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Interesting Roytonians

John Mellor - Botanist 1767-1848

John Mellor was born in Royton in 1767 in Thorp Lane, and started work as a bobbin winder at the tender age of seven. At the age of nine, he commenced the occupation of hand weaver and continued doing this for a few years before becoming a hand cotton spinner at the Top o’t’ Fold Mill. Then came the introduction of power which did not suit John at all because he had to keep up with the machinery. He always maintained that ‘the strap wouldn’t run him’, referring to the leather belts which drove the machinery.

When he was thirty years old he became a working gardener, a job that became his hobby for over fifty years. Having explored the flora of his neighbourhood, Mellor made annual excursions into Scotland and the Northern Counties. The route of his rambles would take him from Lancashire into Yorkshire, Durham, Newcastle and Scotland. It was not uncommon for Mellor to walk a thousand miles in pursuit of his favourite study, braving all the elements that nature could throw at him. On one trip into Yorkshire he visited Wentworth Hall, where he helped in correcting the names of the plants. The Earl Fitzwilliam invited him to stay and enjoy his hospitality any time he was in the area

He made six journeys into the Highlands of Scotland visiting such places as Ben Lavers, Ben Nevis, Ben Lomond, Clova and the Breadlebane Mountains. All these excursions were carried out on foot and alone, a tribute in itself to the man’s fortitude and perseverance. However, on one occasion he was leaving Edinburgh, when a stranger joined him. After walking with him for a few miles another man joined them. It turned out they were Highwaymen who took ten sovereigns from him but missed a further three, which had dropped through the lining of his coat.

During these absences, which took upwards of 6 weeks, his affairs were looked after by his landlord George Booth, who also received his plant specimens by carrier and nurtured them until Mellor’s return. Quite how Mellor managed to pay his bills is not clear but the Rev. C E Shaw said that in his declining years Mellor was saved from the workhouse by John Roby of Rochdale, the author of the ‘Traditions of Lancashire’.

Mellor had 4 gardens which he tended. He used these for stocking the specimens from his excursions and they were the forerunner of the ‘garden centre’ as we know it. On Sundays these became a local meeting place for his botanist friends, who came from the surrounding areas to spend the day there. His companions included John Dewhurst, George Crozes and George Cale of Manchester the well known botanist who, with Sir Joseph Banks, went to explore Botany Bay. Sir Joseph Banks with Dr Solander also accompanied Captain Cook on his barque The Endeavour to explore the Southern Seas.

The Botanical Society was founded in 1794 at The Unicorn Inn with John Mellor as the President. Simon Mellor (secretary), James Mellor, George Sudhurst, John Blunt, John Ogden, Henry Gartside, Thomas Halkyard, Edmund Shaw, Edmund Mills, Dan Andrew, Samuel Newton, Dan Mellor, James Geeenwood, James Hallawell, Jonathon Cheetham Lees, Benjamin Taylor, John Steilbeck, Samuel Walton, John Ogden, Robert Holden, Richard Kent, James Dearden and Simon Kent being the other members. It continued until 1824 when it was dissolved and all the books and other property of the Society were divided amongst the remaining members. Another society was formed in 1844 and was said to have a good Library.

There is no doubt that John Mellor’s title ‘The Father of Lancashire Botanists’ was rightly deserved and although he was a modest man he was never happier than when he was imparting his knowledge to any who were interested, particularly the young people of the time. He is credited with having dictated a book ‘The Flora of Royton’ but this book is now lost. He made many friends, aristocrats and working class alike, including Sam Bamford the Lancashire reformer. In 1918 J W Kershaw wrote “He was also acquainted with Wilson, Hooker and John Nowell” who, as a pupil of Mellor’s, distinguished himself as a botanist.

Born of poor parents, as many were in those days, one gets the feeling that Mellor was a quiet reserved person, often criticised for not putting himself forward to receive the recognition that others felt he deserved. Before Mellor’s time the British Hymenophyllum consisted of a single species - the Hymenophyllum Tunbridgense. Mellor, having discovered the Hymenophyllum at Greenfield, sent it to Wilson pointing out that his specimen differed from the Tunbridgense. Wilson, who was of the same opinion, forwarded it to Sir William Hooker who, through some misunderstanding, named it Wilsonii after Wilson when it was Mellor who should have been honoured.

In his later years he was described as “a cheerful, vigorous and hale old man as could be seen” but, after just one weeks illness, he died from english cholera on October 5th 1848 at the ripe old age of 82. His burial took place in Royton Church Yard (St. Paul’s) in an unmarked grave but was attended by a large crowd of mourners that included many of his friends and botanists. Some years later a memorial stone was erected in the interior of St Paul’s Church.

DOUGLAS ASHMORE

Sources

Rev C E Shaw, Varley’s Royton Annual, J W Kershaw and Bruce Langridge - Oldham Interest Centre.

Picture: Courtesy of Mary C. Evans of  Denver, Colorado