Manchester Microscopical & Natural History Society


    Summary                                           Articles
  • 1850s, Around 60 individuals owning achromatic microscopes in Manchester, supplied mainly by JB Dancer
  • 1858, Manchester Literary & Philosophical Society - Microscopical Section
    • President, Prof W Crawford Williamson; VP, Joseph Sidebotham; also EW Binney, G Mosley, JB Dancer, Dr Alcock, AG Latham. 26 members
  • 1861, Microscopical Soiree by above to the British Association, numerous contributions by JB Dancer FRAS, lots of interest in Diatoms and dredging the Oceans. Many new Microscopical Societies founded in UK towns*
  • 1865, 45 members; added General Natural History to title (Closed in 1899). JBD Chairman.
  • 1867, Some members formed a club for Microscopy enthusiasts which met fortnightly during the winter (President JE Vize)
    • called Manchester Scientific Students Microscopical Club
    • founders:Thomas Pearce, John Hardy, Walter Morris, John Barrow, Mark Stirrup, FGS Bowden, Charles Bailey (1838-1924)
  • 1869, Mc Lit & Phil - Microscopical Section, Dancer (President) presents his paper on dust and germs in the atmosphere
             Microscopical Section of Lower Mosley Natural History Society in existence
             Manchester Circulating Microscopic Cabinet Society, President Mr Horne
  • 1875, Club restored and changed name to Leeuwenhoek Microscopical Club but kept small to meet in individual's houses, lasted into 1890s
  • 1880, Manchester Microscopical Society founded to enlarge the club to include mechanics and young people
    • First full meeting at the Mechanic's Institute 14th February of a Society for the Art of Microscopy,(setup meeting 18th December 1879 - 27 attendees)
    • President, Dr John Tatham; (Manchester Medical Officer), also GE Davies, John Boyd, William Blackburn, Thomas Brittain , JW Miles (Town Hall Rate Collector) and about 21 others.Subscriptions 5/-
    • Hire-purchase of instruments offered to younger members
    • Produced Transactions of the Microscopical society
    • 1881 141 members. President: John Boyd
    • 1882 President: Thomas Brittain
    • 1883 President:W Blackburn FRMS, 196 members
    • 1884 President: GE Davies FRMS, 242 members, Ladies admitted as Associates
    • 1885 President Dr John Tatham (2nd time), Hon members Frank Crisp, Rev WH Dallinger, Henry Clifton Sorby FRS, 211 members. Meetings now in Memorial Hall
    • 1886 President JLW Miles FRMS, 206 members
    • 1887-1893 President, Prof Milnes Marshall, MA MD DSc FRS (1851-1893) 214 members (1887) Talks on Zeolites and visits to Owens College (1888).
    • 1888 Ladies admitted as associates but not members
    • 1892 227 members.
    • 1893-1898 President FE Weiss DSc FLS
    • 1899-1910 President, Prof Sydney J Hickson MA DSc FRS (1859-1940)
      (See Article "MMS in the 1890s" by Anne Gilligan below)
    • 1911-1922, President, Prof FE Weiss
    • 1923-1926, President J Stuart Thompson MSc PhD FRSE
    • 1927-1929, President Rev GH Carpenter DSc MRIA
    • 1930, President J Walton MA Dsc
  • 1930, Celebration of society's Golden Jubilee. Early historical account from Prof Weiss
  • 1931, President JS Dunkerley DSc PhD
  • 1931-1932, President JP Shenton FIC FCS
  • 1932-1937, President HW Miles MSc PhD
  • 1936 Heyes (Treasurer), Pettigrew, Unsworth, Walmsley,Hurst (Secretary), Carpenter (Honorary Member), Rawlinson. Discussion on aims and objectives of Society.
  • 1939 President Harry Britten (FRES) Joined MMS 1928. £52 in bank. B Harthan slide curator. Lectures to young people. Meetings at Manchester University & UMIST.
  • 1940 Seven excursions. Records and materials lost in Manchester Blitz (December) [See article below]
  • 1941-1944 Materials stored at members homes for safety. Collection of 2811 slides. Meetings and outings continue.
  • 1946 106 members.
  • 1949 12 rambles,regular meetings on Thursdays.
  • 1950 70th Anniversary. Vice Chairs Pettigrew & Barker.
  • 1953 President Harry Britten. 118 members.
  • ? President, HH Huxley
  • 1953 Subscriptions 15/- shillings. 42 present at meeting.
  • 1955, 75th Anniversary celebrations, suggested become Manchester Microscopical and Natural History Society
