Diary 2022
Diary 2022
6 min

Friday 18th November 2022

6 min

An unexpected quest in West Sussex Months have passed since I last posted on my blog, but yesterday I found myself doing some family history footstep retracing, totally unexpectedly, and I feel it was worth writing about! My mother would have loved this story, had she lived to read it. I was in Horsham, an attractive town not far from Gatwick airport, and the rain was pouring down all morning. Streets were partially flooded, and the best place to shelter was the excellent Horsham branch of Waterstones booksellers, which has an attractive café. After a good relax there, the weather improved slightly, so we started wandering along the street, and were immediately attracted by a castellated building that looked worth a closer look, both from in front and behind…and just beyond it we spotted the Horsham Museum and Gallery, which was to lead me on a voyage of discovery for the rest of the day, and back to the days of my great grandfather, entomologist G C Champion.

The attractive building that attracted us to the museum behindThe building that attracted us to the museum behind

The museum is really outstanding, housing a great range of diverse exhibits, but one in particular brought me up sharp: a cabinet containing memorabilia of famous Horsham residents, among which was a large leather-bound volume, labelled “Godman Catalogues”. My eyes were immediately drawn to this, and it turned out to be a catalogue of Godman’s library, housed then at his residence, South Lodge. This Godman was none other than my great grandfather G C Champion’s employer Frederick DuCane Godman who, together with Osbert Salvin, employed him as an insect collector in 1879, and sent him off to Guatemala and Panama, initiating a collaboration that lasted throughout my great grandfather’s life, and still echoes strongly in my own life, having inspired me to retrace his and Godman and Salvin’s footsteps on my own great journey through those countries in 2011.

The Godman catalogueThe Godman catalogue

An enquiry at the desk led me to discover that an exhibition of Godman’s life and work is due to be held at the museum next summer, and I met the future curator of that. A few questions and a quick Google search revealed that South Lodge, Godman’s former home, was only a few miles to the south of Horsham, and it is now a luxury hotel and spa. So, it was not long before we were pulling into the driveway of a fine stately home, and passing a truly monumental rhododendron, a fitting memorial to a man whose extraordinary contribution to our knowledge of all aspects of the natural world, including botany, is incalculable.

The monumental rhododendronThe monumental rhododendron

Inside the building, there were numerous references to and memorabilia of the Godman family, including family photographs, a stained glass window featuring the Godman family crest, and most interesting to me, a series of panels on the wall of the main corridor, one of which, referring to the magnificent 63-volume work that Frederick DuCane Godman and Salvin compiled, the “Biologia Centrali-Americana”, read: “Although it was not until 1876 that Godman and Salvin, who had first met at university in Cambridge, decided to embark on a large-scale study of the biology of Central America, their research into this field had started twenty-two years prior to the first issue’s publication in 1879. During that time, they travelled extensively in Central America and amassed specimens for their own collections, as well as training some of the natives to collect further specimens which were then sent back to England for classification. These specimens, as well as those obtained by professional collectors employed by Godman and Salvin [my great grandfather was one of these collectors], were distributed to the section-editors for the necessary research and illustration during the publication of this work. After Salvin’s death in 1898, Godman continued the work, assisted by G C Champion, who worked as secretary and sub-editor to Godman, as well as contributing to nine volumes of the series. Godman’s obituary in The Ibis magazine describes the Biologia as “WITHOUT QUESTION THE GREATEST WORK OF THE KIND EVER PLANNED AND CARRIED OUT BY PRIVATE INDIVIDUALS…..AND…..A MONUMENT TO THE ENERGY AND MUNIFICENCE OF SALVIN AND GODMAN”.

G C Champion is referred to hereG C Champion is referred to here

The hotel kindly provided free copies of a fascinating volume, “A History of South Lodge”, providing further insight into the legacy of this magnificent property, which passed out of the ownership of the Godman family in 1985, and which has since been run as an exclusive hotel, hosting major events including the 2009 G20 summit.

South Lodge pre-1911South Lodge pre-1911

South Lodge in 2022South Lodge in 2022

One of the reception rooms in South LodgeOne of the reception rooms in South Lodge

The Godman family crestThe Godman family crest

A picture of Mr Godman in the lobbyA picture of Mr Godman in the lobby

Having admired this wonderful building, it seemed only fitting to try to locate Frederick DuCane Godman’s grave, and so we drove just a few miles south, to the little village of Cowfold, and entered the churchyard, which only appeared to contain graves from an earlier period than Godman’s. The church was, perhaps surprisingly so late in the day, open but the light switches seemed to be impossible to find, and as it was already quite dark inside the building, it was hard to see much. I had wondered if there might be a plaque to the memory of Frederick DuCane Godman, but none was to be seen, although two of the stained glass windows bore inscriptions commemorating other members of the Godman family.

A Godman memorial window in Cowsfold churchA Godman memorial window in Cowfold church

Text of the memorial to F D Godman's sister-in-law MaudText of the memorial to F D Godman's sister-in-law Maud

Feeling slightly disappointed, we left the building and were about to abandon our search, when we spotted a man taking his dog for a walk in the churchyard. I asked him if he knew where the more modern graves might be. He said, “Oh yes, they’re in a separate area beyond the hedge surrounding the church. Are you looking for anyone in particular?”, to which I replied that we were looking for a Mr Godman, of South Lodge. “Oh yes, the Godmans. They’re all in a row at the back of the other section”.

St Peters, CowfoldSt Peters, Cowfold

And so it was that we found the grave of Frederick DuCane Godman, the man (together with Osbert Salvin) who had given my great grandfather his lucky break at the age of 29, when he had thought that his destiny lay in simply running his father’s small jewelry shop in Walworth Road, South London, but which led him to become one of the most eminent entomologists of his time. The grave looked rather sad, and the letter ‘n’ was missing from the name Godman. Nonetheless, I felt a link to this remarkable man, and an extraordinary, unexpected afternoon came to an end.

The grave of Frederick DuCane Godman, 1834 - 1919The grave of Frederick DuCane Godman, 1834 - 1919

Godman has become Godma, as the n has disappearedGodman has become Godma, as the n has disappeared