Friday 30 June 2023

Ceylon or Sri Lanka Spurfowl: a colour plate from 1960

In the days when colour printing was extremely expensive, the Avicultural Society had special appeals for funds to support the appearance in Avicultural Magazine of the occasional colour plate. A well-known bird artist was then commissioned. Although the whole run of the Society’s magazines can be found online, the plates rarely see the light of day. Therefore I decided to show one, now and again, on this site. This is the 8th in the series.

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This plate illustrates an article by the artist, George Morrison Reid Henry (1891-1983). He published and signed his work ‘G.M. Henry’. One of eleven children, his father was manager of tea estates in what was then Ceylon. He was educated at home by his older sisters. After working as a laboratory assistant he was taken on as a draughtsman by the Colombo Museum. He worked his way up and in 1913 was appointed to a new post of Assistant in Systematic Entomology. He stayed in in that post until he retired in 1946. His son, David Morrison Reid Henry (1919-1977) was also a bird painter.

The Sri Lanka spurfowl (Galloperdix bicalcarata) is endemic to Sri Lanka where it is relatively common in the lush forests but less commonly seen. It skulks in forests and Henry wrote ‘that with the possible exception of some of the rails, the most difficult to observe in Nature of any of the Island’s birds; such contacts as are made with it being generally confined to a brief glimpse as it dashes into cover when suddenly come upon some jungle path’. We saw it at Sinharaja Forest Reserve in 2013.

Avicultural Magazine 66, 1960

Thursday 29 June 2023

Microscopy in Manchester. Abraham Flatters: the Flatters in Flatters & Garnett

Anybody studying for ‘A’ levels in English grammar schools in the 1950s and 60s cannot have failed to notice the supplier of the microscope slides and other equipment for microscopy and dissection. The name Flatters & Garnett with an address in Manchester was displayed at the end of many of those microscope slides we had to look at and draw.

In finding material for my article on Herbert Womersley, I came across the fact that he attended lectures on microscopy by Abraham Flatters at Manchester Technical School (which, after a number of mergers, and renamings, emerged as part of the University of Manchester). Abraham Flatters was one of the founders of the eponymous company, Flatters & Garnett, although he fell out with his partner and then set up shop in opposition.

Abraham Flatters

Abraham Flatters had a remarkable climb in life in Victorian Britain. He was born on 1 March 1849. Some published accounts state that he was born in Lincolnshire. That is because his birth was registered in the Gainsborough district. That registration office covers parts of two counties and in fact Flatters was born in the Nottinghamshire village of West Stockwith on the western banks of the River Trent. His father, Joseph, was, in 1851, a farm labourer; in later censuses he is described as a groom or gardener.

In the 1861 Census, Abraham, aged 12, was employed on ‘farmer’s work’. We then know that sometime between 1861 and 1871 he moved to Manchester. Although there is no trace of him in the 1871 Census, on his marriage to Sarah Hannah Rogerson, a cotton weaver, on 29 May 1871 his occupation is given as ‘velvet finisher’. There is also a record of his working for the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway between 1874 and 1878 first as a porter and then as a messenger; he was paid 17 shillings and 6 pence per week. In 1881 he appears as a ‘railway signalman’, perhaps working for one of the other railway companies that passed through Manchester. Abraham and Sarah were then living  at 25 Gill Street. But then the 1891 Census shows he was working as a ‘lamplighter (gas)’ living at 54 Croft Street.

The Science Museum website states:

He came to Manchester at an early age and had a succession of jobs and had an interest in natural history. In 1886 he attended a course of lectures on zoology given by Professor Milnes Marshall of Owens college. It was as a result of Marshalls suggestion that he join the the Manchester Microscopical Society, which he did in 1886. 

His working life began at a biological station at St Helier, Jersey. He worked there for several years before returning to Manchester in 1895 and set up his own business making lantern slides, microscopic slides and microscopic preparations. He also became a lecturer in microscopy at the Municipal School of Technology. 

With the help of an article by Brian Stevenson on the website Historical Makers of Microscopes and Microscope Slides, it can be seen that the Jersey Biological Station was run by Joseph Sinel and James Hornell from 1893. Sinel before he went into partnership with Hornell was already selling specimens and prepared microscope slides under his own name and it would seem that Flatters both learned a lot of his trade there and realised that he could also make a business out of what was his former hobby. The partnership broke up in the winter of 1894-95 and although production continued under Hornell it must have been at this time that Flatters returned to Manchester to set up his own business. Whether the job of lecturing at the Municipal School of Technology came first or later I do not know.

By 1901, Flatters describes himself as ‘microscopist and photographer (natural history)’ living at 16 Church Road, Longsight (one of the numerous districts of the city)—quite a change from being a lamplighter in 1891. However, I wonder if he chose the latter job in order to pursue his studies and interests in microscopy. After all, the work would be for a relatively short period at dusk and then again at dawn; the rest of the day would have been free.

