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Introducing our new archivist Mark Pitchforth

_DSC8893Mark portrait

Mark Pitchforth pictured in the John Innes Archives

My name is Mark Pitchforth and I have just taken up the post of John Innes Centre Project Archivist, funded by the Welcome Trust, based in the JIC Library and working with the wonderful historical archive collections held there.

My career working with archives has been quite varied to date. Before qualifying as an archivist I completed a year’s traineeship at Royal Holloway, University of London and subsequently gained a place at Liverpool University, completing my Masters in Archives and Records Management in 2004. Since then I have worked as an archivist at Cheshire Record Office, West Yorkshire Archives Service and most recently Hampshire Record Office based in Winchester. During my time there I was seconded to work on a part-time basis at the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu on their motoring archives. This new position at JIC offers further variety and I’m very much enjoying the process of familiarising myself with the collections and the rich history attached to them. The wealth of material held is fantastic and I am excited at the prospect of making strides towards it becoming a more secure and accessible resource.

One of the most prominent collections among our archive holdings is the William Bateson papers documenting the life and work of Britain’s founding father of genetics. The collection comprises around 10,000 items dating from around 1869 to 1926, including two boxes of notebooks and small diaries. One of these notebooks I have found particularly interesting as it contains information on the setting up of the John Innes Horticultural Institution at Merton Park with hand-drawn pencil sketches of potential room layouts as well as research notes on rogue peas and lists of plants. The notebook also demonstrates some of the good archive conservation work which has been achieved. It had previously been exposed to water damage and was in extremely poor condition but with funding from the Welcome Trust and help from conservation staff at Norfolk Record Office, the notebook has now been cleaned and repaired and placed in custom archival packaging which will help protect it from any further damage in the future.

Bateson notebook with bespoke packaging and repaired cover after conservation at Norfolk Record Office

William Bateson notebook with bespoke packaging and repaired cover after conservation at Norfolk Record Office. It was formerly known only as ‘the mouldy notebook’ and could not be handled or read.


William Bateson's notebook contains room plans for the new Institute, plant lists and details of experiments on garden peas

William Bateson’s notebook contains room plans for the new Institute, plant lists, and details of his experiments on garden peas

We also hold collections relating to a number of other former Directors of John Innes including Cyril Darlington, who oversaw the move to Bayfordbury in Hertfordshire after the Second World War and whose papers have been catalogued in detail, and Harold W Woolhouse, who was instrumental in the development of the John Innes Centre during the 1980s as it grew from around 200 staff to over 800, incorporating the Sainsbury Laboratory, the Cambridge Laboratory and the Nitrogen Fixation Laboratory. The Woolhouse family have just passed on additional documents to add to the material already held relating to, amongst other things, his involvement with the Scientific Exploration Society, specifically projects based in Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo) and Colombia in the 1970s. We’ve also recently received a substantial number of documents from Prof David Hopwood, Emeritus Fellow in the Department of Molecular Microbiology at JIC and a pioneer in the field of the genetics of Streptomyces coelicolor. This demonstrates that the collection of archives is a continuous process and it is important that material of potential historical significance is preserved now for future generations of researchers.

I have begun developing a collections policy and staff manual encompassing all aspects of archive care. This will include improving the condition and security of the historic material through the introduction of further archive standard packaging, identifying items within the collections like the Bateson notebook in need of professional conservation work and revisiting our procedures and provisions surrounding access and disaster planning. Also important is to encourage greater awareness of the unique and valuable collections we hold and encourage as many people as possible to make use of them. This will be achieved by improving the level of archive cataloguing, ensuring that documents can be located and produced efficiently, making greater use of the searchable Calm archive database and generally promoting the work that we are doing.

For more information about the JIC historical collections go to If you have relevant material which you think should be preserved, either now or in the future, or any other questions regarding the archives then feel free to get in touch to discuss things further. My personal e-mail is

Mark’s post, and conservation and cataloguing work on the Bateson and Darlington collections was funded by a Wellcome Trust Research Resources Grant in Medical History (Grant no. GR093741)


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John Innes collection of rare botanical books helps science communication project

Guest Blog by Melanie Robb

A recent graduate of the University of East Anglia, I first became interested in the historical collection of the John Innes Centre library during a Science Communication project in my final year – this involved researching plants with medicinal properties for a new garden to be opened on campus later this year (the Modern Physic Garden, or MPG) and writing content for the forthcoming website, including images and historical references.  After discovering that the JIC had its own collection of rare botanical texts, we felt this could be a useful resource as well as providing an opportunity for collaboration between the UEA and JIC.  A subsequent visit revealed a rich collection of works, including rare herbals and books of medical botany which we otherwise would not have had access to.  Outreach Curator Sarah Wilmot was incredibly helpful in locating and providing digitised images from some of the books in the collection, enabling us to include some beautiful botanical artwork in our content for the website.

