ongoing interest and enthusiasm for natural history and could be relied upon to report items of interest from the Needs in Bishop’s Stortford when they walked from their home in Kings Court to the Town. Ralph has always been active in local politics and as such was a very useful channel to keep the society in touch with developments or events that could have a natural history interest or an implication for conservation. Ralph has also always had a great interest in Birchanger Wood and has always been at the forefront of projects and developments to maintain a balance between public access and the conservation of this ancient local woodland.
John was another member with a long-term association with the Society. He appears as a young man in the black and white photographs taken in the late 1940s and was attending meetings at Hatfield Forest when the Society became Forest Nature in 2008. John was an expert and respected botanist both locally and regionally. He had a long-term association with what was then the Essex Naturalist Trust and was instrumental in the acquisition of what was to become the Sawbridgeworth Marsh Nature Reserve in the early 1970s. The Marsh was purchased for the sum of £1000 in competition with a local farmer who looked upon it as a source of weed seed and wanted to clear the area and dig out a large lake almost certainly after gravel extraction. This same threat reared its head later on when the same farmer wanted to dig a gravel pit adjacent to the reserve which would have almost certainly lead to its drainage and destruction. It was John Fielding who led the fight to prevent this unwelcome development. As with many other members of the Society John held several officers posts and was President up until his death.
Francis came from farming stock and was a country boy and a gentleman. He had a particular interest in bats. For a good number of years he could be relied upon to supply meetings with tea and coffee making supplies.
Had a specialist interest in mammals and was a skilled operator of Longworth traps which he used to carry out many surveys locally.
One time Headmaster of Hadham Hall School he was a steadfast supporter of the Society. He was also what may be termed ‘eccentric’ and had an interest in smallbore rifle shooting. John Godfree remembers showing prospective parents around the school when there was a shot from the Heads study window and a pigeon fell out of a tree, he was also reputed to have shot through the branch holding up a swarm of bees!
A regular supporter of the Society, she ran the small sweetshop business for many years on the corner of North Street.
Optometrist business in North Street. Derek was one of the old school of moth collectors and was known for his breeding of Magpie Moths. By repeated inbreeding he managed to throw up the aberrant forms for which this moth is well known by collectors.
Was at one time our expert on plant galls.
Eileen and Dorothy Taylor.
Lived in Warwick Road and were strong supporters of the Society as well as knowledgeable botanists.
Some of the varied forms of the Magpie Moth bred by Derek Ashwell.
For many years Carol helped hold the society together in its declining years. She served in several positions but will be especially known for her role as Chairman and Programme Secretary. To this day Carol retains a wide interest in natural history and is still a regular supporter of evening and field meetings.
A very nice and pleasant man, he was our Treasurer for many years before his tragically early death. He had a special interest in birds.
Retired eye surgeon, Doris lives adjacent to Birchanger Wood and has a special interest in bats, something which, much to her annoyance, led her to be called Bat Woman by the local press! For years, Doris and her husband Peter posted regular summer evening meetings at their home accompanied by a walk in the wood.
Wellings Cycles in Bridge Street. Bunny had a special interest in cine photography and made several short films usually with an entomological subject.
Stalwart supporter of the Bird Group and the Society with a particular interest in recording on a scientific basis including the regular BTO surveys and in Hatfield Forest. Very keen on his ‘home patch’ encompassing woodlands and farmland at Wickham Hall.
Our resident geologist and a strong supporter of the Bird Group as well as being a knowledgeable general naturalist. Chris was one time warden of the Sawbridgeworth Marsh Nature Reserve and is currently Warden of Rushey Mead Nature Reserve. Over the years Chris has held a number of Officers posts and his help and support was particularly valued during the difficult years in the 2000’s.