Friday, 29 September 2017

The Clifden Nonpareil: the origin of its name and first recorded location

Having been privileged to find this moth in my garden, I became intrigued by the origin of its name. It was first described in this country by Benjamin Wilkes as the Cleifden Nonpareil in his book 'British Butterflies and Moths' (1749), in the following words: 
“This curious fly was found by Mr.Davenport, sticking against the body of an ash tree, near Cleifden in Buckinghamshire. It was taken in the month of July: is at present in the possession of Charles Lockyer, Esq., and is the only one of the sort that I have yet seen or heard of.”
Cleifden or Clifden is the modern Cliveden, an estate on the edge of the Thames near Maidenhead now owned by the National Trust. Curiously, while it seems clear from maps that Cliveden is in Buckinghamshire (on the east of the River Thames, which provides the county boundary), the Wikipedia entry for the moth refers to the 'Cliveden estate in Berkshire', and the address of Cliveden House is also given as Berkshire. So which county has the record?

John Thacker, Harwell


  1. The original record is held by VC24. Cliveden was most definitely in Bucks because it says so on my birth certificate (I was born in the now derelict hospital on the edge of the Estate!). It remains so too, even after the boundary changes of the last century which saw Bucks happily get shot of Slough to Berkshire! As you say, the Thames forms the county boundary. I think the erroneous Berkshire references probably come from the postal address because Maidenhead (Berks) is the closest town.

    1. Nothing Wrong with slough - it is apparently now one of the top places to live and work! However I think Berkshire (under pressure from Windsor no doubt) have just sold Slough to Qatar - so it might be their press office.

    2. The only good thing I can remember about Slough is from my school days in Burnham. When the wind was in the right direction you could smell the Mars factory...!

  2. The conundrum about this record is that although it is said to be the first for the UK Wilkes doesn't give a year for the record, just July. This is the same for other books, but the account of where it was actually seen do vary a bit. Wilkes gives on an ash tree, but I've also seen an account where it was on the plinth of a statue. If anyone tracks down the date for the record or any other detail for this record I'd very much like to hear about it.

    Martin Albertini
    Bucks (vc24) moth recorder


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