Some Memories of the Lancashire & Cheshire Fauna Society
Ken Spencer, March 2014
On January 30th 1944, when I was fifteen, I heard a Skylark singing above the high farm fields to the south of Burnley. I thought it was an early date, so I wrote to the Burnley Express about it. My letter was printed on February 5th. Clifford Oakes noticed it and came up to see me. thus began a lifelong friendship.
He introduced me to the Lancashire and Cheshire Fauna Committee as it was then called. Nominated by Oakes and A. W. Boyd, I was elected to the executive by 1948 and became President in 1966. I edited the annual Lancashire Bird Report from 1957 to 1977.
What follows is a series of reminiscences rather than factual history; there is a good survey of that up to 1964 in the 34th Annual Report.
Boyd, more than anyone else, personified the Society for me. As a schoolboy I used to buy the Tuesday Manchester Guardian especially for his Country Diary. Clifford Oakes knew him well. When he was writing his book The Birds of Lancashire (1953) he went down to stay with him at Great Budworth. Boyd told him that when he volunteered for army service in the Second World War, the authorities were inclined to reject him on account of his age. "I'll show you" said Boyd, and jumped upon the table. He was accepted!
A.W. Boyd was on the first executive committee, in 1914. H, with T. A. Coward, Charles Oldham and others, discovered the potential of Altrincham sewage farm; "Sinderland" they called it. Later, in my own day, Freckleton sewage farm came into prominence with Harry Shorrock outstanding as an observer there. Seawatching superceded it with P. A. Lassey as a pioneer.
N. F. Ellison ("Nomad" of the BBC) was the nearest thing we had to a celebrity. He never quite achieved the following of his predecessor "Romany", but I remember enjoying his Children's Hour programmes on the radio at home. He was an excellent all-round naturalist. When he became old and found it difficult to get to our A. G. Ms, he always sent a donation, an example that I follow now.
The Nelson entomologist, Allan Brindle, was a good friend. When our meetings were in Manchester, he would give me a life back to Burnley in his little Reliant car. When I began the annual East Lancashire Butterfly Report in 1993, I drew heavily on his previous records. It pleases me that a present member of the Society, Peter Hornby, is co-editor of the same report today, sponsored by the NBelson Naturalists' Society of which no doubt Alan would have been a member.
I have two very special memories. The first was the day of our AGM in March 1947 at the Fermlea Social Institute at Altrincham. On my way there, I spotted two Waxwings on a berry tree in a suburban garden. I mentioned it when I arrived and I believe our meeting was over in record time! Boyd, Br Stuart Smith and John Southern were among those who went to see the birds. I think they were a 'first' for Boyd. John Southern was about my age and went on to be proprietor of the Thorburn Gallery at Dobwalls in Cornwall.
The second was at the AGM in 1960 at Birkenhead School of which W. T. C. Rankin was the head. Our formal business was getting over; it ws late in the afternoon of a lovely day. the windows were open and from a garden at the back, a male Blackbird began to sing. It was a moment for me, in retrospect, like Edward Thomas's immortal Aldestrop.