John Tatham of Settle, Quaker Botanist

John Beckett
 North Craven 
 Heritage Trust 

John Tatham was born in Settle on 20th September 1793, the son of John and Bridget (née Coor) Tatham, members of the Society of Friends. John senior had come from Wray, north-east of Lancaster in the Lune Valley where previous members of the family had produced and processed flax. He established a drapery business at premises in Settle Market Place in 1816. John junior’s obituary [1] records that he was educated at Giggleswick Grammar School, but it has not been possible to confirm this from school records. His father, in 1785, attended the school of his relation Joseph Tatham in the Friends Meeting House, Water Lane, Leeds [2], and his younger brother Thomas, after two years at Ackworth School between 1815-1817 [3], may also have attended that school, which by then had been taken over by the original proprietor’s nephew, also Joseph Tatham, John and Thomas’s uncle. Certainly John junior became an apprentice for seven years to Thomas Thompson, who by 1798 had established himself as a pharmaceutical chemist in Liverpool. On completion of his apprenticeship, he remained with Thomas Thompson for a few years, before returning to Settle where he joined his father in business in 1816, expanding it to include pharmacy and grocery. During the ensuing years John Tatham & Son became a veritable department store [4], selling everything from finest Lancashire cheese to flock mattresses. In 1870 they advertised homeopathic medicines produced by Thompson & Capper of Liverpool, where John junior had served his apprenticeship.

John married Maria Horsfall at the Friends Meeting House in Bradford on 5th of June 1822, and they had seven children before Maria died on 1st of September 1835 aged 35. John subsequently married Susanna Ecroyd from Lomeshaye, Marsden, near Burnley in 1837, who bore him three further children. Of John’s ten children, only two daughters outlived him. After the death of his father in 1847, John continued the business in premises adjacent to the Town Hall in Settle as Chemist, Druggist, Grocer and Draper until 1863, when he transferred it to his son Joseph and Ellwood Brockbank [5], who had been his apprentice.

Outside work, John was involved in establishing the Savings Bank in Settle, acting either as its actuary or secretary from 1818 to 1870, but his abiding interest throughout his life was botany, a subject to which he had been introduced during his apprenticeship with Thomas Thompson. In 1841 he was elected a member of the Edinburgh Botanical Society (now the Botanical Society of Scotland); he was also a member of the Botanical Society of London (founded in 1836, now the Botanical Society of the British Isles) for which he was a Local Secretary from 1839-49 or later [6]; and he was one of the original members of the Ray Society, founded in 1844. It was in that year that he was one of a party of five Quaker botanists who undertook a botanical ramble in Yorkshire [7], the other members being James Backhouse senior [8], James Backhouse junior [9], George Stacey Gibson [10], and Silvanus Thompson [11]. Silvanus recorded all the plants which they saw, together with their localities, and also all the expenses incurred, including fares, carriage of luggage, and board and lodgings [12]. James Backhouse junior wrote an account of the ramble which was published in The Phytologist, in which he reported that they found a plant which they forwarded for identification to Sir William Hooker, director of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. Hooker identified it as Spergula stricta (now Minuartia stricta, Teesdale Sandwort), then new to the British flora. Gibson was credited with the discovery [13]. John later made further excursions to Scotland in the company of James Backhouse senior, collecting many characteristic Highland plants.

In 1841 John submitted a list of plants growing around Settle to Edward Newman, another Quaker botanist and the editor of the Phytologist, and this was published the following year [14]. John’s list only recorded the more scarce plants and not the common ones. In 1840, Newman had published A history of British ferns citing ‘Mr Tatham’ for the location of Beech Fern at Settle, and in the Magazine of Natural History of the same year he stated ‘I am indebted to Mr J Tatham jun. of Settle, in Yorkshire, for an abundant supply of Lastraea rigida [Rigid Buckler-fern]’. John also contributed hugely to the work of other botanists, and was an active distributor of herbarium specimens through his membership of the London and Edinburgh Botanical Societies [15]. The Bromfield Herbarium created by William Arnold Bromfield [16] contains specimens of three plants [17] from the Settle area collected by John in 1840-1841. He assisted Henry Baines with his Flora of Yorkshire (1840) and John Windsor with his Flora Cravoniensis, or a flora of the vicinity of Settle in Craven, Yorkshire (1873). In the introduction to his book Windsor wrote: ‘Some other residents of the neighbourhood have given much attention to its botany ... especially John Tatham of Settle whose long residence there, and assiduous attention to the subject, have enabled him to be quite conversant with Settle botany; and had he chosen to do it, to have ably executed the work I have thought it right to attempt’.

