Friday, 29 April 2016

"over the Mersey at Jackson’s Boat and on to Baguley Moor and Hale Moss and after having botanized there ....returned to Manchester at dusk, all pleased with our day’s excursion” Richard Buxton in Chorlton

Call me lazy but I have chosen to return to the amazing story of Richard Buxton who was born into a poor rural family, grew up and lived in the equally poor area of Ancoats in the early 19th century and died in very humble surroundings in the shadow of London Road Railway Station.

Close to where Mr Buxton crossed the brook, the meadows, 1963
He was self taught and wrote what still stands as one of those remarkable books on botany. The original posts appeared over seven stories and are all still there to see.

"one of the hottest and driest summers that I can remember, and there had been no rain in the neighbourhood for two or three months; but on the day appointed for our meeting, very heavy rain came on about five in the morning. 

I should not have thought of stirring out of doors; but, having made the appointment, I thought it just possible that my friends might come, and I would not on any account disappoint them. We all went in the rain, through Manchester to Chorlton-cum-Hardy. 

St Clement's, circa 1860
After staying at the last named place sometime the weather changed and a fine day ensued then over the Mersey at Jackson’s Boat and on to Baguley Moor and Hale Moss and after having botanized there ..... returned to Manchester at dusk, all pleased with our day’s excursion” 

It is almost impossible to know when Richard Buxton walked the meadows of Chorlton and botanized the day away with his friends.

But I guess it must have been sometime in the 1820s. We were still a very rural community and there would have been plenty to see and record.

And record Buxton did, for he was one of those remarkable working men who were self taught, became an expert on botany, wrote books and struggled against poverty before dying obscurely. “I am well aware” he wrote “that a narrative of the life of a poor man like myself .... is anything but interesting.” and yet it has proved to be so.

Which is why over the next brace of weeks I want to tell his story. He was born in rural Prestwich grew up in Ancoats just as Manchester was becoming the “shock city of the Industrial Revolution” and died as he had lived in poverty.

The meadows, 2008
I was introduced to Buxton by my old pal David Bishop who is a passionate botanist and has patiently explained nature to me over the years.

It was David who lent me the book Buxton wrote in 1849.

For a self taught man his Botanical Guide to the Flowering Plants, Ferns Moses and Algae found Indigenous within Sixteen Miles of Manchester is both a wonderful record of what there was to see but also a testament to his interest and tenacity.

In a world where reading and writing are taken for granted, it is easy to gloss over the fact that at the age of sixteen he was illiterate, and had to set himself the task of learning to read.

What is all the more remarkable is that having mastered the spelling book and the narrative of the New Testament he realised he needed to know not only how to pronounce the words but their exact meaning. And so
“by this means I was enabled not only to read, but also to understand the meaning of what I read, and to speak it correctly.” All the more remarkable given that his working day lasted from six in the morning till eight or nine at night.

The result is a book that has stood the test of time and one that botanists still use as a hand book.

Picture; Junction of Gore Brook and River Mersey J Montgomery 1963 based on an earlier picture, m8014, courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council, St Clements Church circa 1860 from the collection of Tony Walker and the meadows as Buxton would not have known it, December 2008. Courtesy of David Bishop

Location; Chorlton-cum-Hardy

*Richard Buxton,

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