Exploring the Quarry Bank collection

This week I decided to hand over to our Collections and Archive Officer, Ally, who has selected an item from the collection to share with you…

Bird egg collection

The bird egg collection at Quarry Bank is one of the more quirky and surprising items in the Quarry Bank collection, and it is normally kept in storage.

Edward Hyde Greg
Edward Hyde Greg

It belonged to Edward Hyde Greg (1827-1910) of Quarry Bank House and owner of Quarry Bank Mill. The collection consists of three wooden chests with multiple drawers containing a variety of wild birds’ eggs found in Great Britain. They were collected during the mid 19th century. All the eggs have been blown and the collection includes eggs from owls, black and red grouse, ravens, hens, shrike, pheasants, kestrels, puffins, robins etc. They are very fragile and some still have their original labels on them.

Bird eggs collected by Edward
Bird eggs collected by Edward

Edward Hyde Greg was undoubtedly a man of his time and not alone in collecting eggs. He had many and diverse hobbies such as hunting, travelling, steam-boats and collecting fossils, rocks and bird eggs.

Bird egg collecting

The wide range of bird species has always intrigued people and collecting their eggs has been a very popular and fashionable hobby for wealthy men since the 1700’s. During the 1800’s, people began to study the huge variety of birds, their eggs, nests and breeding behaviours. They would shoot birds and preserve them through taxidermy or would collect eggs for scientific purposes. They systematically observed and studied the eggs’ size, shape, texture and colour and this science is now known as oology. These collections were very well documented and provide a lot of information for scientists today on now rare species.

Bird eggs collected by Edward
Bird eggs collected by Edward

Egg Collecting and the Law

The consequences of this science and hobby led to a number of species becoming endangered or even extinct. Laws have been in place from as early as 1880 to protect birds and their eggs from being taken, and The Protection of Birds Act in 1954 has made collecting or selling old or wild eggs illegal. However there are still a number of private collectors still continuing to collect birds’ eggs and organisations are working hard to stop this.

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