Botany and Beyond at the Museum Collections Centre

By Josie Wall, Birmingham Museums Trust, Museums Collections Centre

So its blog time again! It feels like no time at all since I started at the Museum Collections Centre. I can’t believe that I only have 6 full weeks left! I’ve learned so much and met so many fantastic people that the time has really flown!

Botany

I’m still plodding away with the Bagnall herbarium project (if you need a reminder, see my first blog here https://cultureuob.wordpress.com/2014/10/21/first-week-at-the-museum-collections-centre/)– you’ll be pleased to know I’m now much better with not sticking the gummed tape to my gloves (or my fleece, or the table…) and I’ve learnt a lot about the plants too! Who knew there were so many species of Dandelion?!I love the story behind this specimen. It came from Bagnall’s garden in Aston, he cultivated it from seed and tended the plant for 5 years, but the original sample came from Sutton Park – one of his favourite places for plant collecting, in fact there are over 300 plants from Sutton Park in the Bagnall herbarium. It’s still popular with botanists today because it’s a wonderfully diverse environment.

In fact as beautiful as the plants are, and despite how much I’ve learned about them, it’s been the little human touches which I’ve loved the most. For instance, this note, in Bagnall’s handwriting which was added to a collector’s label which says ‘Poor old Bromwich’.

Photograph of sheet from the Bagnall Herbarium of water crowfoots.
Sheet from the Bagnall Herbarium of water crowfoots.
Photograph of a note added to the collector’s label ‘poor old Bromwich’
note added to the collector’s label ‘poor old Bromwich’

Henry Bromwich was also another respected Midlands Botanist and was a friend of Bagnall’s who ‘rendered material aid, which is warmly acknowledged’ during research for the Flora of Warwickshire which Bagnall compiled. Bromwich died in 1907, his obituary appears in that year’s report from the Botanical Exchange Club of the British Isles (PDF http://archive.bsbi.org.uk/BEC_1907.pdf, see page 12).

Photograph of a note on a herbarium sheet for Diplotaxis muralis var. Babingtoni (Babington’s Wall Mustard) which says ‘Collected by my dearest mother’
What a lovely mother!

This might be my absolute favourite of all though, this note on a herbarium sheet for Diplotaxis muralis var. Babingtoni (Babington’s Wall Mustard) which says ‘Collected by my dearest mother’. I like to think that Mrs A Bagnall was on holiday in Llandudno and saw this unusual plant. She knew her son would be interested to see it, so collected it, pressed it and brought it home.

So far, I have documented and remounted just over 1,100 herbarium sheets! That seems like a lot until you realise that the catalogue has over 6400 sheets and counting (I’ve found around 50 sheets so far which weren’t listed in the catalogue). I won’t finish the project by the time my placement is finished, but hopefully by then I can get to 2000 sheets. Also all of the boxes will have a label like this one, which shows the location of each genus, helping interested researchers to quickly locate the specimens (there’s a spreadsheet of locations too). They’ll have to prise me away from the herbarium on the last day I think – but hopefully I’ll be leaving a collection which is much easier to navigate and better understood, and I feel honoured to have been responsible for helping protect this important collection from the ravages of time.

And beyond!

Of course I haven’t just being working on the documentation of the Bagnall herbarium, I’ve also been helping both the Collections and Curatorial teams with a variety of projects and events.
It’s hard to pick favourites, because I’ve done so many amazing things, but here are just a few where I took pictures!

Moving and unrolling two William Morris tapestries for conservation cleaning. These tapestries tell the story of King Arthur and the Holy Grail. I love all the details, like the flowers and the way fabrics are draped!

Photograph of William Morris tapestries out for conservation cleaning. The tapestries tell the story of King Arthur and the Holy Grail Photograph of William Morris tapestries out for conservation cleaning. The tapestries tell the story of King Arthur and the Holy Grail

Photograph of William Morris tapestries out for conservation cleaning. The tapestries tell the story of King Arthur and the Holy Grail

Helping set up for a seminar about the Natural History Collections. It was really interesting to get an overview of what collections we hold – and I just love the Death’s Head Hawk Moths here. Aren’t they incredible?

Image from the Birmingham Museums Trust Collections Store Death’s Head Hawk Moths  Death’s Head Hawk Moths

Assisting with an open day for Museum Studies MA students from Leicester. They had a tour of the stores, a talk about identifying hazardous materials in collections and a workshop on how to handle, move and pack museum objects. Then they tested their skills by packing kinder eggs, which were unceremoniously treated by some clumsy ‘airport baggage handlers’ to see how well they would survive!

Overall the students packing was quite successful and I got a lot of kinder eggs to eat at the end of the day!

blog post 2 - leicester egg packing 1 blog post 2 - leicester egg packing 2

I’ve got many exciting things to look forward to before the end of my internship too, including training on Ivory and Bone identification and hopefully a special tour for the other interns!

For now though it’s back to Botany… I’ve got 25 boxes of Rubus (the Bramble family which includes Blackberries and Raspberries) to condition check! I wish they were fresh instead – looking at all the fruit makes me peckish!

blog post 2 - rubus
Rubus plicatus, a nice delicate looking species of blackberry without too many thorns!

 

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