Bryophytes in the Guermonprez collection at Portsmouth Museum

Henry Leopold Foster Guermonprez (1858-1924) lived in Bognor from the early 1890s and amassed a huge natural history collection comprising plants, lichens, fungi, moths, birds and much else. He collected a large portion of this himself, mainly in West Sussex, but he also bought and acquired other collections, and received items from various correspondents.

The collection was at Bognor Museum for many years, and was subsequently transferred to Portsmouth, where the new Curator of Natural History, Christine Taylor, has been assessing the scale and scope of the materials and seeking help with cataloguing and identification. This is a huge task: Guermonprez’ vascular plant collection alone amounts to 14,000 items. Once catalogued, these will not only provide visibility of a hitherto unknown collection and the consequent distribution data, but they will also give insights into his correspondence networks and his recording and acquisition practice.

Picture of the Portsmouth herbarium

The vascular plant collection

He is certainly an interesting figure, and deserves more extensive research. Nick Sturt has written about Guermonprez in his historical chapter in The Flora of Sussex[1] and contributed a short piece in the SBRS Newsletter in 1997.[2] Other than that, the only extra nugget I can offer for now is that, during the period 1885-1887 Guermonprez routinely submitted correct solutions to the chess problems posed in The Morning Post.[3]

Picture of bryologist checking herbarium specimens

Checking herbarium specimens

Bryophytes make up a relatively small part of the collection, and Sue and I visited on Friday to start the process of cataloguing and identifying these plants. Mercifully, there is only one major box, which probably contains some 300 or so collections, plus a rag-bag of other bits and pieces.

The main body of the collection is extremely well organised, and appears to follow the sequence in Braithwaite (though we need to confirm that). In addition to material collected by Guermonprez himself, it also includes material from other herbaria, primarily that of Harold Warren Monington (1867-1924), most of which appears to be from Surrey and Sussex, and includes many of Monington’s well executed drawings.

A drawing of Atrichum undulatum

Monington’s drawing of Atrichum undulatum, collected at Danes Wood 30 April 1894 (TN2784/42)

On the top of this well-organised collection is a separate fascicle, which is the material we started to look at first. It comprises at least 40 sheets with bryophytes on them, many attached, but some loose, and most with labels at least describing where and when they were collected.

In the five hours or so that we spent working on these plants we managed to get through well over half of this first batch. Most did not include the name of the collector and were most likely Guermonprez himself, judging from the handwriting, and were mainly from West Sussex, with a few from Surrey and Derbyshire, primarily collected in the period 1907-1912. In addition, a few were from other collectors, such as a Miss Hewitt who supplied Mnium hornum from Fittleworth and Rhizomnium punctatum from a Dartmoor bog. An Encalypta streptocarpa from Derbyshire was noted as being collected by “C.S.P.G.”, who was his wife Clara Sophia Phelps Guermonprez.

Of the specimens we examined, the earliest was this Marchantia from Beddington near Croydon from June 1889:

Pictture of herbarium specimen of Marchantia polymorpha

Marchantia polymorpha

There was also a Fontinalis antipyretica from Fishbourne in 1909, which looks like a tetrad where that has not previously been recorded.

Picture of herbarium specimen of Fontinalis antipyretica

Fontinalis antipyretica

And the sheet that kept us busy for the longest time was this one from West Chiltington in September 1912, comprising a good cluster of plants from a wet heath: Rhytidiadelphus squarrosus, Hylocomium splendens, Dicranum scoparium, Aulacomnium palustre, Hypnum jutlandicum, Pseudoscleropodium purum, Sphagnum capillifolium subsp. rubellum, and Sphagnum subnitens. This is surely from Hurston Common, where all of these species have been subsequently recorded.

Picture of a collection of mosses in a herbarium

Collection from West Chiltington (TN2784/23)

However, the most interesting find was this sheet from a lane in Haslemere  in 1911. In addition to a small piece of Dicranum scoparium, the bulk of the material was Antitrichia curtipendula with its distinctive toothed leaves. This appears to be the first ever record from Surrey of this species.

Picture of a herbarium sheet

Mostly Antitrichia curtipendula from Haslemere

Picture of Antitrichia curtipendula leaf

Antitrichia curtipendula leaf (TN2784/20)

Finally, as the time was getting on, we had a quick look through the remaining sheets in the folder. At the back were a few loose specimens from Brazil and New Zealand, which will no doubt be an interesting challenge to identify, plus a very messy collection of packets that Guermonprez presumably bought. These are marked as being from the herbarium of John Gisborne (1770-1850); he was a poet who was commended by Wordsworth and lived in Derbyshire.[4] The packets are also accompanied by a handwritten list describing the source of all the specimens (mostly around Ireby Hall), though it may take a while to reconcile the plants with those in the list.

To check and catalogue all these specimens will certainly take a reasonable amount of time, but already it is clear that there are valuable and interesting records here that will add good data for West Sussex and beyond, and which will contribute to our growing understanding of collecting networks and practices in the past. Huge thanks to Christine Taylor and Portsmouth Museum for our visit, and we look forward to continuing the task.

[1] Sturt, N. J. H. (2018). Sussex botany and botanists. In F. Abraham et al. (Eds.), The Flora of Sussex (pp. 4–14). Newbury: Pisces.

[2] Sturt, N. (1997). Henry Leopold Foster Guermonprez 1858-1924. Sussex Botanical Recording Society Newsletter, 43. Retrieved from http://www.sussexflora.org.uk/resources/articles/henry-leopold-foster-guermonprez-1858-1924/

[3] For example: The Morning Post (London, England), Monday, December 14, 1885; pg. 2; Issue 35407. British Library Newspapers, Part II: 1800-1900.

[4] R. M. Bradley, & Rebecca Mills. (2004). Gisborne, John (1770–1851), poet. In Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Retrieved from http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-10779

One thought on “Bryophytes in the Guermonprez collection at Portsmouth Museum

  1. How exciting! Good that the specimens appear to have been well looked after, at least environmentally, so you have reasonable material to attempt to confirm or identify. I’m sure you find more of interest. The drawings look good too.

    Like

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