Maureen Ellis
 North Craven 
 Heritage Trust 

This article is mainly about six books bought by the Folly Museum of Settle as part of an antiquarian collection and which describe wild plants and where they were found. I will refer to them as floras; they are all to do with Yorkshire and sometimes specifically Craven. It is also about a slim type-written but bound volume, describing flowers found in Bentham and surrounding districts, which was sent to the compiler of the archives of the now-closed Bentham Grammar School. I shall also refer to a very recent flora published in 2001.

The term flora to describe a book about plants is imprecise and ambiguous as it can refer to one with or without images. A Flora of Craven by Norman Frankland published in 2001 (although about work from the mid-twentieth century) has no pictures and comprises the names of plant species listed in the conventional botanical manner under genus and species. W. Keble Martin’s very popular The Concise British Flora in Colour published in 1965 by Edbury Press and Michael Joseph is lavishly illustrated and Richard Mabey used photographs and paintings for Flora Britannica published by Sinclair-Stephenson in 1996 and he described it as being a cultural not a botanical flora. Some books are for flower recognition and may give the type of location in which plants grow but that is not their main function.

Several questions emerged: the overlap or not of the areas covered, who were the people recording the findings, how accurate were they, the difficulty in nomenclature, the importance of educational establishments - particularly in a rural area - and how the underlying geology affects what grows, and lastly the part played by water, particularly tarns, for the presence of flowers.

Interest in plants is ancient but began because of their real or supposed medicinal properties. They were collected by herb women who sold them to apothecaries. It was the bark, roots and stems, but not the flowers that were supposed to contain the medicaments, but of necessity recognition was vital, since there was said to be cheating. Plant books were known as herbals. Later, attention was increasingly paid to trying to group plants into some order of their relationship to each other and eventually the idea of division into Orders, then those into Families, and more specifically then into Genus and Species was developed. Much influence for this came from Greece, Arabia and Italy. The naming of plants has a long history, using Greek at first and culminating in Latin. Hebrew and Arabic scholars played a major part in translating and holding in trust information about plant identification because of their ability as linguists and translators to and from Latin and Greek. As far as plant identification is concerned the development of accurate illustrations to complement the text has been vital but knowledgeable botanists do not need pictures when accessing locations of plants. Floras such as Abbott’s do not have illustrations - that is not their function. They are not identification books.

It was Carl Linnaeus, 1707-1778, Swedish naturalist and taxonomist who devised a universal nomenclature of plants.Eventually each plant was assigned a surname (the genus) and then the specific species name which is often descriptive, for example, officinalis which means it was used by apothecaries. Both are in Latin in order to try and avoid international confusion. There is a ‘Law of Priority’ so that if two plants with different names (perhaps because they were named in different countries) are found to be the same species, then the older name is the one that is used. Hence the Latin names sometimes appear to change. As the concentration on medicinal properties became superceded by more scientific ones the term botany, coined by John Ray, came into use in the 17th century.

The books in the Folly collection are

  • W. Howson: An Illustrated Guide to the Curiosities of Craven (contains a local flora). 1850. Published Whittaker and Co., London.
  • J. Windsor: Flora Cravoniensis. 1873. Published Cave & Sever, Manchester.
  • F.A. Lees: The Flora of West Yorkshire. 1888. Published Lovell Reeve & Co., London.
  • G.H. Brown: On Foot Round Settle. (contains a chapter on plants of the district). 1896. Published J.W. Lambert, Settle.
  • Lister Rotheray: Flora of Skipton and District. 1900. Published Craven Naturalists’ and Scientific Association, Skipton.
  • F.A. Lees: The Vegetation of Craven…an analysis of the flora in advent and decline. 1939. Published T. Buncle and Co.Ltd., Arbroath.
  • D.P. Greenep: Just a Few Weeds (concentrating on Bentham and district). 1955.
  • P.P. Abbott: Plant Atlas of Mid-west Yorkshire. 2001. This is the most recent and up to date flora which includes Craven as part of vice county 64.

