Taxidermy Articles

Walter Potter Taxidermy

Walter Potter of Bramber West Sussex

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Historical perspective

Walter Potter


Walter Potter portrait, circa 1910.

Walter Potter portrait, circa 1910.

Walter Potter book. A recent, accurate and in depth record of the life and work of this imaginative individual from Sussex

Walter Potter's pet Rats. Another classic case no longer on these shores. That said we have been delighted to have helped this serious collector with a few more classic English cases, namely more work by Potter and also the work by Edward Hart of Chichester. More images to follow.

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Another Potter case, Ringed Plovers and chicks. Again the local landmarks are depicted. This scene resembles Alfriston / Eastbourne. We did not provide this case but welcome the image to the archive.

Walter Potter booklet from when the collection was in Bramber.

Walter Potter seated with Stuffed fox in his lap.

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Walter Potters Robin in Winter Scene.

Walter Potters Robin in Winter Scene.

Walter Potters Winter Scene. Thanks Jennifer for highlighting the error of our ways.

Walter Potters Winter Scene.

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Walter Potters Winter Scene, in close up.

Freak Kitten by Walter Potter of Bramber in West Sussex. Victorian mount.

Rats by Walter Potter. Victorian case. If you look closely at the pictures hung on the way, they are in fact images of Bramber High Street


Walter Potters's museum

Rats Stealing Wine by Walter Potter. Victorian case

Arguably one of the founding fathers of English Taxidermy, Walter Potter was born on July 2nd 1835 in the village of Bramber near Steyning in West Sussex.
Very little remains of this museum today and the actual site is now a house. Only a very small plaque commemorates this man's achievements in this art form. Unlike Edward Booth of Brighton, Potter was a working class man of limited means and his taxidermy work reflects this. The taxidermy styles however of both men tend to be very different. Please see the "Booth Taxidermy Collection page on this website and judge for yourself.
The Booth Collection

I must confess I am not a particular fan of the taxidermy work, produced by Walter Potter. I tend to find it a little macabre. No doubt his work was inspired by the work of Ploucquet This is only a personal opinion. I prefer cased birds that show the subject matter as close to how the subject would have existed and to that end I prefer the work of Edward Booth. You are more than welcome to disagree on this. Given the significant influence of Charles Darwin during this period and the publications of "Origin of Species, we find it strange that Potter and others went down the "Humanisation" of such creatures like Kittens, Rats and the Tableau Cock Robin. They are however interesting pieces that must be judged in the context of the era in which they were created. That however is a completely different debate.
Interestingly enough Beatrix Potter was born on 28 July 1866 in South Kensington, London. She lived a lonely life at home, being educated by a governess and having little contact with other people. She had many animals which she kept as pets, studying them and making drawings to publish in her books. It could however be argued that she may have been inspired by the work produced by Walter Potter of Bramber as he characters bear more than a slight resemblance to the taxidermy work produced in Bramber, West Sussex.
A unique Victorian Museum, established 1861, containing some 10,000 taxidermy curiosities from around the world. including the renowned animal tableaux of Victorian taxidermy collector, Walter Potter. It is understood that most items following the move from Bramber were taken to Jamacia Inn on Bodmin Moor. Walter Potter is possibly most famous for the "The Death and Burial of Cock Robin". (23rd September 03 The Victorian Taxidermy Company ltd successfully purchased this most important taxidermy case following the dismemberment of the Jamaica Inn collection). The tableau endeavours to follow the poem / rhyme of the same name. The tableau is illustrated further down this page.
Who killed Cock Robin?