After Abraham went into partnership with Charles Garnett in 1901, Sarah killed herself in bizarre and what would have been agonising circumstances. This is how the Manchester Evening News of Tuesday 28 April 1903 reported it:

A remarkable story of the suicide of an elderly lady [she was 53!] named Sarah Ann Flatters, of 20, Church Rond, Longsight, was told before Mr. L J. Altken, acting city coroner, this afternoon.

     According to the evidence, Mrs. Flatters has suffered for about 15 years from melancholia and nervous depression. On Saturday morning her husband, Mr. Abraham Flatters, who, as a microscopist, uses many different poisons, had left a bottle of nitric acid, properly labelled, on his laboratory table, and afterwards gone out. During the afternoon, the old lady gained access to the room, and shortly afterwards told the housekeeper she was going out for a short walk. When she did not return, her husband made a vain search for her until Sunday, when he received word that his wife was an inmate of the Manchester Infirmary, suffering from the effects of corrosive poison. There she died on Monday [27 April].

     Mr. Flatters informed the Coroner that his wife told him on Sunday that she had taken a drink out of the nitric acid bottle, believing it was brandy, that she had tried to spit it out on discovaring her mistake, and had gone out to so if her throat would got any better. She had walked about Birch Lane for five hours, and then hailed a cab to take her to the Infirmary.

     In answer to the coroner Mr. Flatters said that nitric acid could hardly be mistaken for brandy, as it was more like gin or water. As soon as the stopper was removed there would be fumes from the neck and a nasty smell. The pain suffered by Mrs. Flatters must have been terrible as one drop of nitric would burn a hole through a piece of wood. Looking at all the facts he was bound to disbelieve his wife’s story, and his opinion was that it was a determined action on her part.

     The Coroner expressed his concurrence, and the jury returned a verdict of suicide whilst insane.

Later that year Flatters remarried. His second wife was Emma Bamber.

I can only quote second-hand the accounts of what happened to the business, from the Science Museum website for example. I have been unable to find the original sources. In 1897, Charles Garnett, a confectioner and restaurant owner, joined the Manchester Microscopical Society and met Flatters. By 1901 Flatters was having financial problems. That is when Flatters and Garnett formed their eponymous partnership. Flatters & Garnett Ltd.  Garnett’s son, a pharmacist was also involved and they opened a chemists shop on Deansgate, Manchester where they displayed, microscopes, slides and  and lantern slides of natural history subjects. Flatters apparently made the slides, both microscope and lantern, at his house in Church Road. All went well and the business grew. By 1906 12 people were employed. They moved to Dover Street, near the University, where they hired out and sold large numbers of lantern slides for personal collections and educational establishments. However, in 1909 Flatters fell out with the Garnetts and the latter bought out his share. Flatters was no longer part of Flatters & Garnett Ltd.

Then Flatters set up another business, taking with him some of the employees of Flatters & Garnett. That second business was  Flatters, Milborne & McKechnie with premises on Church Road (16, 18 and 20) which would seem to have been houses/shops in the terrace around his residence.  

Flatters fell foul of a 'no-compete' agreement with Flatter & Garnett. The Manchester City News of 5 March 1910 reported:

At a recent sitting of the County Palatine Chancery Court, Vice Chancellor Leigh-Clare had before him the action brought by Flatters and Garnett Limited, of Dover-street, Manchester against, Mr. Abraham Flatters, whose microscopical and photographic business plaintiffs purchased in 1901. The court was informed that the parties had come to an arrangement whereby Mr. Flatters undertook not to solicit orders from persons who had been customers of the business sold by him to the plaintiffs prior to such sale. Mr. Flatters agreed to submit to a perpetual injunction restraining him from representing that the business of Flatters, Milborne and M'Kechnie Limited is the same as, or in any way connected with, the business of Flatters and Garnett Limited. The Vice Chancellor made an order in these terms, and defendant agreed to pay the costs of the action.


From Knowledge magazine, December 1910

Throughout the period of self-employment, being part of Flatters & Garnett and then of Flatters, Milborne & McKechnie, as well as lecturing in Manchester, Abraham Flatters became well-known in professional and amateur microscopical circles. His name appeared in the Manchester newspapers which reported his activities in the Manchester Microscopical Society (which is still in existence). There were over 200 members and comprised various sections. The following is from the Manchester City News of 20 January 1906:

The annual meeting of the Mounting Section of the Manchester Microscopical Society took place on Thursday night. The election of officers for the year resulted as follows: Chairman, Mr. Abraham Flatters, F.R.M.S.: vice-chairman Mr. William Buckley; secretary and treasurer, Mr. Emil Watzlaff; auditor, Mr. William Hart; committee, Messrs. Charles Turner, F.C.S., P. Bradshaw, J. E. Storey, J. L. W. Miles, J. R. Wilson, and Charles Camp. The subjects of the demonstrations and lectures to be given include ringing and finishing slide, and measurement of microscopic objects; dry mounting and plant structure; diatomaceae collecting, preparing, and mounting; mounting in fluids, stains and their characteristics, mounting objects glycerine jelly, botanical dissection, photo-micrography, mounting in balsam on cavity slips, and zoological dissection.