One of the points that emerged, particularly from Windsor’s book, was the frequent reference to Giggleswick Tarn which was drained in 1837. This re-alerted me to the importance of these stretches of water which often host rare plants. Greenep refers to Eshton Tarn. Gradual closing up of Sharwife Tarn at Keasden by a variegated form of Reed Canary Grass, Phalaris arundinacea, despite the heroic efforts of The British Trust of Conservation Volunteers and English Nature in 2006, threatens its plant life. Long Preston Deeps probably also hosted more rare plants in the past.

Reading ‘The Folly Floras’, drew my attention to the influence that a school such as Giggleswick would have had on the generation of ideas and opening up of worlds of interest for pupils and teachers there would have been in a particular area. It is probably no coincidence that Greenep’s book came to light because he taught at Bentham Grammar School and he then gave the book to the father of a pupil who was educated there.

A brief description will now be given in chronological order of the listed books. Howson (1850) in the section on plants refers to an area within a 10 mile radius of Settle: he says ‘the list was not to serve the purpose of the selfish eradicator’ so he did not give precise localities but he did say Colchicum autumnalis was growing in Giggleswick. Of rarer plants he mentions Globe Flower, Green Hellebore, Stinking Hellebore, Bane Berry, Dyer’s Rocket and Bog Bean. Howson was a master at Giggleswick school.

Windsor’s book of 1873 is a reprint of papers published - with additions and amendments - in ‘The Phytologist’ between the years 1855 and 1858. This takes the work done back 20 years and the draining of Giggleswick Tarn would be fresh in some memories. He says of the tarn ‘I suppose into useful land: once so rich in plants and so ornamental to the surrounding scenery’. He also makes reference to the fact that John Ray made mention of this area in 1690. He gives tribute to William Kenyon nailmaker, T.W. Simmonds, John Carr and John Howson (the three last named all educated at Giggleswick School), as contributing to his data. He also mentions Thomas Nuttall and refers to his death in 1859. Windsor re-visited the area in 1865 and 1867 and commented about the too-eager collecting of specimens by botanists. He died in 1868 aged 81. The copy in The Folly was sent to Dr. Buck from Manchester by Windsor’s wife in 1876. Some of the rarities mentioned in this book are further commented on below: Bird’s Nest Orchid, Broad Leaved Helleborine, Purple, Marsh, and Narrow Leaved Helleborine, Green Winged Meadow Orchis, Butterfly Orchid, Larger Butterfly Orchid, Frog Orchid which was said not to be uncommon, Bee and Fly Orchis, Lady’s Slipper Orchid, Dyer’s Rocket and the three Gentians - Marsh, Field and Autumn - and Bog Bean.

Lees’ book of 1888 is a comprehensive one which includes sections on climate, soils, rocks and flora. It covers a wide area signified by the title and is well-documented with references to who collected what and an exclamation mark (!) if he himself found it. The nearest reference I found to North Craven was Hellifield for the Bee Orchid. He cites Bastard Helleborine, Epipactis latifolia in Ingleton, Clapham, Feizor, Austwick, and Langcliffe and quotes Ray in 1677 reporting Redshanks Helleborine, Epipactis ovalis in Ingleton and Giggleswick (Judith Allinson has no idea what Redshanks Helleborine is and there is no mention of it or Epipactis ovalis in her current Flora (Stace) nor did a Google search give her any information). The smaller book by Lees published in 1939 was an attempt to concentrate on Craven but there was difficulty getting it into print and in the event it was his widow who accomplished this.

Lister Rotheray’s book of 1900 concentrates on Skipton and district. The descriptions of the sites of plants may have had an influence on Greenep (see below) as the manner in which they are noted is similar. Rotheray finds the rare Lesser Skullcap in Eldwick.

Brown (1896) has a chapter on plants around the district, which was compiled, at least in part, by ‘two lady sisters whose initials many readers will recognise’ - but he does not even record their initials! Of Giggleswick Tarn he says ’it was fed by a stream from the Well and its neighbourhood and Huntsworth Ghyll and at its other end the issuing water worked the wheel of a small cotton mill; of which far the name of the spot - Mill Hill - still reminds us. One of the oldest inhabitants tells us that when it was drained an enormous eel was caught and eel pie was the staple diet of locals such that they never wanted to see another eel pie’.

