Our city’s shared plan to tackle climate change


Victorian Eco Activism, Manchester and the Birth of the RSPB

Tuesday, 27 November, 2018 - 19:00 to 20:30
Friends Meeting House Mount Street City Centre Manchester M2 5NS

Victorian England. A time of hurtling change for the country, the landscape, and for both women and men. 

Urbanisation is on the rise, the natural world is under threat as never before – yet there are no laws in place to protect it. Step forward the gentleman naturalist.. and the middle class lady campaigner. Though their worlds were different in many ways, these two groups networked and collaborated for the cause of bird protection in Britain. 


And yet they are maligned by modern conservationists. 


Henry Dresser was a businessman and so-called ‘amateur’ ornithologist, whose diligent collecting of bird skins and eggs over a lifetime vastly expanded scientific knowledge and changed the course of natural history. Much of his collection now housed in the Manchester Museum. Emily Williamson, Eliza Phillips and Etta Lemon, staunch Christians all, put their energies into saving the birds from the Victorian fashion for feathered hats, or ‘murderous millinery’. Early conversations began in Didsbury, 1889. The result was the mighty Royal Society for the Protection of Birds - the RSPB.


These two forgotten stories have now been brought thrillingly back to life by writers Henry McGhie and Tessa Boase. For one night only, they are joining forces to shed light on a fascinating moment in time: an era that would shape the world’s view of the environment for generations to come.


Henry McGhie’s ‘Henry Dresser and Victorian Ornithology: Birds, Books and Business’ explores Henry Dresser’s involvement in bird conservation, scientific discovery and the production of scientific knowledge at a hugely exciting time of exploration and discovery.

‘This is a magnificent exploration of (British) Victorian ornithology, which brings to life many of the key figures of the period with their frequently very strained relationships.’ – Alan Knox, British Birds


Tessa Boase’s book ‘Mrs Pankhurst’s Purple Feather’ delves into the murky world of the plumage trade, bringing to life the brave women who fought back on behalf of the birds. This is the story the RSPB has never found time to tell.

‘Riveting. Dextrously told, vividly imagined, shrewdly analysed. Tessa Boase has worked a little bit of magic here in bringing these women to life, and championing the cause of the unsung.’  –  Conor Jameson, British Birds



Free event. Booking essential.