Henry Leopold Foster Guermonprez 1858-1924

Source: Sturt, Nick. “Henry Leopold Foster Guermonprez 1858-1924.” Sussex Botanical Recording Society Newsletter, no. 43 (January 1997). http://www.sussexflora.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/Newsletter_jan_1997.pdf.

 

The windmill on Halnaker Hill near Goodwood is one of the oldest remaining wills in Sussex, having been built around 1750. It fell into disuse in 1905 & thus it is probable that when Henry Guermonprez happened upon White horehound Marrubium vulgare on the hill  in the early years of this century the sweeps were no longer turning the machinery. Around 70 years later the mill still stands – and near it plants of the white horehound.

H L F Guermonprez was, in the words of Wolley-Dod, ‘a botanist who should have been better known’. Of Belgian origin, his parents moved from Chelsea to Bognor in 1891 or 1892 & it was perhaps this translation to more rural scenes which intensified Henry’s already well developed interest in the natural world. He became knowledgeable in almost every branch of natural history; in particular he was an observant ornithologist & a skilled taxidermist; & he spoke out strongly against shooting birds for sport. He amassed an important herbarium.

Although it is evident from his collections (now in the care of Portsmouth City Museums) that he was a most active naturalist, he published very little. This fact helps to account for his relative obscurity, but in addition he seems to have been a retiring person not given to participation in the local societies of his day. On the other hand, he corresponded widely & we have an insight into this from the happy chance that he re-used postcards sent to him to label his specimens: here is an early example of a man mindful of the world’s resources (as well as his own limited private income?) – indeed, with his small oval spectacles and generous facial undergrowth, his appearance resembles  that of the media’s image of the stereotypical ‘Green’.

Yet Guermonprez was not entirely without fame in his adoptive county. On the death of Frederick Arnold in 1906, the editor of the West Sussex Gazette invited him to take over ‘Selborne Notes’, which invitation was accepted & he wrote the weekly column until his own death in 1924. The many & varied topics covered in the Notes testify to the extraordinary breadth & depth of his scientific knowledge.

In the list of subscribers published in the second (posthumous) edition of Arnold’s Sussex flora, Guermonprez is cited as ordering four copies. The two which are known to survive are in the possession of the SBRS; they are well worn and the pages contain a wealth of sketches and marginal notes which have been studied and transcribed  painstakingly by Frances Abraham: these most interesting transcriptions are now available to members. H L F Guermonprez will deservedly become a little better known as a consequence.

 

Ref: H L F Guermonprez 1858-1924: A West Sussex Naturalist by M D Crane. Portsmouth City Museum & Art Gallery 1974.