  • 1956 Moved meetings to UMIST. H Barker
  • 1957 84 members. December Annual Exhibitions continue.
  • 1958 President H Barker. B Harthan (Slide Curator) - 4446 slides (1539 Botanical, 2802 Zoological, 185 Crystal)
  • 1958 AGM. President Ian Claude Fitch (b1903-d1997) VCs Barker, Browning, Hayes, Secretary - Bentley, History of MMS published in Reports.
  • 1960 Typed reports of meetings. 70 members.JB Dancer Exhibition.
  • 1961, President, Stanley Meakin (d1988) 35 members. Conversazione and meetings at schools and for public. Formerly Manchester Microscopical and Natural History Society.
  • 1962 President Miss B Harthan (first Lady President)
  • 1962-1964 Sales of MMS microscopes.
  • 1965 President Mr Kitchen.
  • 1969 President IC Fitch
  • 1972 President IC Fitch. 7 meetings per annum. Sales of MMS books.
  • 1978 Sales of MMS microscopes. Secretary Mr Lester.
  • 1980, Centenary of MMS. 13 members. H Barker, Mrs Besconby, D Bridge, IC Fitch, B Harthan, H Inglesent, J Lester, S Meakin, R Yeunhall,  JG Whitehouse, T Young,  D Haworth, Rahoo
  • 1982 President H Barker.  Subscriptions raised from £1-£3.Problems with cost of UMIST room hire. Sold more books.
  • 1985, President, Harry Barker (1982-1987). Joined 1929.
    Newsletter begun by Secretary Roy Winsby, 26 members
  • 1986 6 meetings and 1 outdoor.Prof HH Huxley (Cambridge) Honorary Member
  • 1987 20 members. Prof RL Howey year in Manchester joined Society. Subs £6. Theft of books.
  • 1988, President, Joseph Lester (1988-1992), 120 members. Sold books for £1120. Reintroduced January meeting
  • 1989, Newsletter renamed Micro Miscellanea. Purchased modern books.
  • 1991 First Steps publsihed. Talks by M Mahon (Muscles ..), J Battersby (Sectioning ..), J Lester (Algae..)
  • 1992, President EP McCann, (1992-2002), Society reaches over 100 members. 600 copies of First steps produced to sell at £2.50 each.
  • 1993 149 members
  • 1995, Society reaches over 200 members. More book purchases. £3742 in bank
  • 1996, BJ Harthan joined 1937 celebrates 80th birthday. 228 members. Newsletter ISSN 1360-6301. Council EP McCann, F Coaker, D Haworth, G Marsh,  F Rowntree, R winsby
  • 1997, Society on the Internet (Meetings Secretary M Mahon)
  • 1998, Society membership 264. Subs £6. Deaths of Lester, Fitch announced.
  • 1999, Society meetings move to Manchester University Medical School
  • 2000, 120th Anniversary on February 14th, Current website address. Members 297. £7000 in bank.
  • 2002, New style newsletter launched by Steve Edgar;
    President, Mike Mahon (2002-2023+) Martin Elwood (Secretary), J Elwood (Treasurer - following Frank Coaker), David Rome (Librarian following M Gilligan)
  • 2003, MMS at Manchester Science Museum. J Brettell digitises slides.
  • 2004 203 members
  • 2006 £11k in bank due to legacies etc. Purchase of stereomicroscope. Mike Gilligan Treasurer
  • 2008, Exciting change in meetings format and joint meeting with Astronomers
  • 2012, Joint meet with Victorian Society on JB Dancer
  • 2013, Use of new microscope lab at Manchester University. Anne Gilligan Librarian
  • 2014, Passing of Roy Winsby - Honorary Secretary (1982-2002), Membership Secretary, Treasurer, Newsletter Editor, Meetings Organisor, Booklet Author responsible for resurgence of MMS
  • 2016, First whole day Summer Meeting, membership around 100
  • 2017, Sad loss of Steve Edgar (Newsletter suspended), Change in Meeting Format
  • 2018  Society to utilise internet social media - James Battersby Communications Officer.
    MMS & JB Dancer on BBC
  • 2019, MMS at Preston Science Fair
  • 2020 140th Anniversary, unfortunately interrupted by virus pandemic. Manchester professor is President of RMS. Micro Miscellanea Issue 94 produced as pdf file
    MMS first virtual meeting on Zoom, continued into 2021
  • 2022 142nd Anniversary - face to face meetings resumed. Acquired Doherty slides, Outreach Meeting at Etherow Country Park. Meeting with Oldham Microscopical Society
  • 2023 Live meetings continued, outreach meeting at Poynton Beavers/Scouts, MMS Archives deposited with Manchester University Library
  • .....
  • 2030 150th Anniversary !

