Teme Valley Musings, June 2022

by Stephanie Mocroft

The Teme Valley Wildlife Group is meeting again at Stoke Bliss and Kyre village hall now that corona virus restrictions have been lifted. One of our speakers has been Nick Dunn from Frank P Matthews Tree Nursery who gave an excellent talk on trees and shrubs for gardens and wildlife. The meeting was well-attended and in addition to the main topic we heard fascinating details about Nick’s research in identifying varieties resistant to serious plant diseases including ash dieback. He also mentioned his work in sending pollen samples to breeders and researchers all over the world who look to maintain and improve the health of shrubs and trees of all kinds.

Frank P Matthews is based at Berrington Court near Tenbury and I have recently discovered that an earlier owner also took an interest in wildlife and in fact was an accomplished naturalist. Her name was Ellen Meredith and in 1831 she became co-heiress to a large fortune. Her inheritance included the family’s country seat of Berrington Court, a house she had known from childhood. As a wealthy and well-connected young woman she turned down a marriage proposal from Benjamin Disraeli and instead married Frederick William Hope, a Shropshire clergyman and fellow naturalist.

He was at the forefront of the new science of entomology and founded a department at Oxford University devoted to its study. On his death, Ellen donated their large collection of insects to the department. It is now housed in London’s Natural History Museum and comprises over a million specimens. The Hopes were working at a fascinating time for natural science. Many discoveries were being made and museums were keen to hold collections sourced from across the world. The British Empire was at its greatest breadth and naturalists could take advantage of colonial administrations to assist them in their work. Huge numbers of new plants and animals were being described and sent back to Britain to be catalogued and studied.

FW Hope knew Charles Darwin, whom he joined on insect-collecting trips, and he accepted specimens, including a sample of the world’s biggest bee, from Alfred Russell Wallace. Wallace had travelled to the far-flung Malay Archipelago as a collector of previously unknown natural history specimens. His preserved skins of birds of paradise sparked enormous interest when they reached London and went on public display. Together, Wallace and Darwin publicly announced the theory of evolution, for which they will forever be remembered, but who would have thought that they were collaborating with Ellen and Frederick Hope, a couple connected to Tenbury.

Berrington Court lies just west of the town, on a bluff overlooking the Teme. On the opposite bank lies Dean Park in Burford, an estate owned by Frederick’s father. Did they meet in the valley and did it inspire their scientific endeavours? I would like to think so.