Updated: May 5
Thank you, Lancaster!
On Sunday 16 April, a crowdfunded plaque was unveiled at Emily Williamson's birthplace. Emily's great, great niece, the bird scientist Professor Melissa Bateson, did the honours. You can find the green plaque opposite Emily's family home, Highfield House, at the entrance to Williamson Park – 54 acres of grass and woodland with views across Morecambe Bay to the Lake District Fells. This is where young Emily Bateson first fell in love with birds.
Five years ago, Melissa Bateson had no idea that her great, great aunt founded the RSPB. There were other, strange coincidences to this plaque unveiling, such as the name Williamson Park (no relation), and the fact that the Bateson family home is now lived in by the parents of Catherine Ramsay, who works for the RSPB as a Conservation Adviser in the Forest of Bowland. So Melissa got to see inside the house where her ancestor was born, on 17 April 1855, only daughter to Frederick and Eliza Bateson, sister to Gordon, Richard, Frederick and Alfred.
Here's Emily in a rare family photograph from the late 1860, standing next to her father. She looks as if she might rather be outside, perhaps with that cricket bat, or bow and arrow...
Professor Melissa Bateson outside Highfield House, with RSPB's Catherine Ramsay and her parents Ben Ramsay and Lisa Booth
Any more coincidences? Well, Catherine’s father is from Liverpool and her mother from Lancaster – just like Emily’s parents.
What's more, the event's photographer, Darren Andrews, is obsessed with starling murmurations. He's has been photographing them at RSPB Leighton Moss for years. Starlings were, of course, the topic of Melissa Bateson’s PhD – so Darren proudly presented her with a copy of his new book, Murmur. He's also made a film on the subject.
A big thank you to Alasdair McKee, RSPB Local Groups Officer for the North of England and driving force behind the Emily Williamson Lancaster plaque. Thanks also to two Lancastrians who have donated generously to our statue campaign: author Jo Baker (of Longbourn fame) and her husband Daragh Carville (The Bay screenwriter).
Please share this post, tell your friends, and help spread the inspiring story of Lancashire's early eco activist. Let's make Emily's statue the next unveiling!