Leewenhoek Club
Leeuwenhoek Microscopical Club, March 1890. Left to right, Mark Stirrup, William Blackburn, John Barrow, John Boyd, John Tatham, Charles Bailey, and John B. Pettigrew (from Microscopist.net)

Tatham  Boyd   Brittain Blackburn
       Tatham                                 Boyd                             Brittain                     Blackburn

Davies  Miles  Milnes Marshall     Hickson
         Davies                          Miles                      Milnes Marshall                 Hickson

Weiss         ....................  Winsby  ..
         Weiss                                                        Winsby

  • Annual Reports & Transaction Vol 1-40
    • ????   1-7
    • 1887  8-10
    • 1890 11-15
    • 1895 16-20
    • 1900 21-25
    • 1905 26-30
    • 1913 34-36
    • 1916 37-40
    • 1936-1945
  • Annual Reports of the Manchester Microscopical Society, 1884-1888.
  • Weiss FE (1930) Microscopy in Manchester, Manchester Microscopical Society 36-54.
  • Microscopist.net  Tatham  Boyd  Bailey  Miles  Ward Leewenhoek Club
  • Journal of Cell Science Archive of Proceedings of Societies
  • ..

During the 1860s several Provincial and other Microscopical Societies or Microscopical Sections of other Societies were established in additional to the London or Royal Microscopical Society and the Quekett Microscopical Club.

  • Bedford Microscopical Society
  • Bristol Microscopical Society
  • Dublin Microscopical Club
  • Hull Micro-Philosophical Society
  • Islington Literary & Scientific Society - Microscopical Class
  • Liverpool Microscopical Society
  • Oldham Microscopical & Natural History Society
  • Oxford Microscopical Society
  • Reading Microscopical Society
  • Scottish Microscopy Society
  • Southampton Microscopical Society
  • Wakefield Microscopical Society
  • West Kent Microscopical Society

Manchester, as shown above, seemed to have 5 such bodies almost co-existing (Manchester Lit & Phil - Microscopical Section, Leewenhoek Club, Lower Mosley Street Natural History Society - Microscopical Section, Manchester Circulating Microscopic Cabinet Society, and the Manchester Microscopical Society), so it is not surprising that now in the 2020's it is the UK centre for one of the largest Microscopical Conferences in the world, harbours a major Biomedical Imaging Facility, and one of its University professors (Grace Burke) is currently (2022) the President of the RMS!

Mike Mahon

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Page Last Updated - 3rd December 2023 (MM)



1. MMS in the 1890s ...... by Anne Gilligan (MMS Librarian, 2020)

In 1893 the Society had 245 members, mostly from the surrounding counties. Whilst many were associated with the Owens College, and the Hospital, others were from other establishments like the Department of Electrical Engineering at the Technical College, or were just the Men in the street (no females allowed). There was no  barrier to joining except the Subscription of 6 shillings to be a member. This could be conveniently reduced if you just came to the Exhibition (which women were allowed to enter and observe). The Exhibition was advertised in the Manchester City News and Magazine.

There  were also “corresponding members” from Knutsford to Wellington New Zealand, from Bristol to Sydney ... not only in the British Empire but including the U.S.A. and Constantinople.
Many of these were fellow members of other Natural History Societies. We sent them our Reports and Papers and they responded, so that the Pamphlets of the New York Academy of Science, and others, informed the Manchester folk of what was happening.

Whilst the numbers at meetings averaged 30 men attending 8 meetings a year, including the Conversazione and the Soire, the Exhibition was open to the public, for a cost, which then added to the Society funds, as did advertisements in the Reports by local suppliers of microscopes etc.

