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Bankers treasure house of nature.

Byline: Tony Pogson ,

The man with the imposing name, Charles Codrington Pressick Hobkirk - usually known as plain Charles P - was Huddersfield's pioneer natural historian.

The only son of David T Hobkirk, who was engaged in the woollen trade, he was a Huddersfield man by birth and descent who went on to become a well-known West Riding banker manager of two different Dewsbury banks during his career.

Today his name lives on, in rare book lists, on the roll of botanists at Harvard University, and he was mentioned at the 1980 AGM of the British Bryological Society (dealing with the study of mosses) as one of a dozen famous specialists from south-west Yorkshire.

But he deserves more widespread recognition than that, particularly in his home town.

In 1859 at the age of 22 he published Huddersfield: Its History And Natural History, which went into a second edition in 1868.

It has been described as "a treasure house of flora and fauna", which you would expect, but he also goes on to a lively description of a town which was then throbbing with new life.

Hobkirk wrote: "The greater part of it is of modern erection and this combined with the improved taste for ornamental street architecture, and its being built almost entirely of a fine whitish free-stone renders it one of the prettiest and cleanest towns in the West Riding."

He was clearly proud of his home town, which he said was well paved, drained and lit (by gas).

Hobkirk praised the new railway station "the largest building in town" and "the magnificent colossal figure of Britannia" surmounting the royal arms of the Britannia building opposite.

By the central portico of the station, he says, was "a Russian trophy of two large cannons from Sebastopol mounted on wooden carriages resting on a stone platform".

Which naturally raises the question of what happened to the cannons?

Organisations were flourishing too. Hobkirk mentions the Mechanics Institution, opened in Northumberland Street in 1860 - with a lecture hall, reading room, library, class rooms and a penny bank with 15,000 depositors; the Literary and Scientific Society, founded 1857; the Naturalists Society, meeting in King Street; and the Athletic Club established in 1863 and with over 1,240 members, with a small but well arranged gym in Back John William Street.

The only rooms in town for public meetings were the late Philosophical Hall, now used as a theatre; and the gym in Ramsden Street. The town was sadly in want of a spacious and good town hall, said the author.

But, of course, needing and getting could be two quite different things - particularly if it involved putting the hand in the pocket, as Hobkirk knew well from personal experience.

Hobkirk served on the Free Library Committee from 1880. When it was suggested that a penny rate be levied for the library, of 15,000 eligible voters only 3,739 turned out and 2,483 were against. In 1887 a similar poll again produced a similar result.

The Literary and Scientific Society, had long bemoaned the lack of "public spirit" and support for education, literature the arts and sciences from the inhabitants of Huddersfield.

The society bought the Mission House on South Street and for most of the 1870s Charles P Hobkirk was the curator in charge of botany.

He was also an important link man with other Tolson Museum collectors. In 1877 he asked Seth Lister Mosley to help sort out the Literary and Scientific Society insect collection.

Hobkirk was also for a nine-year-spell until 1884 joint editor of the revived The Naturalist with his long-time friend George Taylor Porritt.

But most of all, throughout his life he was a botanist, a bryologist by specialist preference.

In 1873 he published Synopsis of the British Mosses, giving terse details of all the genera and species found in Great Britain and Ireland. An extended second edition, published in 1884 was still regarded as a useful stepping stone to more advanced and technical works even in 1902 at the time of his death.

Also in 1873 he brought out The Mosses of the West Riding of Yorkshire, in 1877 the first London Catalogue of British Mosses (with Henry Boswell) and in 1881 they produced a second edition,

He was versatile enough to have other strings to his bow. In 1872 he was the first to prepare and have printed a river-drainage map of the West Riding for scientific purposes.

In 1881-82 he turned to writing a novel, Sir John de Eland, Knight a Legend of the 14th century, written as H P Carlton, and published in a Huddersfield newspaper.

On leaving Huddersfield in October 1884 and Dewsbury in 1892 he was on both occasions presented with silver plate and an illuminated address.

Hobkirk married in 1863 but his wife died before him. For a time he lived in first Horsforth and then Ilkley but when he died he was buried at Edgerton cemetery.

The wreath from the Yorkshire Naturalists' Union was a reindeer moss - a tribute to another of his botanical interests, cryptogamia, plants that reproduce by spores.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Huddersfield Daily Examiner (Huddersfield, England)
Date:Mar 30, 2005
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