The reason for his late-in-life celebrity was an illustrated book, the genesis of which spanned more than half a century. Keble Martin had made his first preparatory sketches —including a watercolour study of a snowdrop, images of herb robert and of the woodland star of Bethlehem—as early as 1899 and, after publication in May 1965, The Concise British Flora in Colour became Britain’s top-selling book that year. It earned its author-illustrator an honorary doctorate from Exeter University and, in April 1967, the accolade of a series of commemorative stamps issued by Royal Mail.
Public acclaim had not been the focus of Keble Martin’s life. He was born in 1877, one of nine children of the warden, or headmaster, of Oxfordshire boys’ school Radley College. His was a clergy family: after Radley, his father took up livings in Norfolk, Wiltshire and Devon. One grandfather was a bishop of Salisbury; Keble Martin was also related to distinguished Oxford Movement priest John Keble. In 1902, Keble Martin would himself take orders.
Yet a love of the natural world played every bit as large a part in the upbringing of the Revd Martin’s five sons as their father’s calling. A maternal uncle taught the boys about butterfly collecting. They learned to identify the plants that constituted caterpillars’ preferred diet and built a cabinet to house a collection of butterfly specimens that eventually grew to several hundred. The boys also became keen birdwatchers. His knowledge stood young William in good stead as a schoolboy at Marlborough: among his teachers was the naturalist and entomologist Edward Meyrick, who, a generation earlier, when himself a pupil at the school, had got up at 4am to look for butterfly and moth specimens in nearby Rabley Copse.
Continue reading your story on the app
Continue reading your story in the magazine
‘Believe nothing to be impossible'
‘No harder than dancing the Charleston’, according to Lady Heath, flying planes was all the rage for the women of the 1930s, explains Charles Harris
With a spring in its step
Kathryn Bradley-Hole selects some of the many highlights of the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, which at long last returns to its traditional May slot
To ring a nightingale
On a cold spring morning, Patrick Galbraith held a nightingale in the palm of his hand. Yet, by the time he has grandchildren, this amazing little bird may have sung its last
Three of a kind
The beautiful North Wessex Downs are the leafy backdrop to three imposing country houses for sale
Lek at me
Managed moorland is the place to observe an extraordinary mating ritual
Glamorous and easy to grow, Japanese tree peonies are the mainstay of Primrose Hall Nursery in Bedfordshire, says Val Bourne
The lions of Trafalgar Square
Britain's greatest masterpieces
Rivers of waste
Simon Cooper traces the history of sewage discharges in British waters and suggests possible solutions
Loopy about lupins
Steven Desmond uncovers the touching story behind the exotic, multi-coloured field of lupins at Terwick in West Sussex
ENGLISH HOMES OLD & NEW
English Home part V Each month of this 125th anniversary year, COUNTRY LIFE illustrates a period in the development of the English great house. In the fifth of this 12-part series, John Goodall looks at developments through an age of revolution