2 May 2022

The Lutterworth Camberwell Beauty of 1872

Our Natural Life collections are regularly used by volunteers and researchers. One of them, Adrian Russell, was the County Recorder for Lepidoptera (Butterflies and Moths) in Leicestershire. He found one specimen in our collections with an intriguing label and this is his account of where it led him. Sadly Adrian passed away before we could publish this.

The Camberwell Beauty butterfly specimen from Leicestershire Museum Collections, showing the label that prompted Adrian's research.

The Camberwell Beauty butterfly is a rare migrant visitor to this country. As part of my research into records of this butterfly in Leicestershire I examined the two specimens that are in the Museums reference collection. One of them was intriguingly labelled “1872 Lutterworth Leicester Rev. Armitage sister 12/”. The label itself was impressive, being only 6mm in diameter, with the handwriting being less than 1mm high.

But just who was the Rev. Armitage’s sister? I set out to try and find an answer to the question, a process that eventually took many, many hours of research.

Checking Crockford’s Clerical Directory for 1874 reveal a total of nine Rev. Armitages, though none appeared to have any connection with Leicestershire. Using genealogical search techniques, I found that one did have such a connection: the 1881 census revealed that the Rev. George Dowker Armitage was, at that time, living in Broughton Astley, approximately 10 miles from Lutterworth. Local records did indeed confirm that he was Rectory of St Mary’s church in Broughton Astley, a position he held between 1878 and 1901, but that was at least six years after the date of capture of the Camberwell Beauty! Perhaps he had a sister who lived in the area? The 1851 census revealed that he had five sisters: Kate, Caroline Jane, Gertrude, Edith and Frances. Further research revealed that, at the time of the 1871 census, Caroline Jane was by then married to a George Hope and they were staying with the Rev. Henry Radford and his wife Kate, who was Caroline’s sister.

So, I now knew that there were two Rev. Armitage sisters living in the area in 1871. But Kate Radford (nee Armitage) died in the first half of 1872, before the Camberwell Beauty invasion of September and October that year. Of the remaining sisters, Caroline Hope (nee Armitage) seems to be the most likely one to have caught the Camberwell Beauty for her entomologist brother George. Perhaps she was visiting at the time of the 1871 census, to care for her ill sister? And Perhaps she was staying in Broughton Astley, at the time of the capture of the Camberwell Beauty, helping to look after her sister’s young children who had recently lost their mother? Obviously, this is all speculation, but I feel confident that it was Caroline Hope (nee Armitage) who is referred to on the data label of the Camberwell Beauty in the Museum’s collection.

Adrian Russell, 2022

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