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You are in: Norfolk > People > Profiles > Robert Marsham: The father of springtime records

Robert Marsham.

Robert Marsham began his records in 1736

Robert Marsham: The father of springtime records

A Norfolk man's work to record the first signs of spring 300 years ago is being marked with a year-long exhibition at his village church. Robert Marsham began noting down the changes in nature's calendar - now known as phenology - in 1736.

Buds bursting into leaf, flowers blossoming and butterflies starting to flutter arose the curiosity of one Norfolk man so much that he decided to write down the changes he noticed each spring.

Robert Marsham, who was born in Stratton Strawless between Norwich and Aylsham in 1708, is understood to be the first person to write down significant occurrences in nature's cycle, now known as phenology.

Marsham's legacy

The naturalist started recording the first signs of the season when he was in his late 20s and it made such an impact on his family that they carried on his work until the 1950s when they were told they no longer had to make any new records.

However, their studies have been invaluable to scientists examining climate change and those living in Stratton Strawless have decided to celebrate Robert Marsham's contribution to nature and science.

Church exhibition

To mark the 300th anniversary of his birth, an exhibition is being hosted in St Margaret's Church - where he's buried - which will be open seven days a week until April 2009 and a book, written by Marsham expert Dr Tim Sparks, has been published.

Robert Marsham's cedar tree.

Robert Marsham's imposing cedar tree

Exhibition organiser Toz Waddingham said the event was suggested by Dr Sparks and will have long-term benefits for the medieval church which has a long connection with the Marshams and houses memorials to various family members in its south aisles.

She said: "About 18 months ago Tim Sparks came to me and said he wanted to write a book about Robert Marsham for his tri-centenary and what were we doing about it.

"He said if he wrote the book we could pay for the publication costs but we would get all the profit, which is extremely kind of him as it's packed full of his work - and John Lines - who he wrote it with, and that's the result.

"All the profits are going towards the restoration of St Margaret's Church, which is jolly good because it's a church well worth restoring."

Forest planted

Marsham, who was a wealthy landowner, was particularly fond of trees and planted a vast forest which was cut down last century to help towards the war effort.

The tree-lover would be proud to find though that his cedar, which was just 18 inches high when he planted it, has flourished into a huge specimen which towers over 100ft and can be seen for miles in among the oaks that also remain.

Norfolk Wildlife Trust's education officer David North said it was right that Marsham's importance should be commemorated in his home county.

"Robert Marsham is a great hero for anyone interested in wildlife - he founded the science of phenology even though it wasn't called that - his indications of spring," he said.

"What vision - nobody would have realised the importance of this recording of nature's calendar. I just think it's brilliant that so many good things start in Norfolk."

The Robert Marsham exhibition is open every day from 9am until 5pm at St Margaret's Church, Church Road, Stratton Strawless, NR10 5LN.

The book, Chapters In The Life Of Robert Marsham 1708-1797, is now on sale.

last updated: 19/05/2008 at 12:08
created: 01/05/2008

You are in: Norfolk > People > Profiles > Robert Marsham: The father of springtime records

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