Oldham Microscopical and Natural History Society

See Oldham Wildlife Link for details on current societies meetings

A Brief History by Patricia Francis

This old and long-established Society still meets today currently at Werneth House, Frederick Street, once a grand private home, now a Life-long Learning centre. The Society was founded as early as 1864 initially purely as a Microscopical Society at a time when science and discovery were all-consuming pastimes and when Oldham was a fast-growing mill town. The members were from all social groups with occupations ranging from millworkers to shop keepers and lawyers to businessmen.

Initially all members had to have their own microscope. Later the Society widened its remit to include a broader spectrum of activities including natural history and photography. The Society organised rambles; popular local ones were to Alexandra Park and Daisy Nook and some trips further afield using the railway to the Derbyshire Dales, the Cheshire Meres and the Lancashire Coast. Some members made expeditions in their Wakes Week holidays which took them further afield to the Scottish Highlands and Cornwall and the Scilly Isles.

There were opportunities for members to share their discoveries with others at indoor meetings with talks, discussions and practical microscope sessions and in a printed journal for a period called Athene. There are records too of social meetings including a popular Christmas gathering at the Small Hall, at the Cooperative, Greenacres Hill.

Some members were particularly interested in insects sometimes leading them to careers as entomologists. Those with entomological interests include Thomas Cottam (1845-1899) who collected Lepidoptera in India; Richard Cottam (1886-1963) a Lepidopterist who became a government entomologist in the Sudan; Peter Randle Barratt (1926-1996) who worked in pest control; Peter Skidmore (1936-2009) who worked for Flatters & Garnett Ltd., the Manchester biological suppliers and scientific instrument makers before becoming the Natural Sciences Curator at Doncaster Museum; Leonard Nixon Kidd (1920-2013) who became Natural History Curator at Oldham Museum and Mike G. Fitton (1947-) entomologist at the Natural History Museum, London.

Two renowned mollusc enthusiasts went on to have distinguished natural history careers, were Society members and were Oldham born and bred. Fred Taylor (1871-1949) became a natural history columnist in several newspapers and shell (and bird egg) collector. John Armitage (1900-1996) became a full-time lecturer in natural history and later Keeper of Biology at Leeds Museum.

Frederick Breakell Stubbs (1913-1988) was to become one of the foremost workers in plant galls. He moved to Oldham aged 5. His father, Frederick John Stubbs had already made connections with Oldham Museum and ‘The Micro’ and was an excellent ornithologist, the family returned to Oldham in 1919 where Fred senior was to become the natural history curator. Fred the son, was to become a member of many local societies including ‘The Micro’ and The North Western Naturalists and Yorkshire Naturalists Unions. He was encouraged by other local museums and their staff at Manchester and Stockport. He was a founder of the British Plant Gall Society.

The members individually collected all manner of other specimens too for example shells, bird eggs, pressed plants and fossils. The specimens, many thousands of them, were carefully kept with all the important supporting information noted at the time. Most of these were eventually donated to the Society.  The Society has always maintained strong links with Oldham Museum. Over the years most of these historical specimens and microscopes have been donated to Oldham Museum, now known as Gallery Oldham.