Pratt & Sons of Brighton, Victorian Taxidermists

Victorian Taxidermy

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Pratt & Sons of Brighton

Victorian imagry of the Pratt founders in Brighton. This is Edwin Pratt in the early years

Victorian imagry of the Pratt founders in Brighton. This is Edwin Pratt in the later years

Victorian imagry of the Pratt founders in Brighton. This is Henry Pratt in the early years

Victorian imagry of the premises in Brighton.

Pratt & Sons from Brighton West Sussex were perhaps the most prolific and best known Victorian taxidermists in this region. The company was begun by John and Henry Pratt around 1852 and continued until 1952. Perhaps the most auspicious project that brought then significant recognition was the Booth museum in Brighton, the work completed around 1901. The brothers were commission by Edward Booth to create the dioramas principally of British birds that is still in existence today. Whilst Pratt & Sons undertook commercial taxidermy, namely fox heads, sporting trophies and cased birds locally obtained the Booth museum in our opinion created and maintained their reputation. It is also understood that Pratt as dealing with William Borrer of Henfield and mounted the birds that he shot locally and ultimately donated and in some instances sold to Edward Booth to complete the collection.

Typically and not dissimilar to the work of TE Gunn, another eminent taxidermist of the Victorian era, Pratt cases tend to be “box type”, flat fronted cases with well executed groundwork and attention to detail. Faint / pale blue backgrounds are typical of the style and presentation. Pratt cases also tend to stand the test of time well also, a testimony to the use of arsenic powder in the preservation of the skins, unlike James Gardner who work is well known for falling apart. The standard of the bird mounts themselves is also well observed. Quite a few commercial cases till remain in public circulation but the best examples of their work surely has to be the Booth Museum itself in Brighton. This museum is well worth the visit, with the curator being a taxidermist himself.

Montague's Harrier by Pratt of Brighton.

Pratt’s work also tended to be very accurate for the dioramas for the Booth museum. If you closely examine the sea bird and wader cases at this venue you will notice that hundreds of mussel’s shells are used in the creation of a rock pool effect. The work involved in creating this, attaching the mussels and creating an overall effect of a low tide diorama makes Pratt’s cases some of the best we have seen. The TE Gunn work for the Ogilvie Bird Collection in Ipswich, whilst competent goes nowhere near the level of detail as demonstrated at the Booth museum. This is just a personal opinion of having viewed both critically. The Booth museum dioramas as also much larger than those at the Ogilvie, allowing for a significantly larger number of birds to be included and thus making the seabird representations by example much more effective and “true to life”. The debate then must be whether you feel the work of TE Gunn id better than the work executed by Pratt, and again this can only be a personal view.

Other Brighton taxidermists of note are:

Swaysland of Brighton

Other Sussex taxidermists of note include Swaysland of Brighton who company began in 1853 and closed its doors around 1931. Birds and mammals that were created by this firm again were acquired locally. Remember people at that time undertook professions such as bird netters and commercial egg collectors for the London markets as food for the masses. All perfectly legal occupations of the time, but frowned upon and illegal today. Sussex and Kent are land falls for birds that migrated down from Scandinavia and Russia during hard Winters, so Lapland Buntings, SandGrouse and the like are no surprise to have bee shot locally. We are of the view that out of the 3 most prolific companies in the Brighton area Pratt stand out as perhaps the most competent.

Brazenor of Brighton

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Robert Brazenor of Brighton.

This company can trace its roots from 1868 until 1967. Again birds mounted were shot local to the Brighton area, but this taxidermist was perhaps not as commercial as Pratt or Swaysland. The quality is not as consistent either to be fair. There were many more hobbyist taxidermists that operated in both East and West Sussex, but these tended to have full time jobs and taxidermy only served as additional income. Therefore their attention to detail and observance of the birds in questions varied considerably from excellent but infrequent to poor and shoddy.
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Green Woodpecker by Robert Brazenor.

Green Woodpecker by Robert Brazenor.

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Label from the above case by Robert Braznor.

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Barn Owls by Robert Brazenor.

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Squacco Heron by Robert Brazenor.

Billy Hoard (Taxidermist circa 1902)

For those intereted in British Historical elements of taxidemy. Here is Hoards (Horsham-Sussex) premises dated 1902. Below are his diary recollections dealing with both Spicers, Brazenor and various musuem collections.

Reflections from his diaries.

