Conwy Archive Service: Violets, Wild Flowers and a Sensory Garden

With spring on the horizon, and the beginnings of life anew, to celebrate the diversity of flora and fauna across the UK we asked Conwy Archive Service about the role flora and fauna play in their services and collections.

A floral compendium of illustrations, annotations and poetry

Conwy Archive Service is lucky to have the former reference library of the Llandudno and District Field Club as part of our collection.  The Club was founded in 1906 by eminent local archaeologists and natural scientists including Dr. Willoughby Gardner, the architect G.A. Humphreys and the photographer A.H. Hughes.  The reference library covers topics from seaweed to spiders, via beetles, birds and bladder campions.  Visitors to the Archive are welcome to browse the collection, which is kept on our rare book shelves in the searchroom.  

One of my favourite books in the collection is Wild Flowers by Anne Pratt, which was published in the early 1850s with a further volume in 1857. It contains beautifully printed illustrations and detailed descriptions of meadow and woodland flowers.  Our copy was previously owned by Edith Davies of New Brighton, Cheshire, and she annotated her copy in great detail.  The endpapers include nature notes such as a list of which plants particular butterflies lay eggs on, and which plants bees love, beginning ‘Borage first of all’ – which anyone who enjoys the countryside today will tell you is still true.  

Endpapers of Edith’s copy of Wild Flowers by Anne Pratt.
© Conwy Archives, Conwy County Borough Council.

There is a blank page before each illustration, and on these Edith has written extensive notes about each flower.  Before the entry for sweet violet, Edith has written ‘5 petals of unequal shape and size, lower one drawn out into a kind of spur. 5 sepals and stamens are connected together, two of them with curious ear-like appendages. Flowers – purplish colour, nodding. On the stem are bracts. Leaves grow at base of the plant, with rather long stalks and are broadly heart-shaped.’  She has followed this with a quotation from The Sicilian Captive by Felicia Hemans: ‘Gleaming like amethysts in the dewy moss’ and another by Tennyson: ‘The smell of violets hidden in the green / Pour’d back into my empty soul and frame / The times when I remembered to have been / Joyful and free from blame’. 

Anne Pratt’s text tells us, amongst other things, that ‘The modern Arabians compare the eyelids to a Violet dropping dew; and the odour of its half-hidden flower makes it a fit emblem of modesty…This flower was formerly cultivated, for medicinal uses, in great quantities at Stratford-upon-Avon, and the syrup of Violets is still used by chemists to detect the presence of an acid or alkali’.  

Drawn from a sketch, regrown as brass rubbings in the sensory garden

Thanks to a grant in 2020 from the Thomas Howell’s Education Fund for North Wales, Anne Pratt’s illustrations entered a new incarnation – as brass rubbings in the Sensory Garden outside Conwy Culture Centre, where the Archives are co-located with Conwy Library. Twelve illustrations were reproduced in a size and style which enabled people with sensory difficulties to trace the shapes easily with their fingers.  These were then turned into brass facsimiles and mounted on posts outside the building, creating a link between the Archive’s collection and the local landscape.  

Part of the trail, with the Sensory Garden and Bodlondeb Park.

The brass rubbing trail gives a focus to activities for people with varying physical and educational abilities and provides an outdoor education opportunity which can tie in with wellbeing and physical activity.  Its placement in 2020 was timely, as it meant that during the Covid lockdown, at least a small part of the Archives could be accessed outside in the sensory garden.   

By Lucinda Smith, Archifydd / Archivist

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