Phillips, William (DNB12)

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PHILLIPS, WILLIAM (1822–1905), botanist and antiquary, born at Presteign, Radnorshire, on 4 May 1882, was fourth son in a family of ten children of Thomas Phillips and Elizabeth, daughter of James Cross, whose ancestors had been farmers of Hanwood and burgesses of Shrewsbury since 1634. After receiving a very rudimentary education at a school at Presteign, Phillips was apprenticed to his elder brother James, a tailor, in High Street, Shrewsbury, with whom and another brother, Edward, he went in due course into partnership. In 1859 he joined the Shrewsbury volunteers, and became a colour-sergeant and an excellent rifle-shot, winning the bronze medal of the National Rifle Association in 1860. After some early private study of astronomy and photography, he took up botany about 1861 at the suggestion of his friend William Allport Leighton [q. v.], the lichenologist. Beginning with flowering plants, Phillips turned to the fungi about 1869, first to the Hymenomycetes and afterwards mainly to the Discomycetes, though other groups of cryptogams were not neglected. Between 1873 and 1891, in conjunction with Dr. Plowright, he contributed a series of notes on 'New and rare British Fungi' to 'Grevillea,' and between 1874 and 1881 he issued a set of specimens entitled 'Elvellacei Britannici' In 1878 he helped to found, and formed the council of, the Shropshire Archæological and Natural History Society, and in its 'Transactions' (vol. i.) appeared his paper on the ferns and fern-allies of Shropshire, which he had printed privately in 1877; many other papers followed in the subsequent 'Transactions.' In 1878 Phillips published a ’Guide to the Botany of Shrewsbury,' and before his death completed for the 'Victoria County History' an account of the botany of the county. After nearly twenty years' preparation Phillips in 1887 published his chief work, 'A Manual of the British Discomycetes,' in the International Scientitic series (with twelve excellent plates drawn by himself).

Compelled with advancing years to discontinue microscopic work, Phillips engaged in archæological research of various kinds. He made special studies of the earthworks, castles, and moated houses of Shropshire. Many of his results were published in the 'Transactions of the Shropshire Archæological Society,’ in 'Salopian Shreds and Patches,' in 'Bye-Gones,' and in 'Shropshire Notes and Queries,' which he edited, and to a great extent wrote, towards the close of his life. 'The Ottley Papers,' relating to the civil war, which he edited for the Shropshire Society between 1893 and 1898, form a complete county history for the period; and he carefully edited the first part of Blakeway's 'Topographical History of Shrewsbury.' He took a prominent part in the preservation of the remains of Uriconium; actively helped to arrange the borough records of Shrewsbury, and to prepare the calendar (1896); edited the 'Quarter Sessions Rolls' of Shropshire from 1652 to 1659, and transcribed the parish registers of Battlefield (2 vols. 1899–1900) and Stirchley (1905) for the Shropshire Parish Register Society. In 1896 Phillips, a methodist and at one time a local preacher, published 'Early Methodism in Shropshire.' The conversion of the Shrewsbury Free School buildings into a museum and free library (from 1882) owed much to Phillips, who became the curator of botany. Many manuscript volumes by him on antiquarian subjects are preserved there. His botanical manuscripts and drawings, including his large correspondence with botanists at home and abroad, were purchased at his death for the botanical department of the British Museum. Phillips was elected a fellow of the Linnean Society in 1875, and was F.S.A. He became a borough magistrate in 1886, and was presented with the freedom of the borough on 17 Aug. 1903. He died of heart-disease at his residence in Canonbury, Shrewsbury, on 23 Oct. 1905, and was buried in the general cemetery, Shrewsbury.

Phillips married in 1846 Sarah Ann, daughter of Thomas Hitchins of Shrewsbury, who died in 1895. Two sons and two daughters survived him.

Miles Joseph Berkeley [q.v.] dedicated to Phillips a genus of fungi under the name Phillipsia.

[Trans. Shropshire Archseol. See, series iii. vol. vi. 407-418 (with a portrait); Journal of Botany, xliii. (1905) pp. 361-2 (with a portrait); Gardeners' Chron. 1905, ii. 331 (with a portrait); Proc. Linnean Soc. 1905-6, pp. 44–5; Shrewsbury and Border Counties Advertiser, 28 October 1905 (with portrait).]

G. S. B.