"I," said the sparrow, "With my little bow and arrow, I killed Cock Robin,"
Who saw him die? "I," said the fly, "With my little eye, I saw him die."
Who caught his blood? "I," said the fish, "With my little dish, I caught his blood."
Who'll make his shroud? "I," said the beetle, "With my thread and needle. I'll make his shroud."
Who'll carry the torch? "I," said the linnet, "I'll come in a minute, I'll carry the torch."
Who'll be the clerk? "I," said the lark, "If it's not in the dark, I'll be the clerk."
Who'll dig his grave? "I," said the owl, "With my spade and trowel I'll dig his grave."
Who'll be the parson? "I," said the rook, "With my little book, I'll be the parson."
Who'll be chief mourner? "I," said the dove, "I mourn for my love, I'll be chief mourner."
Who'll sing a psalm? "I," said the thrush, "As I sit in a bush. I'll sing a psalm."
Who'll carry the coffin? "I," said the kite, "If it's not in the night, I'll carry the coffin."
Who'll toll the bell? "I," said the bull, "Because I can pull, I'll toll the bell."
All the birds of the air Fell sighing and sobbing, When they heard the bell toll For poor Cock Robin.

Death and Burial of Cock Robin by Walter Potter. Victorian case. We understand that this iconic case of Victorian Taxidermy has remained in the UK. If one were to be true to the rhyme then the only bird missing from the taxidermy Tableau would be the Kite. This is partly due to Kites not being that abundant in Bramber even in Victorian tmes

Close up of the above case.

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Close up of the above case.

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Close up of the above case.

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Close up of the above case.

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Close up of the above case.

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Close up of the above case.

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Close up of the above case.

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Close up of the above case.

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Close up of the above case.

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Close up of the above case.

Close up of the above case.

This is Wiston Chruch as depicted in the Oil painting in the tableau above.

Walter Potter

The Victorian "Cock Robin Tableau" attracted much public attention that encouraged Walter to pursue his taxidermy hobby and produce further tableaux depicting groups of animals behaving as though they were tiny humans. Potter quickly became the leading exponent of this kind of taxidermy and his collection expanded sufficiently to require a special building that was constructed across the road from the Inn, now a public car park.
He began with his own pet canary when it died which was still displayed in the Museum, prior to its recent sale, and he progressed from there. It appears that many of the animals were donated to Potter for taxidermy preservation. This unique Victorian Museum, was originally opened in 1861, by its founder Walter Potter, in the village of Bramber in West Sussex. Walter Potter was also not a well travelled man. It has been reported that he lived and conducted his life, mainly around the Villages of Bramber Steyning and Henfield. He also did not travel outside the County of Sussex. He was clearly a man of routine, preferring to share a pint of ale daily at the White Lion Inn with close friends, before walking around the corner to the taxidermy exhibition in the hall almost adjacent. To give you an idea of the history in this area, this is an extract of history relating to St Mary's, a house, which is still present in the village today.
The origins of St. Mary's go back to the days of the Knights Templar when five acres of land in the downland village of Bramber were given to them by the widow of Philip de Braose, following his death in 1125. The present building was constructed in about 1470 by William of Waynflete, Bishop of Winchester and founder of Magdalen College, Oxford, as an inn for pilgrims on their way to the tomb of St. Thomas of Canterbury.

Medievil building that is St Mary's. This building would have figured in Potters life as is virtually adjacent to the White Lion

Picture of Bramber at around 1871, a scene that Potter would have known well. The White Lion Inn is located on the left down the street. You can just make it out. Apart from the tarmac today the view is just the same.


The House that Jack built by Walter Potter, Bramber West Sussex. Following the sale at Jamaica Inn most of these items went to overseas buyers. It is unlikely that they will ever return to England.

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Walter Potter's Mechanical Toads. Each Toad moves as if undertaking excercise.


Walter Potters old home come Exhibition hall in Bramber West Sussex. Picture taken on 31/1/05. A small plaque recognises his work.


Walter Potters house as it was when Potter was alive. He is seated in the front, Bramber West Sussex. It is interesting to note which parts of the house survive. It is also interesting that the brewery of the time built this house for Potter free of charge to house the collection.

