A new book celebrates the 200th Anniversary of Miss Dickinson of Norham.
The book is called “Margaret Rebecca Dickinson. A Botanical Artist of the Border Counties”.
It will be published by the Berwickshire Naturalists Club on 14th October. It is illustrated with beautiful paintings that Dickinson made of plants collected in Norham and other parts of the Border Counties.
On the left is a picture of Colt's Foot, Tussilargo farfara collected on Tweedside in 1867. This is a striking illustration of a very widespread plant and shows the suble shadow effects she uses to provide depth to her pictures.
Dickinson was born in Newcastle in July 1821, and lived in Newcastle until the late 1850s. She moved to Gattonside near Melrose for 10 years and finally lived in Norham from 1869 until her death in 1918. She is buried in the churchyard in Norham.
Collecting in and around Norham
The Dickinsonn family lived in Tweed Villa, a large Victorian house in Boathouse Lane (the house name has since been changed).
In the first three years after her family’s move to the village, Margaret collected 42 plants from in and around Norham. Here you can see some of the pictures of local plants. She was interested in both commonly occurring and very rare plants.
In 1872, she collected a specimen of Wild Angelica, Angelica sylvestris from Newbiggin Dene, just to the south of the village.
This is a widespread plant of damp meadows and woodland glades, banks of streams and ditches. This lovely picture shows both the delicacy of the flowers and the sturdy ridged stems, tinged with purple.
She also collected specimens of Yellow and Blue Anemone from Morris Hall Dene in 1872.
Blue anemone, Anemone appenina is a naturalized European species.
Other specimens from Norham were collected near the Boathouse in Boathouse Lane
From below Norham Castle, she collected Hemp-agrimony Eupatorium cannabinum in 1869.
This is a tall bushy plant found in wet woods and on river banks. It is not related to either hemp or agrimony, although its leaves do resemble cannabis.
Richard Mabey in his book ' Flora Botanicca' (published in 1996) describes the distinctive pink froth of the flowers as “whipped strawberry mousse”.
When she was a young woman and lived in Newcastle the coastal areas of South Northumberland and north County Durham had been a favourite botanical haunt. From Norham, the coast of North Northumberland also proved to be a magnet. Margaret painted plants collected in Berwick, Spittal, Chiswick, Goswick, Budle Bay, Bamburgh and Holy Island.
In 1874, Margaret spent a short holiday in Spittal, which then was a fashionable spa and bathing resort. As well as socialising with her Norham friends who were also staying Spittal, Margaret also collected and later painted a specimen of Bloody Crane’s bill, Geranium sanguineum.
This a is a plant restricted to sand dunes in Northumberland.
A Trip to Holy Island
A trip to Holy Island in 1874, organized by the Berwickshire Naturalist Club, included Margaret and allowed her to collect seven specimens to paint.
These were field garlic, brook-weed, sea campion, beaked parsley, lesser Water-plantain, knotted trefoil and tufted centuary.
Two of the paintings she produced are shown here.
Brook-weed, Samulus valerandi is a native plant that is usually found in damp, sandy ground near the sea and often in dune slacks.
Lesser Water-plantain, Alisma ranuncloides, is a native plant found in small lowland ponds and pools and is rare and very scarce in this area.
It has been recorded on the Snook on Holy Island.
Some of these 7 specimens that Margaret collected are now rare and endangered, others still exist on Holy Island today.
These are just a very small sample of the botanical paintings that Miss Dickinson produced. Many were painted in Northumberland, County Durham and the old Scottish counties of Berwickshire and Roxburghshire, but she also travelled extensively in the British Isles.
Margaret left 458 of her wildflower pictures to the Natural History Society of Northumbria (Hancock Museum). She also painted 30 pictures of daffodils, many of which she grew in Norham. These paintings were bought in an auction in 1993 by the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) are in the RHS Lindley Collections in London.
Margaret Dickinson has produced some memorable images of beauty and delicacy in her plant paintings. The book suggests that she deserves to be much more widely recognised as significant regional botanical artist. These paintings from Norham and the coastline south of Berwick are just a small selection of what she produced over a lifetime of observing, collecting and painting plants.
The book, “Margaret Rebecca Dickinson. A Botanical Artist of the Border Counties” by Elizabeth Towner, will be published on 14th October by the Berwickshire Naturalists Club.
It can be bought on the BNC’s website or from the Hancock Museum’s shop in Newcastle.
The Natural History Society of Northumbria (Hancock) holds the copyright for the Wildflower pictures. All the 458 images of the wildflowers can be seen on the JSTOR website , from which the illustrations used here have been downloaded.
The Lindley Collection of the Royal Horticultural Society in London holds the copyright for the 30 Narcissus pictures painted by Dickinson.
I am grateful to the Natural History Society for Northumbria and in particular their archivist, Mrs June Holmes for her generous assistance, to the Royal Horticultural Societ and to the Berwickshire Naturalists' Club for publishing the book.