History of the BBS

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The Moss Exchange Club and the BBS

The BBS – or at least, The Moss Exchange Club upon which it was built – is almost certainly the oldest bryological society in the world. The Moss Exchange Club was founded by in 1896, predating by 2 years its American equivalent, the Sullivant Moss Society which went on to become the American Bryological and Lichenological Society.

Founder of the Moss Exchange Club in 1896

The Moss Exchange Club was formed at the instigation of an Irish clergyman, Rev. C H Waddell, with the main object of assisting members in building up collections of correctly named specimens. It started with 23 members, increasing to 60 just before the First World War. There were no meetings, and most contact between members was in the form of an annual exchanges of specimens. It was however instrumental in keeping interest in British mosses and liverworts alive during a period when they were largely ignored by universities, and greatly increasing knowledge about the distribution of British species.

At an early stage in the life of the MEC, it was decided to create a separate section for beginners, and this helped to encourage new bryologists in pursuit of bryological knowledge. As the years passed, the beginners became experts and the distinction between the 2 sections blurred. Eventually, in 1923, it was agreed to merge the 2 and the British Bryological Society was born, with 87 members of the MEC joining the new Society.

Membership of the Moss Exchange Club (1896-1922) and BBS (1923-2011), extracted from Mark Hill’s short history of the BBS.

Further reading

There are several accounts of the history of the MEC and the BBS if you would like to find out more.

The first – and very factual – account was published in 1944 by Miss Eleonora Armitage, one of the original members of the MEC (and the only woman) and a leading light of the new British Bryological Society. She summarises, for each year from 1896 to 1938, the activities of the society. The only lady founding member of the Moss Exchange Club and a leading light of the BBS for many years. Photo: 1935, Dadnor, Herefordshire

Miss Eleonora Armitage: History of MEC and BBS

A later account devoted to the MEC and with the advantage of historical perspective, was published in 1979 by W.D. Foster and makes fascinating reading.

W.D. Foster: History of the MEC

To mark the Society’s 60th anniversary in 1983, the BBS published a booklet entitled ‘The British Bryological Society 1923-1983’, written by P.W. Richards.

P.W. Richards: The British Bryological Society

The most recent update to the history of the Society was written by Mark Hill in 2011.

M.O. Hill: A short history of the BBS

During recent years also, Mark Lawley has done a lot of research into the members of the MEC (1896 – 1923) and the BBS (1923 – 1945) and has made his findings available via the download link below. You can see some of the bryologists Mark has been researching in the photo gallery below.

This is a work in progress, and Mark would be very keen to hear from anyone who has more information – anecdotal or otherwise – on past bryologists’ lives and work. You can contact him at mrbryology@gmail.com

Mark Lawley: Members of the MEC and the BBS