Two headed Kitten by Walter Potter. Dates from around 1871.Victorian Mount

Tableau entitled "A Friend in need" by Walter Potter. Dates from around 1871.Victorian Mount

Program,by Walter Potter.

Rats and Rabbits with tusks, which are really just defomred teeth,by Walter Potter. Dates from around 1871.Victorian Mount

The Kitten's Tea party by Walter Potter.

Four Legged Chickhen by Walter Potter. Dates from around 1871.Victorian Mount

Four Legged Duckling and Chick with four legs by Walter Potter. Dates from around 1871.Victorian Mount

The house that Jack built by Walter Potter.

Rabbits in school by Walter Potter.

Three legged Pig. Perhaps it was shame to eat it all at once!!!(joking) by Walter Potter. Dates from around 1871.Victorian Mount

Crow with a deformed beak and Pied Blackbird by Walter Potter. Dates from around 1871.Victorian Mount

Red Squirrels playing cards by Walter Potter. Dates from around 1871.Victorian Mount

Two Headed Lamb by Walter Potter. Dates from around 1871.Victorian Mount

All of the above postcards were available to buy from Potters museum when he was the proprietor. They were all sold following the dispersal of the Potter Museum at the Jamacia Inn.
His sister Jane provided Walter's with the inspiration to copy her nursery rhyme book, which included "The Death and Burial of Cock Robin". The illustrations in the book (Now owned by Kenny Everett) gave him the idea of how to use the many taxidermy specimens he already had collected and he started the task of mounting them in a large tableau depicting the burial scene. It is understood that it took Walter Potter 7 years to complete the montage . The tableau was shown in its entirety in the summerhouse in the garden of the White Lion, now known as the Bramber Castle Inn. Both buildings are depicted within this page. From research into old postcards, it would appear that very little has changed to the exterior of both buildings. I shall provide prictures evidence shortly.

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Kitten's Anthropomorphic wedding. These items are in the style of Walter Potter, but not undertaken by him.

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Kitten's Anthropomorphic wedding. These items are in the style of Walter Potter, but not undertaken by him.

One of the many descriptive guide books by Walter Potter.

One of the many descriptive guide books Potter’s Museum Curiosities Catalogue compiled by Bohams for the September 2003 dispersal. This complete exhibit will not be able to be re-united due to the global nature of the disposal.

Kitten's Wedding by Walter Potter. Victorian case

The taxidermy collection expanded and included further examples of taxidermy. Walter lived until 1918 (he suffered a stroke, from which he never recovered) when the ownership passed to his daughter and subsequently to his grandson who kept the taxidermy museum open in Bramber where it was a famous tourist attraction for many years. It is understood to have been referred to "House of Pipes". Not sure what is meant by this reference.
The collection was moved to Brighton where it opened for its 112th season and then it was relocated again to the Old Post Office in Arundel where it remained for some 15 years, prior to its final museum resting place at Jamaica Inn, on Bodmin Moor in Cornwall.

This collection is one of the only existing examples of a complete Victorian Museum, prior to its recent sale. The curiosities include preserved specimens of animal 'freaks' such as Siamese pigs, archaic musical instruments and opium smoking paraphernalia, which might explain "The House of Pipes" connection.
The most famous exhibits in Potter s taxidermy Museum are the animal tableaux, made up of preserved taxidermy animals posed in glass cases as if taking part in human activities. A list of some of the tableaux gives the flavour of the subject matter: The Happy Family, A Friend in Need is a Friend Indeed, Athletic Toads, The House that Jack Built, The Guinea Pigs' Cricket Match, The Sporting Party (now owned by Alexis Turner) and The Kittens' Wedding, which is undrstood to now be in America.
The Kitten's Tea and Croquet Party has 37 little kittens having tea, or playing croquet, with onlookers and waitresses. Walter Potter shows great attention to detail, two kittens appear to be reading a time-table, another is brushing its hair. A social gathering of some importance seems to be taking place, a courteous young kitten is offering a plate of 'mouse tarts' to his neighbour.
Kittens by Walter Potter. Victorian

