Augustin ley (1842-1911)

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AUGUSTIN LEY (1842-1911)
Mark Lawley


This is one in a series of articles about prominent British and Irish field-bryologists of the past. The author would be very pleased to learn of any information which supplements its content.
A Social and Biographical History of British and Irish Field-bryologists is also available on-line at

Bryological career
Ley added Oxyrrhynchium schleicheri to the British list, this moss having being hitherto confused with O. hians.
Ley co-authored A Flora of Herefordshire (1889), in which he was solely responsible for a detailed annotated list of mosses, and he also wrote papers for the Transactions of the Woolhope Naturalists’ Field Club of 1905, listing additions to Herefordshire’s known bryoflora since 1889.
Ley discovered innumerable species of bryophytes new to his home county of Herefordshire and neighbouring shires. Around his home near Ross-on-Wye in south Herefordshire, he found the Carboniferous Limestone of the Doward particularly rewarding, with Bryum canariense in Lord’s Wood (as well as at Sellack and Little Birch) and B. torquescens on the Great Doward. Other plants from the Doward and surrounding land included Dicranum scottianum, Eurhynchium striatulum, Entosthodon muhlenbergii, Grimmia orbicularis, Gymnostomum calcareum, Pleurochaete squarrosa, Rhytidium rugosum, Scorpiurium circinatum, Seligeria acutifolia and S. pusilla.
From the Woolhope hills south-east of Hereford and nearby Shucknall Hill he discovered Aloina ambigua and A. rigida (Shucknall), Bryum torquescens (Shucknall), Entosthodon muhlenbergii (Backbury Hill), Microbryum floerkeanum on Shucknall Hill, Pottiopsis caespitosa on Common Hill and on Shucknall Hill, Pterygoneurum ovatum (Shucknall), and Weissia multicapsularis on Common Hill.
The hills of south-west Herefordshire on the Welsh border also drew Ley, and there he found Bryum mildeanum in the upper Grwyne valley in 1903, Encalypta ciliata on the Black Mountain, Plagiopus oederianus on the Red Daren in the Olchon valley, and Weissia squarrosa at Cwm-y-oy in 1874.
Other notable discoveries from Herefordshire included Bryum uliginosum at Pontrilas, Myrinia pulvinata (River Wye at Clifford), Orthotrichum obtusifolium (Hentland, Pencombe and Perrystone) and Thuidium recognitum (Hope Mansel).

Like most other bryologists of his generation who were active before MacVicar’s Student’s Handbook of British Hepatics appeared in 1912, Ley paid more attention to mosses than liverworts, but he did find Apometzgeria pubescens on The Doward in 1884, Riccia cavernosa at Sellack in 1889, and Sphaerocarpos texanus at King’s Caple in 1872.

His herbarium is at Birmingham University, with additional plants at Oxford, Bolton, and Belfast.

Family background
Augustin Ley was born at Hereford on April 3rd, 1842, the second son of Reverend William Henry Ley (c.1815-1887) and Mary Prichard (c.1816-1844), a daughter of Dr. James Cowles Prichard (1786-1848) of Bristol. Both of James’s parents came from well-established Quaker families in Herefordshire, and one of James’s great-uncles was very wealthy. Cowles was the surname of James’s paternal grandmother.
Augustin’s mother died in 1844, and William Henry remarried in 1870. His new bride was Gertrude Gee (1839-1920), daughter of Thomas Gee (1812-1905) and Maria (née Prichard 1817-1847). Thomas Gee married secondly Agnes Moline, whose mother Mary née Prichard (1791-1868) was a daughter of Thomas Prichard (1765-1843) and Mary (née Lewis, 1763-1799) and sister to James Cowles Prichard. The Prichards boasted several individuals who became sufficiently prominent to merit entries in the Dictionary of National Biography, including James Cowles Prichard himself.
Another branch of the Prichard tribe married into the Newman family (who were also Quakers) with the wedding of Ann Prichard (1771-1849) to George Newman (1774-1845) in 1797. George and Ann spent their later years living at Leominster, Herefordshire. The eminent naturalist Edward Newman (1801-1876) was their son. Through the Prichards, Ley was also distantly related to Henry Southall (1826-1916), a respected botanist of Ross-on-Wye.
James Prichard converted to the Anglican Church while a student at Cambridge. He became well known for his pioneering work in anthropology and mental illness, and published several books including Physical History of Mankind (1813), On the Different Forms of Insanity in Relation to Jurisprudence (1842) and The Natural History of Man (1843).
Dr Prichard’s wife was born Anna Maria Estlin (b.1788), the daughter of John Prior Estlin (1747-1817) who was a prominent Unitarian minister and schoolmaster at Bristol. Anna’s brother, John Bishop Estlin (1785-1855) became a pioneering ophthalmic surgeon who married Margaret Bagehot in 1817. Margaret was a member of the Bagehot family of Langport, Somerset, which also spawned Walter Bagehot (1826-1877) the political commentator, economist and journalist. After Anna died, James Cowles Prichard married Emma Henrietta Ley in 1841, so the marriage of Augustin Ley’s parents was another union between the Ley and Prichard families.
James Cowles Prichard’s second son, Augustin Prichard (1818-1898), took over his father’s practice in Bristol, was interested in botany (he contributed to E.H. Swete’s Flora Bristoliensis (1854)), and helped to guide his young nephew’s early steps in natural history. Augustin Prichard married Mary Sibellah (or Sibella) Ley, who was born at Maker, near Torpoint, Plymouth in 1818-9 – yet another union between the Leys and Prichards. Mary Ley was a daughter of Thomas Henry Ley, and sister of William Henry Ley. She had eight children, and died at Barton Regis in 1892.
William and Mary Ley’s mother was Sarah Hillyar (c.1790-1857) before she married Thomas Hunt Ley, and many years later another male Ley married a female Hillyar when Augustin Ley’s brother William Clement Ley married Elizabeth Crockett Hillyar in 1865.
Another odd coincidence occurs with Augustin Prichard’s son, Edgar Prichard, who married Eleanor Openshaw, whose father came from Bury in Lancashire: Herefordshire’s premier bryologist in succession to Ley, Charles Herbert Binstead, had a brother who also married an Openshaw girl whose father was born in Bury.
Augustin Ley’s father, William Henry, was also born at Maker, son of the Reverend Thomas Hunt Ley (c. 1786-1866), who was in turn the son of John Ley, and apparently descended from John Ley (died 1775), gentleman of Trehill, near Exeter.
Numerous male Leys became clergymen in Devon and Cornwall during the 17th and 18th centuries, but after a short career at his college in Oxford, William Henry became headmaster of the Cathedral School at Hereford. He resigned that position around the time of Augustin’s birth, and was instituted to the living at Sellack vicarage near Ross, which was combined with the neighbouring parish of Kings Caple immediately across the River Wye.

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