Greenep’s flora of plants (1950 or 1955) around Bentham and district interested me because there is only one copy and it concentrates on the area in which I live. This book came to light because Ann Rotherham (née Gorton) sent it to Jack Warbrick in 2005. He is the retired teacher of the now-closed Bentham Grammar School who is presently holding its archive. She also sent him a biography of Donald Greenep who she first saw when she was a five-year old in the prep school and he was teaching there, just after its removal to the rectory in 1949. He became a family friend in the 1950s and her father botanised with him. Greenep had been with the Forestry Commission in Burma, where when playing in a polo match he had fallen and been kicked on the side of his head by one of the ponies. He had to return to England and eventually learnt to walk with the aid of a stick but also used an invalid car. She describes her father and Greenep going onto the clints above Chapel le Dale to look for Lily of the Valley and says she doesn’t know how they got up there in view of Greenep’s disability. She says that at the end of the flora there is a reference to June 15th 1954 when Donald Greenep finally located Bog Bean, a plant he had sought for many years, and she remembered him coming to the house to tell her father about it and how excited he was. She thinks the site is probably now drained and built on. He died between 1963 and 1965. I sought the advice of two experts about the book’s significance and it was suggested that it could be worthwhile looking at the entries of sites where the rarer plants were described in this newly discovered Just a Few Weeds. I also showed it to members of the Craven Conservation Group. Both experts commented that in this book the descriptions of the flowers had been superceded by modern flower identification books but they gave me a list of the rarer plants. Plants that are mentioned in this book, which are now less common than in the 1950s and the thirty years before, are Marsh Hawk’s Beard, Saw-wort, Melancholy Thistle, Sneezewort, Devil’s-bit Scabious, Goldilocks, Globe Flower, Marsh Cinquefoil, Kidney Vetch, Rest Harrow, Dyer’s Greenweed, Fragrant and Butterfly Orchid, Broad Helleborine, Marsh and Bee Orchis, Twayblade, Ragged Robin, Corn Spurrey, Yellow Rattle, Common Cow-wheat, Cowslip, Bird’s-eye Primrose, Bog Pimpernel, Grass of Parnassus, Meadow Saxifrage, Herb Paris, Lily of the Valley, Alpine Willow-herb, Marsh Gentian and Bog Bean.

I was also lent a modern flora by Phyl Abbott (2001) which enabled me to see how the sites where plants grow are now recorded, as well as looking at where they grow. While old flora describe a site by describing a junction of a road or a particular stream or ‘Mewith, in the hedge on the left of the road climbing the first hill above Barnfield’ modern ones have the vice county divided into a ten kilometre grid and the botanist records each species present, and within a subdivision of this, an area of 2 by 2 kilometres (known as a tetrad). One could argue that this is still somewhat imprecise but it is very systematic. Very rare plants are understandably not given their sites. In Abbott’s book the tetrads are shown as a dot, there being 25 dots in each 10 kilometre square.

To conclude, people have probably always been secretive as to where certain plants are to be found, initially because of the real and supposed use of certain plants in curing health problems. The vested interest was in keeping the sites of growth secret so that the interests of herb women, apothecaries and ultimately the power of physicians remained secure.


My thanks go to Judith Allinson for correcting my botanical data and giving additional helpful information on my text. She also pointed out that the Malham Field Centre has a copy of ‘John Ray Naturalist, his life and works’ by Charles E. Raven, Cambridge University Press and that another source of old records is ‘The Naturalist’ - the Yorkshire Naturalists Union has produced this Journal since 1875 for 150 years and will be celebrating its 150th anniversary with a conference at Malham Tarn Field Centre. Elizabeth Shorrock has been extremely generous with her time in making corrections and comments on Greenep’s book, which is soon to be deposited at the Folly in Settle with the other Floras.

Herb Paris

Herb Paris