Woodbury Wide Awake has been a festival of projects and events throughout the parish during 2019 inspired by Reverend William Keble Martin, the renowned botanist, and illustrator and author of The Concise British Flora (1965), who died in Woodbury 50 years previously in 1969. The festival explored his life, work and legacy, and also changes in the local and national natural environment that have occurred since that time, and environmental challenges for the future. These themes were explored in a short community documentary film.
Events included nature walks, talks, and wild-flower projects. On the arts side it also included story-telling, nature-writing, and wild-flower painting. There were two exhibitions in July and November, and a specially commissioned concert in May. Other individual projects are represented here on the website, and these will be updated and added to in the New Year, together with possible plans for continuing our programme of events and projects into 2020.
About Rev William Keble Martin and Woodbury
William Keble Martin was possibly one of Woodbury’s most famous residents, who died in the parish 50 years ago in 1969 at the age of 91. Born in 1877, he was a descendent of the famous Champernowne family of Dartington Hall in S Devon, and during his lifetime was known as a highly conscientious priest in several parishes throughout the county.
He was also very well-regarded as a botanist, was extremely active in the Devonshire Association Botany Section, and was the principal editor of the Flora of Devon - a massive 750-page publication of the Devonshire Association, 80 years ago in 1939. This carefully researched book was the first full Flora for the county to be published in over a hundred years, and drew together all that had been discovered regarding plants growing wild in Devon. In recent times, the early records for that book became a valuable source for the 2016 New Flora of Devon also published by the Devonshire Association.
He believed strongly in the preservation of places of natural beauty and interest, and was active in a county committee whose work resulted in establishing nature reserves and the National Parks in Devon.
Throughout his adult life Keble Martin combined dedicated church work with an equal commitment to recording all the wildflowers of the British Isles. He illustrated each of them through exquisite and painstaking paintings and drawings, which are the main reason for his continuing fame. The archive at RAMM (the Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Exeter) holds some of his drawings and his herbarium.
He began making these drawings at Dartington, where his father was rector. At that time the family was living in the Parsonage, which now houses Schumacher College, a world leading centre of transformative education in - coincidentally - ecological and social change. He made a great many of the drawings while he was later rector of the quiet parish of Haccombe and Coffinswell, in S Devon.
Towards the end of Keble Martin’s life, in 1965, he finally achieved his ambition to have his illustrations published, as The Concise British Flora in Colour. This beautiful book was supported by the Duke of Edinburgh and became an instant bestseller, much to Keble Martin’s own surprise. At the time he was in his late 80s and had moved to Woodbury several years before, in 1958. Almost overnight he became a national household name and, following this success, was awarded an honorary degree by Exeter University.
Soon afterwards he also designed some postage stamps with wonderful images of British wildflowers. (The story about how they came to be made can be seen here, on p3 of the Local History Society Newsletter 2012) ). Many people still remember both the book and the stamps with great fondness, and the book continues to be a source of inspiration for botanists, artists and natural history enthusiasts alike.
Despite being in retirement during his time in Woodbury, Keble Martin continued his church work, regularly standing in for priests in several local churches during illness or absence. Today he is still remembered with fondness by some Woodbury people. One enduring legacy for our parish was a cover he designed for the Woodbury Parish News, which he entitled 'Woodbury Wide Awake.' We have adopted this as the name of our project throughout 2019 to commemorate his life and work.
Keble Martin (together later with his second wife Flora) was buried in Woodbury churchyard. His memorial reads:
William Keble Martin
B 9th July 1877
D 26th November 1969
He loved God all his life
and served him in the priesthood
for 67 years 1902-1969
Botanist, Artist and Author.
William Keble Martin and Flora Martin's gravestone in the churchyard
of St Swithun's, Woodbury
* * * * *
Keble Martin was born in the Victorian era and was a typical product of his social class and education. As a parson-naturalist, educated at Oxford University, he led a life it would be hard to picture a local vicar being able to enjoy today, with plenty of time for botanising throughout the British Isles. He could barely have imagined how, during the 50 years since his death, climate change, population growth, and developments in farming practice, land use and transportation, would result in such significant changes in the natural environment that he knew and loved.
The Concise British Flora in Colour was published in the 1960’s,
at a time when the environmental movement was coming into being, and only a few years after Rachel Carson’s ground-breaking book Silent Spring detailed the impact on wildlife of modern farming methods, especially the use of pesticides.
Woodbury Wide Awake will explore not just Keble Martin’s life and work, but also related subjects such as the historical uses of wild plants, change in the natural environment, and challenges for the future.
It will also include legacy projects such as wildflower planting;
an oral histories video; updating and developing the parish wildflower survey; and exhibiting and archiving the kneelers in St Swithun's church that were embroidered in Keble Martin's memory, in designs inspired by his book.
Image courtesy of RAMMuseum archive
Viewing the William Keble Martin archive
with Assistant Curator Michele Green
Images Diana Wackerbarth
Image courtesy of Woodbury News
"And so, in my ninety-first year, I look back on a happy and busy life….
I trust not only that my ministry has been helpful, but also that many young people, and those not so young, will be inspired by The Concise British Flora to recognise and love the wild flowers,
to roam over the moors and mountains and seasides, discovering for themselves
the wealth of flowers in our beautiful country. They would find it a healthy interest
which they would never regret."
Concluding paragraph of Keble Martin's autobiography Over the Hills (1969) p149
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