Since graduating I have continued with this project as an intern working with Dr Laura Bowater (UEA) and have been able to maintain the relationship developed with staff at the John Innes Historical Collections (JIHC) – we are now working together to create a set of digitised images of medicinal plants which will feature on the MPG website.

A selection of botanical images digitised at the JIHC, taken from Woodville’s Medical Botany, 3rd Ed. (1832), one of the many books on medical botany in the John Innes Historical Collections


Lavender (Lavendula spica)


Chilli (Capsicum)


Hops (Humulus lupulus)


Saffron (Crocus sativa)




A brief history of physic gardens

Humans have been collecting and cultivating plants for their medicinal values for millennia and there is no doubt that these would have been grown in dedicated gardens throughout history. However the first formal ‘physic’ gardens appeared in Italy at the beginning of the 16th century and the trend soon spread across Europe, with the first opening in the UK at Oxford University in 1621. These gardens started out as collections of medicinal plants which were used as educational resources for apothecaries, doctors and students of medicine. Within a couple of centuries however, physic gardens declined in popularity and use for a number of reasons, in particular:

  • improvements in printing technology enabled mass production of medical and botanical texts and there was less need for dedicated gardens for learning
  • at the same time the ‘age of exploration’ led to the discovery of thousands of new plant species which were collected and displayed in botanic gardens, many of which had started life as physic gardens

Although Britain has a rich history of botanic gardens, only a handful of stand-alone physic gardens are open to the public today (eg: Chelsea, Dilston, Cowbridge and Petersfield Physic gardens). The Modern Physic Garden at the UEA will celebrate the historical value of maintaining a collection of useful medicinal plants whilst bringing the idea into the 21st Century. Many modern pharmaceuticals are derived from plant-based medicines which have been used in folklore and herbalism for centuries and it is this connection between past, present and future health, which the MPG aims to represent.

About the Modern Physic Garden

The brainchild of Dr Laura Bowater, the Modern Physic Garden will offer the opportunity for students, researchers and the public to come together to explore the role of plants in society today. The garden will take inspiration from the science, history and culture of important and useful plants, with an emphasis on local resources and current plant science research here at the Norwich Research Park.  Due to open in October 2015, there will be several themes within the garden, including:  pharmaceuticals, clothing, building, energy, food and drink.


Using the historical collection in an outreach project:

Some of the images already provided by the JIHC have been used in an outreach project in collaboration with Dr Laura Bowater.  This art and science collaborative venture was funded by North West Norfolk Decorative & Fine Art Society (NWNDFAS) and involved local glass artists ( working with Burnham Primary School. The project used the inspiration of plants from the Physic Garden to encourage the school pupils to design a series of glass labels for their own personal use. They also took part in a competition to design a glass plant label to be displayed and used in the garden. Botanical images from JIHC were used as inspiration for the children’s artwork, while they also learned about the uses and scientific features of their chosen plants.

3B. SALT glass studios. BMPS for Glass Art Workshop for Plant lables for the UEA MPG, NADFAS.25.6.15.Photo Credit ©


I have really enjoyed working with the JIHC – as someone who is passionate about botany, history and science it has been a wonderful opportunity to view rare works of historical importance and to display some of this work to the public in a modern context.  I believe that being able to access and use this valuable resource has added depth and interest to the work of communicating plant science.



Glass signs designed by schoolchildren at Burnham Primary School, copyright SALT glass studios:


©SALT glass studios23 BMPS School Garden Plant LabelsDSCF9658

Salt glass labels 2

Salt Glass labels 1


The John Innes Historical Collections are open to the public by appointment. Get in touch if you have an idea for science communication that you think we might help with!








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From ‘Dora and Desmond’ to Professor Roy Markham and Professor David Lipkin

In this guest blog archives enthusiast Anna Cullingford describes how she stumbled across a collection of John Innes related letters at a local auction in Norfolk. My neighbour had put us in touch, knowing that I looked after the John Innes archives. ‘Would I like to see them?’- Of course I would!  I thought this might be an opportunity to rescue a part of John Innes history that might otherwise be lost.  Anna was kind enough to check her set of originals against our box of photocopies and concluded that we do have copies of the entire correspondence in the John Innes Archives- these had been donated some years ago. How the originals later got into the auction is a mystery. Anna’s tale shows how papers like this, with no obvious interest to the local auction-going public, could easily have disappeared without trace.

