James Green, 1855 - 1935

by Brian Stevenson
last updated July, 2014

Amateur microscope slide-maker James Green specialized in mounting foraminifera, likely inspired by the expansive deposits of foraminiferous near his home in March, Cambridge, England. While still a teenager, Green traded local foraminifera for similar material from other parts of the world. Those exchanges presumably account for the variety seen among his prepared slides (Figure 1). Although the labels on Green’s slides are of professional quality, I have not found any evidence to suggest that he sold his preparations. These are probably examples of the “first-class slides” he offered in magazines to exchange for raw material or other slides. Green was a Fellow of the Royal Microscopical Society, and was likely to have also swapped slides with those colleagues.

Figure 1. Examples of microscope slides prepared by James Green. He was collecting and preparing foraminifera from local deposits by the early 1870s, and advertised to provide “first class slides” in exchange offers from 1879 onward. The slide on the left contains foraminifera from “post glacial sands: March”, the deposits near Green’s home. The other slides contain materials that were likely obtained in exchange for his March foraminifera.


Figure 2. Undated photographs of James Green. The left picture is on display at the March and District Museum, March, Cambridge. The picture on the right is from the 1935 obituary that appeared in the local newspaper. Both pictures, and most of the other illustrations in this essay were generously provided by Richard Munns of the March and District Museum.


Figure 3. The display of James Green’s microscopes, slides and other material, which is on display at the March and District Museum, March, Cambridge. The slide cabinet, on the bottom, is likely as used by Green (although it may have since been painted). Courtesy of Richard Munns and the Museum.


Figure 4. Some of James Green’s personal collection of microscope slides. Recognizable among these are preparations by mid-to-late-1800s professional slide-makers John Norman, Cornelius Poulton, Charles Topping, Amos Topping, Joseph Bourgogne, and an unidentified professional nicknamed “Green Papers”. Many of these slides were probably acquired by Green in exchange for his own foraminifera slides. Courtesy of Richard Munns and the March and District Museum.


Figure 5. James Green’s record of his personal collection of microscope slides. Courtesy of Richard Munns and the March and District Museum.


Figure 6. Two of James Green’s microscopes, a bull’s eye condenser, two objective lenses and other material on exhibit at the March and District Museum. The photograph of Green is also shown in Figure 2, above, and the article he published in the ‘American Journal of Microscopy’ is reprinted below as Figure 9. The large microscope in the center is a ca. 1860s “Student Microscope” by William Ladd. Pictures of another such microscope can be seen at Alan Wissner’s excellent web site, http://www.antique-microscopes.com/photos/ladd.htm. Courtesy of Richard Munns and the Museum.


James Green was born during the early months of 1855, in March, Cambridgeshire. His father, Henry, was a farmer – the 1871 census reports that he held 72 acres and employed 8 men, 7 women and 3 boys.

James evidently became interested in foraminifera and slide-making as a teenager. In mid-1874, the 19 year-old Green advertised in Hardwicke’s Science-Gossip, “For packet of Foraminiferous Silt, partly prepared send mounted object of interest to J. Green, Causeway Villa, March Cambridgeshire”, and “For Packet of Pure Foraminiferous Shells, send good Mounted object of interest to James Green, March”. That year, he also wrote to The English Mechanic and World of Science, “Foraminifera in Silt - Silt is obtainable here (March, Cambs.) in almost any quantity, and as it contains numerous ‘shells’, and some that I have not seen in sponge-sand, I shall be happy to send some of it to any person who will send a stamped addressed envelope to J. Green, Causeway Villa, March, Cambs. It is partly prepared, by sifting, to lessen the bulk”. The editor of English Mechanic commented, “Mr. Green has been good enough to send me some of the sand, and I find that his estimate of its interest is rather underdrawn. The sand contains several very interesting foraminiferae. I will suggest to those who apply for the sand that they comply with Mr. Green's request literally, and both stamp and address the envelope - not merely inclose stamp with or without an envelope”.

The next year, Green began exchanging his material for others, enabling production of the varied slides shown in Figure 1. An exchange offer in an 1875 Hardwicke’s Science-Gossip asked, “Wanted at once six or ten ounces of unprepared Foraminiferous Soundings, Dredgings, or other good material preferably recent, for pure Foraminifera or two Slides.- J. Green, March”. The following year, he ran, “Offers requested for one scruple weight of prepared Foraminifera. Wanted, Foraminiferous sand. - J. Green, the Cross, March”. In 1879, he requested in the American Journal of Microscopy, “To mounters: Large quantities of pure foraminifera, etc., for first class prepared American material, send samples to J. Green, The Cross, March, England”.

He also requested other material for his collection. In 1878, he posted, “Number of first class Anatomical Slides wanted, for first slides or material; send sample and list for sample and list to James Green, the Cross, March”. In 1879, “Wanted, good micro material, prepared or in the rough - Foraminifera, Polycystina, Spicula, Diatoms, E. spines, &c., for first-class slides. - James Green, the Cross, March”.

James’ father died in 1877. The only son, James took over his father’s farm. The 1881 census recorded 26 year-old James as being a “market gardener and farmer of 43 acres employing 5 men and 6 women”, and living with his mother.

