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Lady Margaret Hall Library: Flora & Fauna

This is a previous exhibition, but if you are interested in viewing one of the objects you can make an appointment (email Exhibitions in the library rotate once or twice a year. Have a look at our current exhibitions to see what's on at the moment.

Flora & Fauna: Fauna

Line drawing of a 'Mantichora'. Caption: 'Of the Picture and Shape of the Mantichora'.

1 of 6 | 'Beast or rather Monster'

17th-century bestiary The Historie of Foure-Footed Beastes is a collection of creatures, some more real than others. Among the more recognisable descriptions are the ‘Cat’ and ‘Wilde cat’, as well as larger species like the ‘Lyon’ and ‘Linx’. But these are joined by a more fantastical cat-like creature, the manticore or ‘Mantichora’. 

The legend of the manticore was first told in Persia. This version of it is described by Edward Topsell (c. 1572–1625) as having a body and feet ‘like a Lyons’ but a face ‘like vnto a mans’, with ‘the taile of a Scorpion’ and ‘the voice of a small trumpet’. You can also see its ‘treble rowe of teeth’, which it uses to eat people.

There is debate around to what extent people at the time believed in the reality of creatures like the manticore, or whether they had a more symbolic significance.

Edward Topsell, The Historie of Foure-Footed Beastes (London: William Laggard, 1607). Briggs Room 599 24

John Tenniel's illustration of the Cheshire Cat.

2 of 6 | Cats with grins

The Cheshire Cat’s grin is less threatening than the manticore’s, but still a bit uncanny. ‘To grin like a Cheshire cat’ was a 19th-century idiom before Lewis Carroll (1832–1898) borrowed it for a character name, but there are many theories about where the phrase originated.

John Tenniel (1820–1914) created the illustrations for early editions of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, including this one. Cats sometimes appeared in his more satirical work too, with the faces of political figures like William Gladstone; anthropomorphised animals were popular in the Victorian era.

Our copy of Alice’s Adventures was given to Edith Jebb by the author. It was donated to LMH by Jebb’s niece, Cynthia Borough, who studied at LMH between 1919 and 1922.

Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (London: Macmillan and Co., 1866), illustrated by John Tenniel. Briggs Room 823.99 270

Front cover of 'Ma Cats, Pa Cats and their Kittens, Introduced by Louis Wain'.

3 of 6 | 'A whole cat world'

‘He invented a cat style, a cat society, a whole cat world.’

– H.G. Wells

When Louis Wain (1860–1939) and Emily Richardson (1850–1886) married in 1883, they adopted a black and white kitten named Peter. This was the start of Louis Wain’s fascination with drawing cats.

Louis Wain, Pa Cats, Ma Cats and their Kittens (London; New York: R. Tuck & Sons, [1903?]). Locked Stack 096 37

Double page from 'Ma Cats, Pa Cats and their Kittens', showing cats leap-frogging and reaching jars from shelves.

4 of 6 | ‘A whole cat world’

Richardson developed breast cancer soon after they married, and Wain began to draw Peter while the two of them kept her company during her illness. Soon Wain was drawing enough cats to produce more than two hundred illustrated books over his lifetime. Much of his later life was spent in hospital receiving care for mental illness, where he continued to produce illustrations. Work has recently begun on a film of Wain’s life. 

The early 20th century saw the transformation of cats from mistrusted animals into treasured companions. Work by artists and writers portraying cats in a positive light may have both contributed to and reflected this, including Pa Cats, Ma Cats and their Kittens and Wain’s many other publications.

Louis Wain, Pa Cats, Ma Cats and their Kittens (London; New York: R. Tuck & Sons, [1903?]). Locked Stack 096 37

Front cover of 'Ginger & Pickles, by Beatrix Potter'.

5 of 6 | Ginger & Pickles

Like Louis Wain, Beatrix Potter (1866–1943) was inspired by her pets, most famously by her rabbit Peter. Ginger & Pickles is part of the Peter Rabbit series, and Peter and other characters from the series pop up in the book, visiting the shop run by the title characters.

