London Natural History Society The place for wildlife in London

London Natural History Society - The place for wildlife in London

Further information

More information on the history of the LNHS can be found in the three PDFs below.

This page recalls some interesting periods in the history of our Society. More about our history, and about the changing fortunes of London's wildlife over the years, was published in our 150th Anniversary volume in 2008; please see our publications page for details.

Origins and Early Years

The LNHS traces its roots back to 1858, when the Haggerstone Entomological Society was founded in June of that year. By the end of the year it had 35 members, who met one evening a week in the Carpenters' Arms, a pub in Haggerston, which lies between Shoreditch and Dalston. In 1859 the Society started to meet in a room above the Brownlow Arms, Brownlow Street, which remained its meeting place for 30 years.

Brownlow pubThe Brownlow Arms survived until the 1990s but has since been demolished © David Harding In his Presidential address for 1908, A.W. Mera remembered going as a visitor in about 1878 to one of the meetings in a spacious room above the bar in the Brownlow Arms, "each member being provided with a long clay pipe, while the necessary refreshments were provided from below, under which soothing influences the science of entomology was pursued."

portraitA.W. Mera, President of the City of London Entomological and Natural History Society, 1908 - 1913.A room above an East End pub would not have been considered a suitable meeting place for respectable Victorian ladies, but at that time the society had a membership that was exclusively male. In 1887 agitation amongst members to get away from licensed premises and to a more central location resulted in the meetings moving to Albion Hall, London Wall, with the new title The City of London Entomological and Natural History Society. In this era, in line with common thinking among naturalists of the day, members would have been very much interested in collecting specimens and forming collections, as well as in taxonomic and recording work.

Our Other Predecessor

In 1886 four boys at the Grocers' Company School in Hackney founded the Clapton Naturalists' Field club, which met in members' houses. This society grew rapidly, and in 1892 changed its name to the North London Natural History Society. It covered all branches of natural history, a term which at that time was understood to include all the natural sciences including astronomy, meteorology and geology. In 1893 the Society admitted ladies for the first time. Perhaps this fact, and its broad range of interests led to the success of this society and a growing membership. Local groups were formed in some parts of London, and the programme of activities included field trips, regular indoor meetings, exhibitions, and even music recitals and fund-raising dances.

The Two Societies Merge

In 1913 the City of London society decided to merge with its larger rival and the London Natural History Society was formed, its study area being set as a 20 mile circle around St Pauls.

Pioneers in Conservation

In 1883, members of the Haggerstone Entomological Society worked hard to persuade two thousand people to sign a petition against the building of a railway line through Epping Forest to High Beach. MP's were interviewed and the Bill was eventually thrown out by Parliament. The Secretary of the day wrote: “Credit was claimed by Essex Field Club, who did not really meet until this Society had been agitating for some time”.

Epping JW250Areas of Epping Forest such as this narrowly escaped being lost to development in the C19th © Jeremy Wright

Epping 2005Group
A group of Society members on a field trip to Epping Forest in 2005. We owe a debt of gratitude to our Victorian predecessors that such an important site survives on London's doorstep © Mick Massie

Meanwhile the North London Society also became concerned about the loss of important sites. In the first decade of the 20th century the society set up several research committees, including one devoted to 'protection', which meant environmental protection.

In 1913, the year of the amalgamation of the two societies, a bird sanctuary was set up by arrangement with the owner of a piece of woodland in Chingford. Members set up nest boxes and ringed nestlings, but by the end of 1914 the land changed hands and the new owner cancelled the arrangement.

The 1940s

During the Second World War meetings were held in the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, where the Society had been meeting for a number of years. The regular survey of Bookham Common, Surrey, which still continues on a monthly basis, began in 1942. During the war years the Society's two journals continued to be published. In 1942 the Ministry of Town and Country Planning approached the Society requesting a list of potential nature reserves in the London area. A list was produced under the guidance of C.P. Castell, with assistance from other members, in particular Cynthia Longfield. All those listed are now Sites of Special Scientific Interest. This work led ultimately to the formation of the Society’s Nature Conservation Committee.

In 1945 the publication of 'London's Natural History' by Richard Fitter brought the wildlife of the London area to a wider public, and led to many new members becoming involved in the Society. There was much to interest the naturalist in the immediate post-war years. Bomb damage had left many derelict sites in London which developed a distinctive flora, and also created suitable habitat for the return of the Black Redstart to the City. The Society carrried out a bombed sites survey in the City over several years in the late 1940s. By the 1960s most of these sites had been redeveloped.

The typical flora of bomb sites is apparent in the illustrations below:

basementThe basement of a large bombed-out building in Cripplegate, 1950. © KH Le Sueur, from the 'London Naturalist' for 1950

basement2
Bomb site Plants (typically Rosebay Willowherb and Bracken) growing in a basement floor.© KH Le Sueur, from the 'London Naturalist' for 1950

'London's Birds' (1963)

This film was made by members of the Society, some of whom spent many hours patiently waiting in hides to get the shots they needed. Filming began in 1959 and continued until 1962. Footage of 69 species of birds was included. It was a silent film with a written commentary that had to be read out at each screening.The first public screenings were in March 1963 in St Pancras Town Hall.

Bill Park170WBill Park filming Gulls on Charlton tip © L. Baker

1957Cover0001The Souvenir Programme, price 1/- (5p in today's money). The cover picture, of a Heron and its chicks, was taken at Walthamstow by Eric Hosking.

Publications

The Society's Journal 'The London Naturalist' began publication in 1921, replacing the annual 'Transactions' that had been published previously. 'The London Naturalist' has been produced annually ever since. In 1936 the Society started to publish the annual 'London Bird Report', initially as a supplement to the 'London Naturalist'. From 1941 it became a separate publication in its own right, which also still continues.

In 1951 the first part of a seven part ‘Hand-list of the Plants of the London Area’ by DH Kent and JE Lousley was published as a supplement to 'The London Naturalist'. This was followed by 'The Birds of the London Area since 1900', published in 1957 as a special volume in the Collins New Naturalist series, and re-issued in a revised edition in 1964.

In the latter decades of the twentieth century the Society published a number of distribution atlases for the London area, important and authoritative works that were the result of a great deal of effort by many people. These were the 'Atlas of the Breeding Birds of the London Area' (1977), 'Flora of the London Area' (1983), 'The Butterflies of the London Area' (1987), 'Larger Moths of the London Area' (1993), and 'The Breeding Birds of the London Area' (2002).

The Changing Face of the LN

Cover designs of our journal over the years reflected changes in contemporary taste, ranging from the ornate typefaces used up until the early 1950s, to the simple clean lines of the 1960s. The early cover design incorporated an image of a deer. The sparrow logo in use today was introduced in 1976, originally facing to the left.

LN Cover1930 120W     LN Cover1938 120W     LN Cover1957 120W     LN Cover1969 120W     LN Cover1978 120W