To provide some biographical background to the two scientists who feature in Anna’s blog:  Roy Markham, FRS (1916-1989), was a biochemist who studied plant viruses at the Virus Research Unit in Cambridge, of which he was Head from 1960. As Anna explains, he then became the first Director of the John Innes Institute when the Institute moved to Colney in Norfolk in 1967. Roy was interested in the structure of plant viruses, and during the 1960s and 70s was preoccupied with improving methods for obtaining information about this using the electron microscope. His later years were dominated by the demands of his Directorship.  David Lipkin (1913-2004) was a chemist with a distinguished career that included developing new compounds and finding innovative ways to synthesise existing compounds. During his long correspondence with Roy, Lipkin worked in the Department of Chemistry at Washington University in St. Louis which he had joined with five other scientists from the Manhattan Project in 1946. His work had an impact on many fields including biochemistry, genetics, clinical medicine and pharmacology. But it is probably the time that he worked on the Manhattan Project (a US-led project to develop atomic bombs), that will attract the attention of historians of science. Anna, now custodian of the letters, takes a longer and more personal view of the man understood through this trans-Atlantic friendship.

Anna Cullingford with letters from the Markham - Lipkin correspondence

Anna Cullingford with ‘Dora and Desmond’ and letters from the Markham – Lipkin correspondence

From “Dora and Desmond” to Professor Roy Markham and Professor David Lipkin

In July 2011 I was at a local auction looking to bid for a pair of African carved Tribal Art figures. On the viewing day I noticed there was a box with paperwork and glass slides up for bidding attributed to Professor Roy Markham, the first director of the (Norwich) John Innes Institute. I knew of him as I had worked at the JII/JIC from 1993 to 2001.

On auction day, when I had bid and paid for my items (now affectionately known as Dora and Desmond), I decided to return to the auction room to see who would buy the Roy Markham papers and how much they would go for. The auctioneer started the bidding for the lot at £100 but there were no bidders, and he reduced the price each time until £10 was reached. I realised that there was no reserve on the papers, and as the auctioneer faltered I was concerned that the lot would be withdrawn and maybe scrapped if there was no interest, so I decided to bid for them. Thus I became the owner of a box of letters and glass photographic negatives pertaining to Roy Markham and his working life in Cambridge and Norwich.

On closer inspection at home, I discovered that there are 101 letters and papers, 90% of these are letters between Professor Roy Markham and Professor David Lipkin of the University of Washington, in St Louis, USA. Had I been a contemporary of theirs I would never have associated with them. I have found them on paper to be warm, humorous and above all, human. They obviously enjoyed a good working relationship and got on well together.

The letters in the 1950’s and 60’s are from these two men who are working at the bench and enjoying their work. There are a lot of chemical/scientific references as they bounce ideas off each other. Much of this material is over my head. As they mature and their careers develop the lab. work takes second place to other responsibilities, like admin. and managerial roles, and the chemistry references are replaced by more personal things, such as how they are managing their new roles and what their families are up to. They also comment on world events at the time, such as the assassination of J F Kennedy, the Vietnam war and the Washington and Baltimore riots. As well as being highly gifted academically, Roy was also good at practical work and was adept at making and/or adapting apparatus for his experiments. Several of the letters to David have rough sketches of his designs and modifications. David  was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1955, enabling him to spend a few months in Europe and he came to Cambridge to work for a time. David was the first to synthesize cyclic AMP and worked on nucleic acids.

Of special interest to me are the letters from the late 1960’s when Roy was asked to become director of the new John Innes Institute in Norwich and his subsequent move, with his group, from Cambridge to Norwich. There are other interesting letters (and a secret) too, and I consider it a privilege to be the owner of this correspondence. I have had many hours of enjoyment from these letters. My next task is to try and catalogue the glass negatives.

The last letter was sent from Roy to David on 5th May 1978 – there is nothing from either man after this date. Roy died aged 63 in November 1979, while David died aged 91 in March 2004.


I picked these two letters for the photograph because they are my favourite letters of them all. I think because Roy and David are comfortable with each other, as they have been corresponding for many years, their personalities are given free rein on these pages here. Roy has written 6 pages by hand to David, telling of his thoughts and feelings about being appointed Director of the JII, as it was then. Having worked at the JIC for 8 years this is very interesting to me. His letter is a reply to David’s letter, which is 10 pages long!! David has hand written his letter too – normally his letters were typed by his secretary. Again, there are personal thoughts, comments on world events and scientific information included.



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