Beatrix Potter, Ginger & Pickles (London; New York: Frederick Warne, 1909). Locked Stack 096 20

Illustration from 'Ginger & Pickles' showing the animal characters in their shop.

6 of 6 | Ginger & Pickles

Ginger, the cat in Ginger & Pickles, was also inspired by a real animal: Potter based him on a cat called Tommy Bunkle, who lived with a school teacher near Potter’s house in the Lake District. The book is dedicated to a local shopkeeper, ‘old Mr. John Taylor, who “thinks he might pass as a dormouse”’; Potter based the character of John Dormouse on him.

As well as writing and illustrating her tales of fictional animals, Potter was involved in a more scientific approach to nature. Her interest in fungi lead her to study at Kew Gardens where she produced hundreds of scientific illustrations.

Beatrix Potter, Ginger & Pickles (London; New York: Frederick Warne, 1909). Locked Stack 096 20

Flora & Fauna: LMH Flora & Fauna and World War II

Illustration of LMH grounds in the 1930s. Caption: 'Lady Margaret Hall Garden in Spring'.

1 of 8 | LMH Flora & Fauna and World War II

These images show some of the dramatic changes that occurred in the LMH grounds over a single decade, from the beautiful flowers and lawns of the early 1930s to the vegetable patches erected to help ‘Dig For Victory’ and the ducks producing eggs for hall during World War II.

E.S. Rohde, Oxford’s College Gardens (London: Herbert Jenkins, 1932). 942.571 152

Aerial monochrome photograph of LMH.

2 of 8 | LMH Flora & Fauna and World War II

Aerial view of LMH in 1935. LMH Archives

Monochrome photograph of students digging in LMH gardens.

3 of 8 | LMH Flora & Fauna and World War II

Cuttings Album 4. LMH Archives

Monochrome photograph of students digging in LMH gardens.

4 of 8 | LMH Flora & Fauna and World War II

Cuttings Album 4. LMH Archives

Monochrome photograph of a vegetable patch in LMH gardens.

5 of 8 | LMH Flora & Fauna and World War II

Cuttings Album 4. LMH Archives

Monochrome photograph of feeding ducks in LMH gardens.

6 of 8 | LMH Flora & Fauna and World War II

Cuttings Album 4. LMH Archives

Monochrome photograph of a duck pond at LMH.

7 of 8 | LMH Flora & Fauna and World War II

Cuttings Album 4. LMH Archives

Handwritten note (transcribed in caption).

8 of 8 | LMH Flora & Fauna and World War II

'While all the Saints were occupied / upon their Common Day, / An Angel-Baby unespied, / Deep in the mud unsanctified, / An egg - the First - did lay.

Oh! Courteous & punctual Duck! / Who recks for rain? Who minds the muck? / You take the leas: you shall have luck.

November 1942 / Is ... welcome now that you / With Saints & Central Heat allied / Keep souls & bodies fortified.

In 1942 Miss Hurnard started to keep ducks & hens for the Hall. (we had been told we might hope to get the first eggs in November)'

November 1942. LMH Archives

Flora & Fauna: Flora

Line drawing of 'The Holly bush or tree'.

1 of 7 | Parkinson’s 'Theatrum Botanicum'

John Parkinson (1567-1650), was one of the great English writers who straddled the divide between the last herbalists and the first botanists; apothecary to James I and Royal Botanist to Charles I. His Theatrum Botanicum was published in 1640.  The illustrations were made by carving designs onto blocks of wood – a technique that created slightly simplistic and crude designs, which rapidly wore out when printed from. The wood used was boxwood, and the size of the boxwood branch presented a challenge for creating large illustrations.

John Parkinson, Theatrum botanicum: the theatre of plants (London: Thomas Cotes, 1640). Briggs Room 580 3-4

Line drawing of 'Holly with smooth leaves, and one all over prickely'.