John’s studies of the flora around Settle were continued by his granddaughter Rachel Ford Thompson [18] whilst she lived there during the years 1882-1893, and together with her sister she extracted a number of records from John’s herbarium and memoranda for F. A. Lees’s Flora of West Yorkshire (1888), and a supplementary list was later compiled by William Whitwell [19]. The Flora included a record of Lythrum salicaria (Purple Loosestrife) at Malham Tarn, with the comment by the author ‘at an unusual altitude, and not seen by me, but the recorder [John Tatham] was too good and careful a botanist for the record to be doubted.’

One of John’s main sources of botanical knowledge was A compendium of the English flora (1829) by James Edward Smith, who had founded the Linnean Society in 1788. John’s copy, annotated with the localities of plants found in the area of Settle, was presented to the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, by his grandson Silvanus Phillips Thompson [20], and John’s herbarium and notebooks, preserved after his death by his widow Susanna, are also now housed at Kew.

John died on 12th January 1875, aged 81. His obituary in the Craven Pioneer recalled ‘his kind and genial disposition, the large fund of information he possessed, which he was ever ready to impart to the enquirer, his readiness to oblige, and pre-eminently his well-known character as a peace lover and peace maker, combined with his sterling integrity made him highly respected throughout the district’.


I am grateful to Janet Leyland (Rawlins) who ‘introduced’ me to John Tatham; to John Frankland of Skipton Library, Celia Wolfe of Ackworth School, Barbara Gent of Giggleswick School and Hazel Makepeace of the Natural History Society of Northumbria for help in compiling this account; and to Roger Neale for checking the current Latin and English names of plants in the Appendix (in the web version of this article) and for adding the current status of some of them.

References and Notes

  1. Craven Pioneer, 16 January 1875, p.3.
  2. Mortimer, J.E., 1990. Joseph Tatham's School, Leeds. Publications of the Thoresby Society, 2nd series, vol. 1, 29.
  3. Ackworth School Registers.
  4. Ball, C. and G., 2015. The shop now known as Castleberg Outdoors, Cheapside, Settle. North Craven Heritage Trust Journal.
  5. Ellwood Brockbank married John Tatham's granddaughter Maria Thompson in 1880. He pioneered mail order shopping, supplying dress fabrics, household linens and serges from The Warehouse in Settle.
  6. Allen, D.E. 1986. The botanists: a history of the Botanical Society of the British Isles through a hundred and fifty years. Winchester: St Paul's Bibliographies.
  7. Rawlins, J., 2016. An 1844 Pennine Way from Tees to Ribblesdale: five botanists walk from Crook to Settle. Bain Falls Publishing.
  8. James Backhouse (1794-1869) founder with his brother Thomas of what became known as the 'York nurseries'.
  9. James Backhouse (1825-1890), after education at Bootham School, joined the family firm. He became a Fellow of the Linnean Society and of the Geological Society, and published a monograph on British Hieracia.
  10. George Stacey Gibson (1818-1883) was born in Saffron Walden. He was the author of The flora of Essex (1862).
  11. Silvanus Thompson (1818-1881) was the youngest son of John Tatham's former apprentice master Thomas Thompson and became John's son-in-law when he married his daughter Bridget in 1848. He taught at Bootham School in York from 1841-1874.
  12. Rawlins, J. 2016. An 1844 Pennine Way from Tees to Ribblesdale: five botanists walk from Crook to Settle. Bain Falls Publishing.York: Sessions.
  13. Backhouse, J. 1884. Teesdale botany: historical and personal recollections. Naturalist, 10-13.
  14. Tatham, J. 1842. List of plants growing about Settle, Yorkshire. Phytologist, O.S., vol.1, 87-88. See Appendix.
  15. Journal of Botany, 1875, 64.
  16. William Arnold Bromfield (1801-1851) collected plants from the Isle of Wight and Hampshire.
  18. Rachel Ford Thompson (1856-1906), daughter of Silvanus and Bridget Thompson, contributed Hieracia to C. C. Babington's Manual of British botany (1904), 232-270.
  19. Whitwell, W. 1893. West Yorkshire records and notes from the herbarium, catalogues, etc. of the late Mr John Tatham of Settle. Naturalist, 25-40.
  20. Silvanus Phillips Thompson (1851-1916), son of Silvanus and Bridget Thompson, confirmed many of John's botanical records.