The Society library grew each year. The papers from various Societies were supplemented by donations from the members [often of expensive books, monographs, and Journals like the Royal Microscopical Society and the Quekett].

At each meeting papers from members or correspondence from friends was delivered which later found its way into the Annual Reports and Journal [cost of 1 shilling 6 pence, an extra 2pence if posted].

So, whilst in 1894 Mr R Simon suggested rather than travelling abroad, members should stay close to home and study bees; others preferred to travel around Britain on hoilday, bringing back samples of sand from Devon ... or in the case of Mr Chopin, to go off with dredge (home made) around Arran for deep sea species, of sponges and urchins ... Mr Chopin followed this up with a lecture in November 1894.

Although without the Internet, they were not cut off from the outside world!  It was brought into Manchester by the postal service. Mr W.E. Hoyle, Keeper of the Manchester Museum delivered a lecture on the latest deep sea investigations ...  information on the “Challenger” expedition appears always to be of interest.

Mr Abraham  Flatters showed his lantern slides  on Foraminifera.

In June 1896 Edward Ward reported about a letter from Dr Schuster of Owens College, covering the latest news on the discovery X-Rays and their use in the scientific world, and Mr Hoyle keeper of the Museum showed negatives depicting a grass snake that had swallowed a mouse ( this image can be seen at Fig.13 here: https://www.microscopy-uk.org.uk/mag/artjan12/bs-WardE.pdf The work of Professor Rontgen, seems to be of great interest to members of the Society as a detailed retelling appears in the Report. 

The exchange of information between Societies, including the sending of Reports & Papers, gave the Manchester Microscopist a glimpse of the outside world .

We were not just corresponding with other Microscopical and Natural History societies, but also Photographic Societies, a Lancashire  Footpath Society, the New York Academy of Science, Trinidad Field Naturalists, and the Norwich Science Gossip Club to name but a few.

There was a practical demonstration of  “How to use the New Camera Lucida by Zeiss" given by Mr H F Alyward, a local supplier in Oxford St. Manchester, followed by discussion how to best use the instrument to draw your specimens. 

Mounting of displays, or how to display your collected items, were always requested as the basis of meetings; as a result a separate group within the society formed the Mounting Section.

The majority of lectures and displays were listed in the Reports appearing in the ‘year end' booklets so we still have a great opportunity to learn from them.

Mr Abraham Flatters, well respected local Microscopist and maker of slides [which are often sold today via Antique dealers and online auctions] several times displayed his own invention [a ringing table which would ring an oval or a square as easily as it would a circle] and demonstrated how to ring slides.  Note: Mr Flatters regularly demonstrated to the Society.

Members often brought-in materials to freely share amongst the group to examine at home at leisure ; from  Australian Spicules, and Sand from around the world, to various Insects, specimens of Timber, Animal Tissue, Tropical Butterflies, Foraminifera, etc

2. Eighty years ago this month! ...... by Anne Gilligan (MMS Librarian, December 2020)

During the 1930’s the Society rented rooms and storage at 36 George St, Manchester, the home to Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society, locally known Man Lit and Phil.

These rooms were used for meetings, lectures, and to store our collection of books, microslides, lantern slides, microscopes and apparatus.

Discussion had been held in early December 1940, about the Insurance Policy for the Society’s collection; and it was found that Mr Crawford [a past President of the Society] was holding the document ... the Premium was then paid in full, covering items valued around £600/0/0.

In October, Miss Harthan had volunteered to list and index the collection of Micro- Slides, she had now completed her cataloguing of slides, which were contained in two cabinets.

Mr Openshaw agreed to do the same for the book collection, with Mr Barker to assist him.

Mr Hayward the Curator of Lantern slides and apparatus also agreed to start a catalogue of items.

The librarian also commented that space was at a premium, and that the Society held a large collection of old Transactions ( Newsletters): The Committee agreed to keep a dozen of each issue; and to offer the remainder for disposal along, with several books of which there were multiple copies, to the members.

A member Mr G Jones offered a case of Indian butterflies, that he had found whilst clearing out his home; they were gratefully accepted.

Everything changed on the nights of 22nd & 23rd December 1940, the Manchester Blitz.

The buildings on George Street were destroyed; the Society lost its items, but the Man Lit & Phil lost a huge amount of historical items....see link below

A special Council meeting was held on 14th January 1941, at the Flatters & Garnett Laboratory, to discuss the destruction of the Society’s property due to Enemy Action.