2 of 7 | Parkinson’s 'Theatrum Botanicum'

Our copy is the first edition, and is particularly interesting because it includes a large number of corrections done by an early owner, when the Latin classification of plants was in a state of flux. The original classification might seem arbitrary to today’s reader, with classes that include ‘sweete smelling plants’ and ‘hot and sharpe biting plants. Numerous annotations in an 18th century hand update the names of the individual plants to conform with Carl Linnaeus’ classification system – here you can see that holly was originally called Agrifolium sive Aquifolium but the later annotation gives it the genus Ilex. We know the name of our careful annotator, Geo: Heyward, but sadly nothing else.

John Parkinson, Theatrum botanicum: the theatre of plants (London: Thomas Cotes, 1640). Briggs Room 580 3-4

Frontispiece of 'Flora lapponica'.

3 of 7 | Linnaeus and Lapland

Carl Linnaeus was the Swedish biologist who formalised our current system of binomial nomenclature. His first expedition was to Lapland, and led to the publication of this work, first published in 1737. In it he described around 100 previously unidentified plants, and applied his new ideas about classification. In the frontispiece he can be seen wearing Sámi dress, surrounded by the flora and fauna of the region and Sámi on reindeer sledges. The plant in the bottom right corner is Twinflower, named by Jan Frederik Gronovius Linnaea borealis after Linnaeus. Linnaeus famously remarked:

Linnaea was named by the celebrated Gronovius and is a plant of Lapland, lowly, insignificant, disregarded, flowering but for a brief space — from Linnaeus who resembles it.’

Caroli Linnæi Flora lapponica (London: White, 1792). Briggs Room 581.9471 1

Holly illustration from the 'Flora Danica'.

4 of 7 | The Flora Danica

A product of the age of Enlightenment, the Flora Danica is a colossal encyclopaedia of botany which set out to faithfully represent all of the plants native to Denmark as faithfully as possible – aiming at life-size reproductions whenever possible. It was also one of the first major botanic publications to use the Linnaean naming system. Interestingly, the publishers of the Flora Danica wanted to use their work to educate the general public. For this purpose they sent copies to parishes across the country, at the same time hoping that readers would contribute their own knowledge of lesser-known native plant species. The illustrations here are made using copper plates, and richly hand coloured (whilst the edition sent to parishes was in black and white). Copper plates could be finer than woodcuts, and last longer.

Our library’s set was presented to LMH by John Ruskin (1819-1900), eminent art critic and early benefactor of the college. Ruskin was a strong supporter of education for women and, following his visit in 1884, donated a selection of books to the library that also included works by himself and by the 18th century novelist Maria Edgeworth.

Flora Danica (Various, 1766-1792). Briggs Room 581.9489 1-6

Holly illustration from 'Dendrologia Britannica'.

5 of 7 | Nineteenth-Century Botanical Books

These books, although produced on a far less grand scale than the Flora Danica, shared the same basic techniques of hand-coloured metal plates.

Peter William Watson, Dendrologia Britannica (London: Arch, 1825). Briggs Room 582 1-2

Rose illustration from 'Rosarum monographia'.

6 of 7 | Nineteenth-Century Botanical Books

Through the nineteenth century book production become more mass-market, so longer-lasting blocks were needed.

John Lindley, Rosarum monographia (London: Ridgway, 1820). Briggs Room 580.2 18

Botanical illustration from 'Floricultural cabinet and florists' magazine'.

7 of 7 | Nineteenth-Century Botanical Books

Steel plates replaced copper, whilst woodcut illustration received a revival thanks to electrotyping allowing the creation of copies of the original woodcut block.

Floricultural cabinet and florists' magazine (London: Whittaker, 1841-46). Briggs Room 580.5 9-14

Contact the Library

LMH Special Collections are open to visitors by appointment (email during staffed hours, Monday to Friday, 9.30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Lady Margaret Hall Library
Norham Gardens
United Kingdom


Telephone: (01865) 274361

The librarian, Jamie

Jamie Fishwick-Ford

(Librarian, they/them)

Sally Hamer

(Assistant Librarian, she/her)