The Chronological History of the Society


The Ashmolean Society originated in Oxford and is the oldest surviving Natural History Society in Britain. It was formed with the purpose of “promoting in the University a taste for Natural, Experimental Philosophy, Antiquarian and other branches of research, as well as occasional meetings amongst its members”. The Society consisted of Ordinary Members who had to be graduates of the University, or some other university, and Honorary Members who were described as “any gentleman, not a member of the University, who may be considered likely to contribute towards the objects for which the Society is instituted”.

Various specialist sections were formed such as Botany, Geology and Zoology, and on May 27th 1880 an Ornithological sub-section of Zoology was formed with O.V. Aplin as president. W. Warde-Fowler followed O.V. Aplin from 1887 until 1902 and he was succeeded by F.M. Ogilvy who served until 1916. For the whole of this period, the only report from the sub-section is that of a Woodchat Shrike breeding during June 1908, in Oxfordshire, although the exact locality is withheld.

Ogilvy’s presidency coincided with a momentous change to the Ashmolean Society. On May 22nd 1901 it amalgamated with the Oxfordshire Natural History Society and Field Club, formerly the Oxfordshire Botanical and Natural History Society of Oxfordshire, founded in 1832. The new society took the title of the Ashmolean Natural History Society of Oxfordshire (ANHS).

The Reverend Francis Jourdain succeeded Ogilvy as president of the ornithological section in 1916, a position he held until 1925. In 1917 a bird report, covering the present Oxfordshire and the area formerly known as North West Berkshire, was published in the ANHS Proceedings and Report. This was repeated in subsequent years until 1932 although from 1924 the reports duplicated those produced by the Oxford Ornithological Society.

The Oxford Ornithological Society

The proposal to form a separate society concentrating on the study of birds was formed by Jourdain and Bernard Tucker who had entered Magdalen College in 1919, as an under-graduate and where he remained as a fellow for the rest of his life. An inaugural meeting was held on February 10th 1921 in the rooms of A.H. Paget-Wilkes, in Holywell Street, where the proposal was adopted and Paget-Wilkes exhibited his egg collection. The Oxford Ornithological Society became the first specialist county ornithological society in Britain, if not in the world. The first lecture meeting followed two weeks later, with the title “The Breeding Birds of the Oxford District” and was given by George Tickner. The system of monthly lectures during term time was started then, and continues to this day, with the addition of a regular September meeting added in the 1990s. From the start informal fortnightly meetings were held in college rooms continued until the 1960s.

From the outset the objectives of the OOS included a high standard of scientific accuracy, the improvement of the skills of observers, collaborative fieldwork and the publication of an annual report. The first report was published in 1924 and covered the period from 1915 to 1922. Its title was “Report of the Oxford Ornithological Society on the Birds of Oxfordshire, Berkshire and Buckinghamshire 1915–1922.” The report was edited by Jourdain and Tucker until 1926 when Jourdain retired from his living at Appleton. Tucker continued to edit the report until 1949 with assistance from various members. The records covered the three counties of Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire, although records for Buckinghamshire only began in 1920.

The OOS report was also published in the “Report and Proceedings of the Ashmolean Natural History Society”. This dual publication pattern continued until 1932. From 1933 an annual ornithological lecture was held jointly by the two societies which, after his death in 1950, became the Bernard Tucker Memorial Lecture. The first joint meeting in 1933 was given by Bernard Tucker on “The Problem of the Bleating of the Common Snipe”. This joint meeting commemorating Bernard Tucker, between the two societies continues to the present day.

The 1923-1924 Report mentions the collaborative field work undertaken by Society members. The 1928 Report lists for the first time the arrival and departure dates of migrant birds, which has been continued to the present. The collaborative field work was at the suggestion of Julian Huxley and accounts of both pieces were published in British Birds as “Grebes at Blenheim” (British Birds vol. 18, p.129) and “Heron at Hornton Spinney” (British Birds vol.18, p.155).

Subsequent OOS Reports include either references to fieldwork or full reports on species scheduled for special observation such as in the 1929-1930 Report which contains observations of Magpie, Corn Bunting, Goldfinch, Lesser Redpoll, Tree Sparrow, Red-backed Shrike, Redstart and Nightingale.

The 1931 report gives, for the first time, a summary of the bird ringing undertaken by members. This Ringing Report continues to the present time.