Huddersfield Naturalists’ Society

From the Huddersfield Daily Examiner, 12th September 2012:

Huddersfield Naturalists’ Society membership card

THIS year’s Yorkshire History Prize has been won by Huddersfield Local History Society member Alan Brooke.

The Beresford Award for a 10,000 word essay – the most prestigious of three prizes awarded annually by The Yorkshire Society – goes to Alan for his study of the origin of Huddersfield Naturalists Society (1848-1865).

Alan, of Honley, received his award at a ceremony in Leeds.

The HNS was the first naturalist society in Yorkshire founded by working men and went on to be a leading force in the foundation of the West Riding Consolidated Naturalists Society, which still survives today as the Yorkshire Naturalists Union.

The essay examines how the society grew with the support of middle class members of the community.

As well as describing the careers of working men like James Varley, it highlights the role of Peter Inchbald who ran a school at Storthes Hall and Job Johnson, the curate of Denby.

It also shows the contribution of members of the Huddersfield Literary and Scientific Society, such as the bank clerk C P Hobkirk.Alan said: “This topic, which has not been researched before, gave me the opportunity to combine my two main interests of social history and natural history.’’

His top award follows a triple success in 2010 when Huddersfield University students Maggie Bullitt and William Marshall, and Huddersfield Local History Society member David Griffiths, scooped all three prizes.

Chairman of judges Prof Edward Royle from York University – a Colne Valley man himself – said: “There seems to be something in the Huddersfield water which is consistently producing high quality entries for the prize.

“The judges will be visiting Huddersfield next year to find out more.’’

Alan Brooke is now writing a biography of Seth Lister Mosley, who was one of the leading naturalists in Huddersfield and the first curator of Tolson Museum in 1920.His findings will be presented at Huddersfield Town Hall next February as part of the HLHS 2012/2013 programme of talks.

Other topics for the monthly talks range from Rugby League through medieval sculpture to the history of drink and temperance. Alan is also co-author with Lesley Kipling of the book Liberty or Death, published by HLHS earlier this year to mark the Luddite bicentenary.

Full details of the Society’s talks and publications can be found at


HUDDERSFIELD Naturalists’ Society was formally established in 1850. It had the reputation of being the first naturalists’ society in Yorkshire organised by self-educated working men. Its founder was Richard Brooke, a printer and bookseller of Buxton Road, who was also a Chartist.

The earliest interest of the society was botany and soon it claimed to have recorded every species of plant within six miles of the town. Members also pursued ornithology, entomology (the study of insects) and geology. Some, like James Varley from Almondbury built up large collections of insects and stuffed birds. Varley also bred moths to sell or exchange with other collectors and a variety of Magpie Moth he discovered was named ‘varleyata’ in his honour.

The society really took off when it received the support of middle class professional men. Charles P Hobkirk, a bank clerk, also founded the Huddersfield Literary and Scientific Society in 1857. He wrote the first extensive survey of the flora and fauna of Huddersfield in 1859. Peter Inchbald, who ran a school for young gentlemen at Storthes Hall between 1846 and 1865, shared his own natural history research with Hobkirk and also contributed to HNS activities.

One of Inchbald’s pupils, Alfred Beaumont – later a woollen manufacturer at Steps Mill near Honley – was a mainstay of both the HLSS and the HNS in the 1860s. He had a massive collection of birds which, following his bankruptcy in 1881, were bought to form the ‘nucleus’ of a town museum. Some still survive in the bird room of the Tolson Museum. George Taylor Porritt, encouraged in his early studies by both Beaumont and Varley, specialised in Lepidoptera (moths and butterflies). His collection of national importance was also donated to Tolson Museum after his death.

The Earl of Dartmouth, who owned much land around Huddersfield where HNS members were allowed to ramble, became a patron of the society. Public interest grew as the HNS held large public exhibitions of the members collections in 1862, 1866 and 1873 attracting hundreds of visitors. As well as cases of birds, drawers of moths and butterflies and geological specimens were displayed, along with examples of microscopic research.

The best known member of the HNS was Seth Lister Mosley, a painter and decorator. Brought up at Almondbury Bank, he opened his own museum near Beaumont Park in the 1880s. He was a prolific illustrator and writer, contributing a popular column to the Huddersfield Examiner between 1914 and 1929 entitled ‘Nature Around Huddersfield’.

At its peak in the 1870s the society had around 150 members. There were also naturalist societies in the villages around the town such as Berry Brow, Honley, Lindley, Paddock and Milnsbridge. In 1892, reflecting a new popular hobby, the society became the Huddersfield Naturalist and Photographic Society. ‘Antiquarian’ was added to its title in 1917. Under this name it survived into the 1960s. In over a century of existence it had introduced thousands of local people to the delights of Natural History.

The Yorkshire Naturalists Union, created mainly by HNS members in 1861, is still flourishing.

The full YHP essay (with some revisions, and not written in journalese) can be found in ‘The Naturalist’ December 2012. Vol.137.  No.1081 available from the Yorkshire Naturalist’s Union OR  at  :


2014  February:   Seth Lister Mosley’s works come up for auction.  See the Huddersfield Examiner:

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