This three-day event, organised jointly by the Halifax Scientific Society, the Liverpool Museum and the North West Fungus Group, opened on Saturday 7th October 1995 at the Liverpool Museum with a one-day conference and private view of the exhibition of the Work of James Bolton. Eric Greenwood, Keeper of The Liverpool Museum, welcomed the 40 members who attended, after which Frank Murgatroyd, President of the Halifax Scientific Society, officially opened the day. He felt, he said, both pleased and flattered, as a Yorkshireman from Halifax, to be invited to Lancashire to open this important exhibition. He continued by commenting that despite all efforts to trace the history of James Bolton, some confusion still exists about his work and exactly who he was; for example, one of the catalogues of his work is signed Thomas Bolton (James’ brother). But the quality of his proven work is not in doubt and its value is substantiated by the fact that examples of it are to be found not only in this country but also as far afield as Ireland and America. In addition many of the sites where he found the subjects of his paintings still persist and we were to see something of them during the next two days’ foraying.

After the introductory speeches, guests moved to the Exhibition Gallery to enjoy a preliminary viewing of the artist’s work.

The afternoon was devoted to three lectures on various aspects of James Bolton’s work in the field of natural history. Dr Roy Watling of the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh, an expert on the life and work of Bolton, spoke first and gave us an entertaining and informative talk on Bolton, the mycologist. Dr Watling told us that during the last war his own family were evacuated to Halifax and that consequently he first knew about the naturalist at the very early age at which he became an amateur mycologist himself. More knowledge was gleaned in his subsequent work as a professional. He showed us slides of old Halifax, demonstrating its long association with the weaving trade. Bolton and all his family were, not surprisingly, connected with the trade, though exactly how we are not sure.

Although we are celebrating James Bolton’s work almost 200 years after his death, the early information he gives us is still important and many of the early mycologists who are perhaps better known to us than Bolton himself, e.g. Buller and Fries, refer to him. He described 231 species, most being either new species or new British records, although this number has subsequently been drastically reduced by synonymy. They all appeared in his three volumes plus supplement entitled 'An History of Fungusses growing about Halifax'.

He was an exquisite observer of basidiomycetes, ascomycetes and pyrenomycetes. He drew slime moulds too. And all his material was accurately drawn. The quality of his illustrations implies that he must have had a simple microscope. Bolton noticed variations in characteristics too, as his illustrations of Russulas demonstrate, though he could not, of course, separate characteristics as well as we can today. He was observant and prepared to differ. He described other mycologists’ contributions - but thought them wrong. He must therefore have had books to consult but we do not know which.

He described Suillus grevillei (the Larch Bolete) before it was officially designated as such in 1832. So we know that larch must have been planted then. He found and described Leucocoprinus birnbaumii in a greenhouse in Caygill’s garden 50 years before it was officially described. And also, in the garden, a Clavaria and a Geoglossum. His records show some fungi that are now extinct, for example Astreus hygrometricus. He drew Poronia punctata, common when horses frequently roamed the fields, but gone now, except in the New Forest, and also Hypocreopsis lichenoides, another very rare species, in Ramsden Wood. One of the commoner species he described which is well-known to us today, was Collybia peronata, known then as the “spatter-dashed mushroom” so-called on account of its apparent likeness to the gaiters worn by people against mud splashes.

He collected not only locally but also further afield, for example in the Trough of Bowland. He gave a good description of Daldinia concentrica growing at Elland, W. Yorks. He observed the chrysocystidia on Stropharia cyanea (aeruginosa). He recorded Panus conchatus at Northowram and Amanita fulva in Ramsden Woods, also Cordyceps canadensis/capitata on Elaphomyces. In Shibden valley he found Fistulina hepatica and in North Dean Wood ( to be visited by members of the foray party on Monday, 9th October) Craterellus cornucopioides (the Horn of Plenty) and the Hedgehog Mushroom (Hydnum repandum). In Woodhouse Wood, two more of his species, Lactarius acris and Boletus porphyrellus, are still to be found. Dr Watling has memories of collecting these species when a youngster going to meet his father. At Old Lane, Bolton found Laccaria laccata and at Skircoat, Polyporus squamosus (Dryad’s Saddle), the asexual stage of which is depicted in Bolton’s picture as the strange “reindeer” fungus - Boletus rangiferinus. This “curious and extraordinary Fungus was found growing on a Log of Wood, in the cellar of a Publick House in Leeds, in the beginning of October, 1788” Bolton says, and goes on to say “I had an opportunity of drawing it when fresh and newly gathered, but it is in the possession of a Man, of such a temper (who is no Naturalist) that no offers I could make him would preval him to part with it!”.

Amongst the many other areas he visited, in Mixenden he found Lentinellus flabelliforme (now rare); at Warley, Agaricus cristata (currently Lepiota aspera); at Heptonstall, Piptoporus betulinus and at Fixby, Clavulina rugosa and Spathularia flavida. He visited the Craven district and recorded Daedaleopsis confragosa (the Blushing Bracket) and the Calder valley where he found Morchella esculenta and Auriscalpium vulgare.

He was criticised as being both a “lumper” and a “splitter” but we now think of him as being mainly the latter. He designated Bolbitius titubans and B. vitellinus two separate species and recognised all five different species of Armillaria (Honey Fungus) when these had been put together by the rest of the early mycologists. The ultimate tribute to his outstanding talents is that his ideas have been confirmed by modern mycology.

Professor Mark Seaward of Bradford University followed Dr Watling’s talk with a further lecture on James Bolton’s work with lichens. And finally Dr John Edmondson spoke about his recording of higher plants. In the present context we have restricted ourselves to a resume of Dr Watling’s talk since mycology is our particular interest. Anyone keen to see notes of the rest should contact me and I will (at some stage!) forward a copy.

The event continued on Sunday 8 October when a group of just over 40 people, including members of the Halifax Scientific Society, the Mid-Yorkshire Fungus Group, the Botany Department of the Liverpool Museum, the North West Fungus Group and the Yorkshire Naturalists’ Union, assembled at Jerusalem Farm Visitors’ Centre, Luddenden Dean, Calderdale to foray in Wade Wood. This area of mixed woodland is believed to have been known to James Bolton. The day was very pleasantly warm and sunny. The foray was led by Dr. Watling.

25 members attended a second half-day foray on the morning of 9 October at North Dean Wood, Halifax, a further area of mixed woodland. The weather remained warm and sunny.

On both occasions the number of fungi found (127 in Wade Wood and 70 in North Dean Wood) was perhaps surprisingly high in view of the fact that the whole area was said to be one of the worst-hit by this year’s drought. Specimens were collected by all members of both foray parties, identified by Dr. Watling and other knowledgeable group members and subsequently confirmed by Dr Watling. The final list can be obtained from Rita Cook.

Our thanks for a highly successful occasion must go to Dr. Watling for once again so generously sharing his enthusiasm and expertise with us all, to Michael Sykes, President of the Halifax Scientific Society, for skilfully and patiently guiding us round the sites and generally co-ordinating events on both days, to the Rangers and other staff who provided such excellent hospitality and to all participants who contributed in many ways.

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