The Prestwich Botanical Society was founded by a group of working people known as the Artisan Naturalists, and gave their name to the Railway and Naturalist pub in Prestwich Village where they met. Here Robert Trueblood gives a bit of history, biography and pub facts…
“Prestwich didn’t have a railway until 1870 because the Earl of Wilton didn’t want it coming through Heaton Park; so the original Manchester to Bury line went through Clifton Junction. The Naturalist pub was later re-named as the Railway and Naturalist as a commemoration to the long life of the Prestwich Botanical Society.
John Horsefield set up the Prestwich Botanical Society in 1820 and it first met inthe Cock and Trumpet, a pub behind the current Parkside Hotel on Bury Old Road. It then moved around with the longest residence at the Besses Tavern, although at one point met in the Coach and Horses. Horsefield was also a contributing member of the Manchester Botanical Society which roved around and met in the Ostrich pub but they were ejected from it. They would set these meetings every three months or so.
Horsefield, from an early age, was recognised as a naturalist of note even though he was a hand weaver. He wanted his own society, and his masterstroke was to charge a subscription of a few pence to those who came along and he paid no rent to the pubs; what’s called a ‘wet rent’ from the bar take.
He was almost monomaniacal in the sense that he had a mission and there’s an interesting touch on his political development…Along with others he was present at Peterloo, found it a hateful experience, and in a series of articles in 1860s for the Guardian wrote ‘I came away from that meeting with the intention to leave politics behind and to cultivate my garden’. He became an expert gardener, and created his variety of daffodils.
Many of the participants in the Society might have been illiterate, so for them it was a passion in noting wildlife and being able to recognise it. In a sense, their whole movement was a triumph of the oral tradition as well as being a triumph of the printed one. The meeting would proceed with people coming with armfuls of flowers. They were laid on the table or held up and the president would identify them, and for many of the participants that was their introduction to botany.
The Artisans drew a ring around Manchester but would have had expeditions to the Pennine foothills north of Bury and Salford using the routes available. There would have been a degree of wandering but not everyone was a hand loom weaver with independence in terms of time. But they used their leisure time in a way that you can see a line that goes through to the Clarion Club cyclists and the Ramblers, ‘I might be a wage slave on Friday but a free man on Sunday’…
Horsefield’s bold move to charge a small subscription enabled the Society to start collecting books, which had long been his wish. He started to build the library so the Naturalists were meeting in the Besses until they moved to the Railway and Naturalist location. After Horsefield’s death the Society continued until the eve of the Great War. 1920 would have been the centenary but it never picked up again.
There was a Society post-Horsefield with a number of changes but the records were lost. In the last quarter of 19th Century, the Society flourished in a different way from meeting the horny handed sons of toil and inducting them into the ways of nature. They survived by changing and had the run of the upper floors of the pub. They had an astonishing collection of books and taxidermy which remained until a change of landlord resulted in it being emptied. We’ve lost the collection of reference books and their minute books which would have recorded the activities of the Society. But the burgeoning hipster community of Prestwich might look on the Railway and Naturalist in future as being a bit more than a pub, and look at it being a fantastic monument to working class endeavour in the field of scientific enquiry…”
It was with great sadness that we recently learned that Robert Trueblood had passed away. He was incredibly knowledgeable on the Prestwich area, gave talks on the Artisan Naturalists and was the driving force behind a heritage project on the botanist pioneers, resulting in the plaque on the Railway and Naturalist pub. He helped the Bury New Road project with all aspects of our Artisan Naturalist archive. A man who had Prestwich running through his veins…RIP
The Artisan Naturalists of Bury New Road – click here
Who Were The Artisan Naturalists? – click here
Read Kersal Moor Extracts from Richard Buxton’s A Botanical Guide to the Flowering Plants, Ferns, Mosses and Algæ, Found Indigenous Within Sixteen Miles of Manchester – click here