William Waddington, 1866 - 1945

by Brian Stevenson
last updated July, 2021

William Waddington was deeply involved with amateur microscopy throughout the first half of the twentieth century, joining the Manchester Microscopical Society in 1898, and, later, the Southport Scientific Society. He was particularly interested in botany and diatoms.

Figure 1. A microscope slide by William Waddington. His label lacks a date or address – he is known to have been an active microscopist from 1897 until his death in 1945. Waddington is recorded as having displayed transverse sections of other leaves in 1937, after he retired from his stonemasonry business and likely had the funds to make custom-printed labels, so this slide may date from that period.


Figure 2. Transverse section of a leaf (needle) from Pinus australis (now Pinus palustris, the longleaf pine of the southeastern USA), as prepared by W. Waddington (see Figure 1). Photographed with a 10x objective lens and C-mounted camera on a Leitz Ortholux II microscope, with normal transmitted light (left) or between crossed polarizing filters (right).


William Waddington was born on August 16, 1866 in Lower Broughton, Lancashire, then on the northwestern outskirts of Manchester. He was the eldest of at least 6 children of Aaron and Charity Waddington.

Father Aaron worked as a stone mason, a career that William also pursued. The 1911 census expanded upon the description of William's profession, noting that he was a "stonemason, monumental", in other words, a crafter of gravestones and statuary. His upbringing, and probably his later life, was very modest: the 1891 census shows that 24 year-old William lived at home with his parents and worked as a "stonemason, employed", while two sisters, aged 19 and 16, both worked as "stitchers in dye works", and his 14 year-old sister was an "errand girl".

Despite his humble life, William Waddington developed outside interests in science and microscopy. He later mentioned having mounted diatoms during 1897. He joined the Manchester Microscopical Society in 1898, and promptly became a member of the Mounting Section.

During the summer of 1900, Waddington married Sarah Corbett Johnson. The pair moved to Ashover, Derbyshire, where Wadding set up his own monumental masonry business. William and Sarah had a single child, also named Sarah.

Waddington's business was evidently a financial success. By 1937, he was able to retire. The family moved to Southport, Lancashire, on the coast between Liverpool and Blackpool.

In 1937, Waddington represented the Southport Scientific Society at the Annual Conversazione of the Quekett Microscopical Club, held in the rooms of the Royal Society in London. He displayed two microscopical specimens: "transverse section of stem, leaf and peduncle of wild parsnip", and "transverse section of leaf of lyme-grass". The similarities between those specimens and the transverse section of a pine needle shown in Figures 1 and 2 suggests that the illustrated slide may also date from around 1937.

Waddington served as President of the Southport Scientific Society in 1938, at least.

In 1943, he published "Some species of diatomaceae" in The Microscope, being a description of diatoms he had identified in gatherings that he collected near Southport. He evidently built a substantial collection of diatom slides, as the Liverpool Public Museums reported in 1948 that, among its "notable accessions were the specimens and apparatus of the W. Waddington collection of Diatomaceae".

William Waddington died on November 26, 1945, in Southport.


Dictionary Of British And Irish Botanists And Horticulturists (1994) Waddington, William (1866-1945), ed. by Ray Desmond, Taylor & Francis, London

England census and other records, accessed through ancestry.com

Journal of the Quekett Microscopical Club (1937) The Conversazione, pages 17-21

The Official Year-book of the Scientific and Learned Societies of Great Britain and Ireland (1938) Southport Scientific Society, C. Griffin & Co., page 61

Reports of the Liverpool Public Libraries, Museums, and Art Gallery (1948) page 32

Transactions and Annual Report of the Manchester Microscopical Society (1898) Members, page 83

Transactions and Annual Report of the Manchester Microscopical Society (1899) Members, page 95

Transactions and Annual Report of the Manchester Microscopical Society (1900) Members, page 132

Transactions and Annual Report of the Manchester Microscopical Society (1901) Members, page 93

Transactions and Annual Report of the Manchester Microscopical Society (1902) Members, page 111

Waddington, W. (1943) Some species of diatomaceae, The Microscope, Vol. 5, pages 147-148