William Whitwell was born in Manchester on October 30th, 1839. His early years were spent at Llansaintffriad (Llansantffraid ym Mechain) [near Llansilin]. His father’s occupation (Richard Taylor Whitwell) is given as ‘Inspector for the Inland Revenue’ (census return 1851), when the family was living in Frankwell, Shrewsbury.
William worked for some time as a clerk in a warehouse in Leicester but then entered the taxes branch of the Inland Revenue (1859). In 1861, he was living at Nun Grove Terrace, York and his occupation in the census return of that year is given as ‘assistant surveyor of taxes’.
His work took him to a number of places and he was thus able to collect from East Yorkshire, Shropshire, Flint, Montgomery, Cheshire, Surrey and Sussex. In the 1890’s, he was based in Wandsworth (Thurleigh Road, Battersea). The 1891, the census records that his parents were living with him and he is then described as ‘Surveyor of taxes’. The 1901 census indicates that he was retired. He moved to Hagley (near Clent) in Warwickshire and then to Darley Green, Knowle. He died in Darley Green on December 16th, 1920.
He was elected a fellow of the Linnean Society in 1892. He published in the Journal of Botany, for example, papers on Arenaria gothica (1889, p345) and Botrychium matri-cariaefolium [ = Botrychium matricariifolium ] (1898, p291) and ‘East Sussex notes’ (1902, p 103). The latter describes his stays in Horsted Keynes between 1899 and 1900, and his exploration of the area (with Mr. F A Lees (in July 1900).
He corresponded with Mr. J G Baker, Mr. Frederick Townsend, Rev. E R Linton and Mr Arthur Bennett on the determination of various species. His herbarium was presented to the University of Birmingham by his family (though various specimens collected by him have ‘turned up’ elsewhere.
He contributed to the Flora of West Yorkshire (by Dr. F A Lees) – compiling the index, and in The Naturalist (1893, p25) contributed an article on plants of Yorkshire in the herbarium of John Tatham. Also, in ‘The Naturalist’ was an article on ‘Sedum villosum at Ingleborough‘,1902, p 384.
He had printed and published privately a booklet “A Batchelor’s Christmas Day”, which is an account of a winter’s walk; it enjoyed a wide distribution and conveyed something of the nature of the man who wrote it.