Also in 1881, James published a brief article in The American Journal of Microscopy on the topic of “microscopic object hunting”. This essay on collecting foraminifera was accompanied by a professional engraving of some of Green’s findings. Both the essay and picture are reproduced below in Figure 9.

Green also described the March foraminifera beds in an 1881 issue of The Journal of the Royal Microscopical Society, “In various parts of the fens of Cambridgeshire, but more particularly in the district known as the Isle of Ely, may be found considerable beds of silt, which give a slightly undulating surface to what would otherwise appear as a perfectly level plane. These banks are generally covered with from one to two feet of the ordinary black vegetable mould, for which these fens are particularly famous. Occasionally the silt crops out, and where this is the case it almost assumes the same colour as the surrounding earth. The height of the banks rarely exceeds four or five feet. In the town of March there is a fine sample of one of these silt banks, which has been opened, and large quantities of the silt taken away by brickmakers, to prevent the newly made bricks from adhering one to another before being dried and burned. They have left a large semicircular section of the silt upstanding, somewhat like a wall some four or five feet in height. The beds rest, in most cases, on blue clay, which extends downwards, as far as any local borings have ever been made, some fifty or sixty feet. On carefully examining the section, one may trace thin sinuous lines of a black or greyish tint, running in a nearly horizontal direction, resembling the ripples left on the sand at the sea-shore. The lines were apparently formed in some such manner, as on examining them with a powerful hand-lens large numbers of Foraminifera are seen, which are, in fact, almost exclusively confined to the sinuous lines, the bulk of the silt itself (which is of the colour of yellow ochre) containing none. These greyish lines consist for the most part of shells, fine sand, black specks of what seem to be lignite, and other decayed matter, such as one would expect and would find in the ripples by the shore. Mr. Green adds that if any difficulty is found in getting heavy shells to swim by the floating process, strong brine will often accomplish what the fresh water fails to do”.

James married Mary Johnson in 1885. Together, they had three children. Their two sons, Algernon and John, later took over their father’s businesses. Around the time of the marriage, the couple moved to “The Orchards”, on St. Peter’s Road, March. At this time, he began a plant nursery business. He also operated an aerated water and flavored soda water business (Figure 7). Mary died in 1893, at the age of only 38.

An 1895 exchange offer from James suggests that he had dropped out of microscopy for a while, “Wanted, first-class microscopic slides for others, each on approval. I would be glad to correspond with my old friends of a few years back. - James Green, St Peter's Road, March”.

James remarried in the early summer of 1901, to Lydia Shepperson. They moved to “The Sycamores”, a home designed by Green (Figure 8). Although he had no formal training in architecture, James designed several buildings in the March area. He focused his nursery business on growing carnations, and, by the time of his death, had two acres of greenhouses dedicated to that flower.

James retired from his businesses around 1920, passing them on to his two sons. Lydia died in 1934, and James followed the next year, passing away on November 9, 1935.

Figure 7. A James Green ginger beer bottle. Image from an internet auction site.


Figure 8. “The Sycamores”, designed by and the home of James Green and family from ca. 1901. Courtesy of Richard Munns and the Museum.


Figure 9. James Green’s article on “Microscopic Object Hunting” and accompanying illustration, from ‘The American Journal of Microscopy’, March, 1881.



Many thanks to Richard Munns and the March and District Museum for generously providing pictures and information. The Museum’s web site is http://www.marchmuseum.co.uk.



American Journal of Microscopy (1879) Exchange offers from James Green, Vol. 4, pages 188 and 232

England census, birth, marriage, death and probate records, accessed through ancestry.co.uk

English Mechanic and World of Science (1874) Exchange offer from James Green, Vol. 19, page 229

Green, James (1881) Microscopic object hunting, American Journal of Microscopy, Vol. 6, pages 45-46

Hardwicke’s Science-Gossip (1874) Exchange offers from James Green, Vol. 10, pages 216 and 284

Hardwicke’s Science-Gossip (1875) Exchange offer from James Green, Vol. 11, page 240

Hardwicke’s Science-Gossip (1875) Exchange offer from James Green, Vol. 12, page 284

Hardwicke’s Science-Gossip (1878) Exchange offer from James Green, Vol. 14, page 240

Hardwicke’s Science-Gossip (1879) Exchange offer from James Green, Vol. 15, page 216

Journal of the Royal Microscopical Society (1881) Foraminiferous silt banks of the Isle of Ely, Series 2, Vol. 1, page 473

March & District Museum (accessed July, 2014) http://www.marchmuseum.co.uk

Obituary of James Green (1935) provided by Richard Munns

Probate of Henry Green (1877) “The Will of Henry Green late of March in the Isle of Ely and County of Cambridge Farmer and Potato Merchant who died 29 October 1877 at March was proved at Peterborough by James Green Market Gardener and William Scargell Cabinet Maker both of March and William Morton of Grandford House March Farmer the Executors”. Accessed through ancestry.co.uk

Science-Gossip (1895) Exchange offer from James Green, Series 2, Vol. 1, page 224