History of the BMS

This is an extract from an article in Mycological Research by John Webster for the Centenary Celebrations of the Society in 1996

The origins of the British Mycological Society can be traced to Woolhope Field Naturalists' Club in Hereford and to the Yorkshire Naturalists' Union (Y.N.U.). The Woolhope Club was based on the Hereford Museum and in 1867 its Curator, Dr H. G. Bull encouraged the club to take a special interest in fungi. He invited them to join him in ` a foray among the funguses ' and this became an annual event, traditionally held in Hereford during the first week of October. The Woolhope Club meetings became a focus for all with an interest in fungi and attracted mycologists both from Britain and abroad. Members of the club dined at the Green Dragon Hotel in Hereford. The menu for dinner on 4 October 1877 (Fig. 1) shows that they dined well. Following Bull's death in 1885 the forays lost their popularity and ceased altogether in 1892. Fortunately the Y.N.U. had itself begun to organize regular forays in different parts of Yorkshire and formed a Mycological Committee in 1892. The Yorkshire forays attracted the attendance of Mordecai C. Cooke, Carleton Rea, George Massee, Charles B. Plowright and several keen Yorkshire amateur mycologists as well as some former Woolhopeians. It became the ambition of the Mycological Committee of the Y.N.U. that their annual forays would take the place of the Hereford Foray and `by avoiding the weak points of its predecessor, which were mainly confined to an excess of hospitality - prove at least equally attractive an instructive to mycologists' (Massee & Crossland, 1893, quoted from Ramsbottom, 1948). A need was also felt to provide an outlet for the publication of scientific articles on fungi to replace the role formerly played by Grevillea which ceased publication in 1894. The idea of forming a ` National Mycological Union' had been put forward at the Y.N.U. meeting in Huddersfield in 1895 (Fig. 2). The meeting was attended by Cooke, Massee and Rea, two of whom later served as Presidents or officers of the B.M.S., and by several assiduous Yorkshire mycologists, including C. Crossland, the Rev. W. W. Fowler, J. Needham and A. Clarke. It was Clarke, a keen photographer, who took the photograph of some of these founding fathers at his home, 16 St Andrew's Road, Huddersfield (Fig. 3).

The decision to set up the British Mycological Society was taken on 19 September 1896 at a meeting of the Y.N.U. Mycological Committee at the Londesborough Arms, Selby. The first officers were Massee (President), Crossland (Treasurer) and Rea (Secretary). Massee had succeeded M. C. Cooke as mycologist at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in 1893. He had an international reputation, and wrote more than 250 publications on the taxonomy of a wide range of fungi and a text book on plant pathology. Ainsworth (1996) writes of him ` Extroverted and impetuous, Massee tended to express opinions on topics of which he had no knowledge' and Ramsbottom, who knew Massee well wrote ` If he had any capacity whatever for taking pains he would have been a genius '.

The early days have been recounted by Rea (1922), Ramsbottom (1948), Blackwell (1961) and Watling (1982). The two last have highlighted the Yorkshire connection with brief biographies of the dramatis personae. About twenty members were present at Selby and joined the new society. The first B.M.S. foray was held at Worksop in Sherwood Forest, Nottinghamshire, in 1897. At this meeting Crossland resigned as Treasurer. Massee continued as President whilst the posts of Treasurer, Secretary and Editor of the Transactions were all taken on by Rea. Massee's Presidential Address covered the history of mycology. Unfortunately by the time of the 1898 foray in Dublin Massee had quarrelled with Rea possibly because Massee thought that, in his combined roles, Rea would have a more important role in the Society's affairs than Massee thought proper (Ramsbottom, 1948). Massee resigned from the Society to be followed as President by C. B. Plowright, who served in this capacity for two years (1897-8 and 1898-9). Lists of the succeeding Officers of the Society have been published in the Society's Transactions (Anon., 1948a). These lists have been brought up to date and are included as an appendix to this article together with portraits of most of the Presidents during the past 100 years. The first few years of the Society were difficult in several ways. According to Ramsbottom the success of the Society was due in large part to Marshall Ward, President for two years (1900-1901) and Vice-President, 1903-6. The death in 1906 of Marshall Ward, an outstanding investigator of plant pathology, at the age of 52, was a tragedy for British mycology. C. B. Plowright, the Rev. W. L. W. Eyre and the Very Rev. D. Paul were also strong supporters of the infant society. To this list of early stalwarts must surely be added C. Rea who served as Secretary, 1896-1918, General Secretary, 1919-20, as Editor, 1896-1930 and as President in 1908 and 1921. Rea was, by profession, a barrister, but he gave this up in 1907. He was the author of British Basidiomycetae published in 1922 and for long the standard work on identification of the group. Two other long-serving and distinguished officers were J. Ramsbottom and Miss E. M. Wakefield (see Ainsworth, 1996). Ramsbottom succeeded Rea as General Secretary, serving for 24 years (1921-45) as Editor of the Transactions, 1919-42 and twice as President, in 1924 and in the Jubilee year, 1946. A genial, scholarly man, Ramsbottom published many valuable historical reviews on a wide range of mycological topics and lists of Phycomycetes and Discomycetes recorded from the British Isles. His popular book Mushrooms and Toadstools, published in 1953, was a mycological best seller. Miss E. M. Wakefield was Secretary, 1919-36, and President in 1929. Ainsworth (1996) rates her as one of the most influential mycologists of her generation. Another far-sighted and effective servant of the society was G. C. Ainsworth, Secretary, 1942-7, Foray Secretary, 1949, President 1950 and Editor of the Transactions, 1953-8. Ainsworth has had a profound influence on British and on international mycology. He was renowned for his powers of meticulous compilation; for example Ainsworth & Bisby's Dictionary of the Fungi, now in its 8th edition. His other books include three volumes on the history of mycology, plant pathology and medical and veterinary mycology and, more recently, Brief Biographies of British Mycologists. He was a joint editor with Sussman and with Sparrow of the 5-volume work The Fungi: an Advanced Treatise.

John Webster, The British Mycological Society 1896-1996; Mycol. Res. 101 (10), 1153–1178 (1997)