List of plants growing about Settle, Yorkshire.

By John Tatham, Jun. Esq

Settle, 10th mo., 16th., 1841.
Respected Friend, Annexed is a list of plants either seen or gathered lately by myself in the neighbourhood of Settle; shouldst thou think it worthy to be inserted in 'The Phytologist', thou art quite at liberty to do so.
I remain respectfully, John Tatham, Jun.
John Tatham’s namesCurrent Latin name where differentCurrent English name from BSBI list where knownJohn Tatham’s locations Current status
YD=Yorks Dales
Thalictrum minus  Meadow-rue, LesserOn our alpine limestone hills
Trollius europaeus Globe FlowerAbundant in various localitiesS
Helleborus viridis Hellebore, GreenRather scarce, in two localitiesE
Helleborus foetidus Hellebore, Stinking
Aquilegia vulgaris ColumbineCommon in our woodsS
Actaea spicata BaneberryAbundant on Ingleborough, Gordale and Heseldon Gill
Papaver dubium Poppy, Long-headedCommon about SettleS
Papaver cambricumMeconopsis cambricaPoppy, WelshSparingly on our river bank and at FeizorC
Draba incana Whitlowgrass, HoaryAbundant on our hills
Draba muralis Whitlowgrass, WallPlentiful about Malham
Thlaspi alpestreNoccaea caerulescensPenny-cress, AlpineVery common on our hills
Cardamine impatiens Bittercress, Narrow-leavedAbundant in Crow-nest Wood
Barbarea praecoxBarbarea vernaWintercress, AmericanScarce, in the lane leading to Langcliffe
Hesperis matronalis Violet, Dame’sA few plants to be seen occasionally about Settle
Viola hirta Violet, HairyVery abundant in most of our woods
Viola lutea, α and β Pansy, MountainOn all our hills
Geranium phaeum Cranesbill, DuskyVery scarce
Geranium sylvaticum Cranesbill, WoodCommon
Sedum telephium OrpineIn Winskill Wood, abundant
Sedum villosum Stonecrop, PinkCommon on our moorsS
Sedum reflexumSedum rupestreStonecrop, Large RockOn the rocks above Settle
Saxifraga granulata Saxifrage, MeadowVery abundant on our hills
Saxifraga hypnoides Saxifrage, Mossy
Saxifraga oppostifolia Saxifrage, PurpleOn the east side of Penyghent
Saxifraga umbrosa Saxifrage, PyreneanIn Heseldon Gill
Rhamnus catharticusRhamnus catharticaBuckthornAbundant in our natural woods
Euonymus europaeus Spindle
Hippocrepis comosa Vetch, HorseshoeOn our limestone cliffsS
Rubus chamaemorus CloudberryOn Fountains Fell
Rubus saxatilis Bramble, StoneCommon in our woods
Potentilla vernaPotentilla tabernaemontaniCinquefoil, SpringIn Kelkhow Wood
Potentilla alpestrisPotentilla crantziiCinquefoil, AlpineNear Peter’s Castle, SilverdaleS
Dryas octopetala Avens, MountainCovering acres of ground on Arncliffe Clouder1 site in YD
Rosa DonianaRosa involuta var Doniana In Helk’s Wood
Rosa BorreriRosa canina var BorreriRose, DogBrakenbrow, near Settle
Rosa Forsteri  Sparingly in our hedges
Ribes alpinum Currant, MountainIn Stainforth Wood
Ribes petraeumRibes spicatumCurrant, DownyLimestone rocks above Gordale, and other places
Epilobium angustifoliumChamerion angustifoliumRosebayRocks above Gordale
Anthriscus sylvestris Parsley, CowIn our rich meadows
Silaus pratensisSilaum silausPepper-saxifrageCommon near Settle
Pimpinella magnaPimpinella majorSaxifrage, Greater Burnet
Myrrhis odorata Cicely, Sweet
Galium boreale Bedstraw, NorthernRocks about Gordale17 sites in YD
Galium pusillumGalium pumilumBedstraw, SlenderOn all our limestone rocks
Galium Mollugo Bedstraw, HedgeCommon about Settle
Senecio sarracenicus Ragwort, Broad-leavedAt Ingleton
Cnicus heterophyllusCirsium heterophyllumThistle, MelancholyAbundant in our boggy woods
Hieracium murorum, var maculatum Hawkweed, Spotted Under Giggleswick Scar