The various curators and members of the Council started to compile a list for the General Fire & Life Assurance Corporation, to whom they had just paid one Guinea premium the previous month.

A notice was sent out to members requesting equipment, books, and slides.

The ever generous Mr Winterbottom agreed to donate books, slides, turntable, various oddments required for mounting, and a Swift Microscope.

A donation Fund was started, and a new venue for meetings, lectures etc was 29 Birch Hall Lane, Manchester, the home of Manchester Geography Society.

A member, Mr Abel P Bradshaw F.R.M.S. who had been a member for almost 50 years, offered his large collection but suggested that they stay with him for the duration.

A letter was sent to Flatters & Garnett, to supply asap a Micro-projector as this was thought to be the most important piece of apparatus lost .

The paperwork for the Insurance claim proved to be complicated so
Mr Winterbottom agreed to organise it all for the Council.

The Board of Trade Insurance & Companies Department made detailed enquires regarding apparatus destroyed, requesting valuations of equipment.

There was good news, Miss Harthan had been cataloguing the micro-slides so only 630 slides were lost and 2180 were saved.
The Lantern slides did not fare so well; of the 600 slides, many of them early Victorian, only 60 survived, these had been on loan to members.
All the books, pamphlets and assorted paperwork was lost, along with Microscope Equipment, Cabinets and Bookcases.

Letters between the Council, Board of Trade, and the Insurance Agent
Brocklehurst & Sons, continued until August 1942, when the Board of Trade decided to settle on the amount of £462/10/0 as the full and final claim for War Damage.
A Deferment Notice was then issued, saying that the Society would not receive any amount of money until after the end of the War.

After much discussion a letter was received from the Board of Trade about the purchase of replacement equipment ... the Board was seeking firm dates and costs for the apparatus but, although the Society desired the replacements, it was hard if not impossible at that time, to actually buy the goods; so the Council decided to place orders with Flatters & Garnett to replace asap, most of the items on the list.

Further problems occurred with storage of these items, great difficulty was had in buying cabinets, bookcases etc as these were strictly rationed

Finally, in July 1946 orders were placed with F&G for the following items:
  1. Micro-Projector. Estimate of £40.
  2. Bench Microtome Est. of £4.
  3. Mounting Cabinet with Turntable. Est. £8
  4. Heating Device for mounting
  5. A simple dissecting Microscope as in F&G B 685, Est. £10
  6. Field Microscope Est. £10
  7. A Greenough Type Binocular Microscope, Est. £28, this item required a Licence to purchase it.
  8. Student Model Microscopes, 4 Stands with Optical Equipment, with Graduating Revolving Table and Polariser, Lamps and Filters Est. £120
  9. Lantern Slide Projector Est. £20.

In all, the order from Flatters & Garnett had an estimated cost of around £250 but the Society had further requirements of Cabinets, Bookcases etc.

It was decided to spend around £70 on acquiring books, and copies of Transactions of other Societies.

Due to the difficulty in getting new equipment as regard to Licences and detailed form-filling for the Board of Trade; it was decided to purchase used equipment from members if suitable:

A Crouch Microscope, with fitted addition &apparatus was bought £28/0/0
a Bench Microtome for £2/10/0
A “Precision” Microscope £30/0/0
A Watson Service Microscope for £35/0/0
The Librarian then spent £15/0/0 on books
a total of £110/10/0 ( £4600 in today’s money according to ONS data )

F&G had a Secondhand Greenough Low power Beck Microscope for sale, and it was agreed to purchase this for £42/4/6d but; as the committee had already spent the first allocation of money, a further request was made to Board of Trade for a further release from the balance due to the Society: Several letters were sent between the parties and several months passed by, and its was not until the end of 1947 that the accounts were finally settled with the Board of Trade officials.

The balance of money was kept in the Bank, to be spent on books, when available: Problems of acquiring new books were mentioned, as to the restriction due to paper shortages, but members continued to donate books and money.

As still happens today; upon the death of members, their families contact us and donate items, either for us to keep or to sell on their behalf or for charities.


Thanks to www.manlitphil.ac.uk for the images of 36 George Street.

The Office of National Statistics note that £600 in 1940 is equal to £33,809. in today’s money.