Leaver & Brenda Howitt of Farndon

Photo:Brenda and Leaver Howitt

Brenda and Leaver Howitt

Photo:Wedding Bells:  Brenda and Leaver Howitt

Wedding Bells: Brenda and Leaver Howitt

Photo:Farndon Willow Holt

Farndon Willow Holt

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Leaver & Brenda Howitt of Farndon' page

Naturalists of National Renown

By Philip Ingall

It was a chance email from Mrs Jane Williams, pointing out to me that, in an article on Willow Holts [in a previous edition of 'Farndon Focus], we had spelled Leaver Howitt (missing out the “a” in Lever) that I realised many current people in Farndon may like to know more about the Howitts.

Leaver and Brenda (known affectionately as “Bina” to her family) were nationally noted botanists but more of that later.

Jane Williams, who now lives in Newark, was Bina’s niece and recalls that her memories of both Bina and Leaver were of a lovely aunt and uncle who used to go to Norway, amongst other places, every year on botanical trips.   As well as their ancient Rolls Royce, Bina had a wonderful old blue MG which she called Chunderfuss and she used to take me all round the county to teach me about wild flowers.  We also visited many churches and graveyards enjoying the wording on old grave stones and memorials.   She and Chunderfuss used to come over to Southwell regularly to see our grandmother, sometimes to go on to the Thoroton Society and we used to have tea with them both.

Murderer?

When I came over to West End for tea, Leaver used to pretend that there was a murderer living in the grandfather clock which amused my then rather macabre young mind! The very old fashioned kitchen was behind a green baize door and they had an original telephone in the hall - the type one took off the wall and spoke into a sort of tube.  I remember there was a tibouchina rose growing in one of the huge greenhouses at the back of the house.  Leaver always gave Bina an annual subscription to Vogue and she was very fashionable, wearing leather trousers which seemed to me incredibly with it in the 60’s!

Natural bouquet

When Bina died, I picked one of every flower from my garden to make a natural bouquet for her coffin as I knew she would approve.  After Leaver’s death, when he left everything to the National Trust, I asked his solicitor if I could take a few cuttings from their garden, opposite the house, and he agreed. I dug up a piece of Astrantia and Everlasting Pea and the Astrantia has moved with me to six gardens since and flowers well each year.

We all miss Bina, especially as she was our mother’s youngest sister, so wasn’t really a great older than me and my sister.

So what of Leaver and Bina Howitt?   Richard Crewdson Leaver Howitt was originally from Farndon, born in 1911 and attended Malvern Boys College.   Brenda, a vicar’s daughter and great niece of Eleanor Anne Ormerod, the pioneer woman entomologist, was born in Devon in1925 as Brenda Margaret Chalk. She grew up in that County and took an early interest in natural history and particularly plants, joining the Wild Flower Society in 1936. She attended Malvern Girls College and later the London School of Economics where she gained her degree. Her family moved to Southwell when her father retired and she married Leaver in 1951 in Southwell Minster. and they set up home in Farndon’s West End.

Leaver was a dedicated field botanist and spent 12 years with his wife studying and recording the plants of his home county. He published the “Flora of Nottinghamshire” with his wife in 1963 and interestingly the last work of this kind had been published by his great grandfather, Godfrey Howitt in 1839.

Leaver and Bina began to collect plants from further afield including Norway, Iceland and Greenland in search of willows. Leaver Howitt published several papers on willow hybrids as well as works on Salix identification. In the early 1960’s they had a plant named after them. Discovering it growing outside the ambulance station in Newark’s Queen’s Road they sent it to Kew Gardens and it was named Calystegia Howittiorum in their honour. In the garden the other side of the lane opposite their home they developed and maintained an interesting collection of living plants including some unusual shrubs and even rare weed species.

Both Leaver Howitt and his wife were active members of the Botanical Society of the British Isles and Leaver was also the BSBI referee for Salicaceae.

There was a time when the Willow Holts lined the river Trent but today’s Farndon Willow Holt houses a diverse collection willow varieties and hybrids, and owes its present form as the creation of the late Leaver and Brenda Howitt after the Second World War. It is now looked after by Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust. It is a lasting memorial to the work of a pair of Farndon residents who became known the world over for their knowledge and interest in field botany.

Brenda Howitt died in 1981 at the age of just 55 years of ovarian cancer. Tragically, Leaver Howitt took his own life in the garden of his home in 1984, aged 73 years. He too suffered with cancer and never really recovered from the death of his beloved Bina.

This article first appeared in the December 2016 edition of 'Farndon Focus' and is reproduced here by kind permission of the author

Photo:Author Philip Ingall

Author Philip Ingall

 

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