'The Kitten Wedding' . Compossed of some nineteen taxidermy kittens are fully dressed and posed as a wedding party. It is understood that this particular tableau is no longer in the UK. We are lead to beleive that most if not all of the tableaus went abroad. It is extreamely unlikely that the taxidermy collection will ever be re-assembled. An opportunity lost as it should have been regarded as an important Victorian taxidermy collection. It has been reported that all the Taxidermied kittens came from a farm at Henfield, which is loacted some 6 miles away by modern roads, and were not killed especially for this Tableau. It is understood that no animals were ever killed especially for the museum as Potter did not agree with such undertakings. It is also understood that the two headed lamb came from Beeding Court Farm, which died soon after birth. We beleive that the lamb also now resides in the USA.
Not sentiment shared with his close collection neighbour being Edward Booth of Brighton during the same period. Both men shared a passion for the subject of taxidermy and yet approached the matter in differing ways.
Potter to earn a living from taxidermy and Booth just to indulge in a "moneyed" self serving passion. Both taxidermy collections were uniquely different and yet created in the same period of time. Potter did most of the taxidermy himself and Booth on the other hand did carry our some taxidermy as he was taught by "Kent" of St Leonards, he did however employ several well know Victorian Taxidermists of their time.
The Booth Collection


Peregrine Falcons, chicks and Grouse prey in a nest scene, by Edward Booth of Brighton. The difference between his work and that of Potter's you would agree is obvious

It is an interesting fact that there is not one black cat to be found anywhere in the museum collection. In bygone days they were thought to be connected with witchcraft, and therefore it was deemed unlucky to keep them as pets. Not many Victorian examples of Black Cats exist, perhaps for that reason

Sporting Party by Walter Potter, perhaps one of his best works.

Sporting Party by Walter Potter, perhaps one of his best works.

Walter Potters old home come Exhibition hall in Bramber West Sussex in the summer.

"The Death" by Walter Potter.

"The Happy Family" by Walter Potter.

Rabbits by Walter Potter.

Walter Potter himself, preserving a female Sparrowhawk. To the right sits a Long Eared Owl, presumably completed by Potter as well. Many thanks to Steyning Museum for the pictures and information

The dispersal (Globally) of this art form took place on 23/24th September 2003 by Bonham's, achieving some £475,000 approximately at auction. I wonder what old man Potter would have made of this had he been there.?.

Victorian Two Headed Calf.

One of the many descriptive guide books by Walter Potter.

One of the many descriptive guide books by Walter Potter.

The White Lion Inn (1871), Potters old home, now renamed the Bramber Castle Inn (1881 onwards to present day)
It is understood from the curator of Steyning Museum that decendants of Walter Potter still live in Shoreham and that there is a large number of artifacts attributed to Potter held locally. The museum has a large amount of material that was not part of the auction at the Jamacia Inn. Taxidermy cases by Walter Potter still turn up in Sussex and why shouldn't they. Walter died in 1918 and was buried in Bramber churchyard, but the museum continued under the direction of his daughter and grandson. Sadly, by the early 1970s the family had decided to sell the Museum, which resulted in it moving first to Arundel, then to Jamaica Inn in Cornwall in the mid 1980s. The final blow for Walter Potter's collection came with the decision by the proprietors of Jamaica Inn that they could make more profitable use of the space occupied by the collection which was therefore auctioned in September 2003.

This is Bramber Chruch, where is 1918 Potter was laid to rest. I used to live close to this site and never managed to find the actual grave site.

This is Bramber Chruch, where is 1918 Potter was laid to rest. I used to live close to this site and never managed to find the actual grave site.
Many thanks to Chris Dodds and his team in the supplying of pictures and text that has aided the compilation of this page.

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