Symphytum tuberosum Comfrey, TuberousBoth rather scarce
Symphytum officinale Comfrey, Common
Lithospermum officinale Gromwell, CommonOn our limestone cliffs
Anchusa sempervirensPentaglottis sempervirensAlkanet, GreenIn several places near Settle
Polemonium caeruleum Jacob’s LadderAbundant about Malham and the hills above Settle. The white variety occurs below Weathercoat Cave4 sites in YD
Ligustrum vulgare Privet, WildAbundant on our limestone cliffs
Primula elatior OxlipIn our woodsProbably Primula x polyantha, Oxlip, False, S
Primula farinosa Primrose, BirdseyeIn very great profusion in the pastures above Settle
Mentha rubraMentha spicataMint, SpearBanks of the river about the Willow Islands
Daphne Mezereum MezereonIn the woods at Feizor
Daphne Laureola Spurge-laurel
Polygonum viviparum Bistort, AlpineIn the pastures about Feizor
Quercus sessilifloraQuercus petraeaOak, SessileCommon in our woods
Juniperus communis JuniperIn the alpine woods about Wharfe
Taxus baccata YewOn our limestone cliffs
Listera cordataNeottia cordataTwayblade, LesserOn the Rye-loaf hill
Epipactis latifolia βEpipactis helleborineHelleborine, Broad-leavedVery abundant under Giggleswick Scarr, &c
Habenaria albidaPseudorchis albidaOrchid, Small WhiteAbundant in Brakenbrow, Brock holes and Tarn field
Allium oleraceum Garlic, FieldOn our limestone hills
Butomus umbellatus Rush, FloweringIn the river below Settle
Convallaria polygonatumPolygonatum odoratumSolomon’s-seal, AngularOn our limestone cliffsS
Convallaria multifloraPolygonatum multiflorumSolomon’s-sealNear Calton
Convallaria majalis Lily of the ValleyIn most of our woods
Blysmus compressus Sedge, FlatAbundant about Malham
Eriophorum polystachionEriophorum angustifoliumCotton-grass, CommonOn Cockit Moss
Eriophorum angustifolium
Eriophorum pubescensEriophorum latifoliumCotton-grass, Broad-leavedIn the Tarn fieldTarn now drained, with golf course on site
Carex fulvaCarex hostianaSedge, TawnyAbundant in the Tarn field
Carex remota Sedge, RemoteCommon in various localities near Settle
Carex flava Sedge, Large Yellow
Carex binervis Sedge, Green-ribbed
Carex pallescens Sedge, Pale
Elymus europaeusHordelymus europaeusBarley, WoodIn Cave-hole Wood
Phleum pratense TimothyViviparous, two specimens obtained near the bank of the Ribble
Aira cristataKoeleria macranthaHair-grass, CrestedVery common on our hills
Melica nutans Melick, MountainAbundant in four localities
Sesleria caerulea Moor-grass, BlueOn all our limestone rocks
Festuca vivipara Fescue, ViviparousVery abundant on Fountains Fell
Poa rigidaCatapodium rigidumGrass, FernUnder Giggleswick Scarr
Avena pubescensAvenula pubescensOat-grass, DownyAbundant about Settle
Avena pratensisAvenula pratensisOat-grass, Meadow
Avena alpina
Polypodium PhegopterisPhegopteris connectilisFern, BeechIn Cave-hole Wood
Polypodium calcareumGymnocarpium robertaniumFern, Limestone OakAbundant on our hills
Aspidium rigidumDryopteris submontanaFern, Limestone BucklerOn the rocks above Settle, at an elevation of 1500 feet
Aspidium lonchitisPolystichum lonchitisFern, HollySparingly in the same place4 sites in YD
Aspidium oreopterisOreopteris limbospermaFern, Lemon-scentedAbundant above Swabeck
Cystea dentataCystopteris fragilis var dentataFern, Brittle BladderVery common
Cystea angustataCystopteris fragilis var angustataScarce, in three places, viz., Gordale and Attermire Scarrs, and Catterick Force
Asplenium viride Spleenwort, GreenVery common
Grammitis ceterachAsplenium ceterachRusty-backOn the rocks above Malham Tarn
Botrychium lunaria MoonwortAbundant in Tarn-field pasture