Sometime before 1906 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Microscopical Society. He attended meetings in London. The Field magazine of 20 June 1908 gave an account of a meeting at 20 Hanover Square which included:

Mr Abraham Flatters, of Manchester, had an interesting exhibition of microscopic slides, exemplifying the development of a chick at various stages from twenty hours to four and a half days, and constituting a typical set for teaching purposes. The technique of the slides was all that could be desired, and showed how far we have travelled in the art of section cutting since Kitchen Parker [*] did his famous work on the early stages of the tadpole and the chick.

Flatters was also a member of the Manchester Geological Society.

A slide ringing table sold by Flatters, Milborne
& McKechnie. Did they manufacture them or
rebadging from a generic manufacturer?
From here

The advertisements and publications from Flatters, Milborne & McKechnie suggest Flatters was a consultant to the cotton industry in Manchester on microscopical examination of their raw material. He wrote a book on the cotton plant and in its preface described himself as ‘Specialist in Micro-Technology to the Manchester Chamber of Commerce’. He may have found some demand for such services. Imports of raw cotton peaked in 1914 at almost a billion tonnes.

This article began with the lectures on microscopy given by Abraham at the Municipal School of Technology in Manchester. He is variously described as teacher, lecturer and demonstrator. I have been unable to find out how much of his time these activities occupied or for how long he was thus employed.

He produced three books: Methods in Microscopical Research; 1905. Published by Sherratt & Hughes, Manchester; The Cotton Plant. Its Development and Structure, and the Evolution and Structure of the Cotton Fibre. 1907. Sherratt & Hughes; Photomicrographs of Botanical Studies. Not dated. Flatters, Milborne & McKechnie Ltd.

Flatters produced a vast array of microscope slides from many different organisms. I can only assume that he had a network of people who provided him with the material and the background information to label the slides. With thin sections very little original material is needed and I wonder if he kept paraffin wax-embedded blocks ready for cutting in order to fulfil individual orders or if he made and stained a batch of sections which he could keep in stock.

Manchester City News 14 January 1914

There are large number of old lantern slides available on the antiques market made by Flatters & Garnett or by Flatters, Milborne & McKechnie. Did he take all the photographs, including, for example, ones in mines, or did he also provide a lantern slide making service to those (of which there would have been many) who have lectures at the many natural history, geological, geographical and historical societies that flourished in Victorian and Edwardian England? My guess from reading his advertisements is that he did make lantern slides—a far more specialist job in those days—from other people’s negatives. A newspaper advertisement from 1914 shows that the photographic side of the business (developing, printing etc) was a major activity.

Abraham and Emma moved to the outer suburbs of Manchester, Syddal Cottage in Bramhall sometime in the 1910s. The 1911 Census shows Abraham as ‘microscopist and science teacher’ employing a resident domestic servant. Installed as caretaker for Flatters, Milborne & McKechnie at 20 Church Road was Abraham’s brother, John Reid Flatters. John, four years older than Abraham, also worked on the railway in Manchester. The 1921 Census has Abraham down as ‘microscopist and photographer’ and managing-director of the company; again they had had a domestic servant.

Syddal Cottage remained their home, certainly in 1923 but at their deaths 6 Blackthorn Avenue, Burnage, another Manchester suburb, is shown as their address. 

The company appeared to continue in business until three years before Abraham’s death; it was formally dissolved on 4 July 1926, the application having been made in March. However, according to the 1926 rates records for Manchester, it did continue under the name of ‘Abraham Flatters’ but owned by a Thomas Wyatt who also had bought 16 and 18 Church Road, leaving 20 occupied by John Flatters but owned by a third party. How long Wyatt kept the ‘Abraham Flatters’ business going I have been unable to find out.

Flatters must have been a thorn in the side of Flatters & Garnett from his departure until his death. I will return to the rise and fall of Flatters & Garnett in a future article.

Abraham died on 2 March 1929, leaving £829 (the date shown in a family tree on is incorrect). Emma died on 15 May 1932, leaving £609.

The life and accomplishments of Abraham Flatters illustrate how efforts to provide education for the working man in Victorian England could enable somebody with just primary schooling to gain knowledge and become a skilled and knowledgable technician. It was an age in which there was a thirst for knowledge. There were numerous natural history societies and microscopy clubs in Manchester alone. Microscopy, including the preparatioon of specimens, was a major hobby for those who could afford to buy the equipment. What a difference to today’s Age of Wilful Ignorance.

*William Kitchen Parker FRS (1823 – 1890)

Microscope Slide Labels

I have found three types of miscroscope labels which identify these slides as made by Abraham Flatters (in addition to ones made by Flatters & Garnett). It is possible that some were made before his partnership with Garnett, others while with Flatters, Milborne & McKechnie while others could have been when Wyatt owned the business but traded under Flatter's name.

In the collection of the
Manchester Microscopical Society