The most surprising development was the taxidermy. It was far from dead as Richardon supposed. In a very little while, owls, canaries, fox masks, hawks, herons, cats etc. came rolling in. At first we refused to take the orders, but we seemed to be turning away good money for work for which there was no competition, so I went to Brighton [and] interviewed Brazenor Bros., the noted taxidermists in Lewes Rd. They listened to my story and finally agreed to attend to all the work I could send along, and allow me a comfortable commission. This arrangement worked well for quite a long time when one day, I was shocked to receive from the authorities at Christs Hospital an invitation to tender in competition for the complete renovation - cleaning and re-labelling of the contents of their museum, recently removed from Newgate Street. A clause in the spec. was "no subletting". I approached Brazenor Bros. In confidence to lend me a man to estimate and, if we got the order, to do the job. To my surprise, they refused saying they would have nothing to do with it except under their name. Taylor and I felt rather stumped, not knowing the first thing about the work so decided to try and find a taxidermist. We soon discovered they did not grow on trees. After quite a lot of trouble, we heard of a chap at Spicer Bros. of Leamington who wanted a change.
Meanwhile we had a snorter of a letter from Mr A.W. Lockhart, the old steward of Christ's Hospital asking if we understood what was intended by "no subletting". I went to see him at once. He told me that Brazenors had told him of my visit to them, that they assured him of our absolute inability either to estimate or execute the job. He asked what do you intend to do? I assured him we intended to estimate and, if successful, do the job without subletting, but I had hoped to borrow one of Brazenor's staff, this being for us rather a large and somewhat unusual job. He saw that and we parted happily, I banking on my man from Leamington. Unfortunately, he couldn't get here in time to estimate so we decided to have a gamble. I went out to look at the job and tried to think of a figure. Having absolutely no data to base it on, I first thought of £365 having heard of a mansion somewhere with 365 windows, also that there were 365 days in a year - and our tender was just, and only just, lower than that of Rowland Ward[1], the famous firm in Piccadilly. Then I knew I was safe.
In due course our little man from Leamington, Drummond by name, is due. I go to Horsham Station to meet him, find him a rather nervous, stuttering little chap, take him home to tea and tell him of the big job. He is much impressed, feels he is with a firm of repute who can be trusted with such an order. I had not the guts to tell him the truth, at least until I had his measure, but he soon called my bluff. On the way from station, I happened to mention that I had rather an unpleasant job to start him on. A wealthy lady had a very favourite cat die on her. She suspected poison and had tearfully begged me to stuff it. Drummond said. "Oh, th-th-th-that's all right. I suppose you have ta-ta-ta-taken his jacket off and put it in pickle!" I could only weakly reply, "No, I'm afraid I have not". "What," said he, quite aghast, "Why the hell not?" Well, then I had to come clean, tell him I had not taken the jacket off because I just did not know how to start. This rather shook him. He insisted on doing so before tea, pulled out a little pocket-knife from his waistcoat pocket, did not trouble to take his nice blue serge jacket off or tuck his cuffs up, just rolled the repulsive, swollen corpse out of the sack, made a small incision behind the foreleg, and manipulated the body - head, legs and all - through it, to my utter amazement, and did not puncture the body anywhere, explaining that wh-wh-when a cat is poisoned, they swell, and it is difficult to shrink the skin back to normal again (The cat still sits on a red velvet cushion in the owner's sitting room).
Well, we started the museum job next day, I as his boy. In a week I had learnt the art and mystery of cleaning any sort of specimen. Ultimately I relabelled in my very best round hand, was complimented by the Governors, the job paid handsomely and I was able to explain to the Governors we also did picture framing, obtained some large orders in that line. Later on, I solicited the opportunity for estimating for any building or decorating work. We were successful in tendering for considerable works over a period of years under Mr Sydney Tatchall including building the new Dominions Library. We ultimately came to a sticky end: we were involved in a row between Mr. Tatchall and Mr Rigby the art master against the Estate Agent. It was through no fault or default of ours but, as usual, when architect and client quarrel, the builder suffers. Mr. Tatchall refused to work under the Estate Agent any more and we were never again invited to do so. Still. Christ's Hospital and our connections with it helped us in many ways. I made the acquaintance of Mr. Barratt, the senior commercial master. This afterwards developed into a close personal friendship terminating only with his death. One of his first acts on learning something of our history was to place £100 free of interest at our disposal. My old friend, William Albery[2], the historian of Horsham, did likewise, and this £200 was the most valuable capital we ever had. This brings us to the end of Billy Hoad's diaries but not quite to the end of his reflections. The final posting in this series will tell a story from Billy's days as a relief postboy in Horsham in the mid-1880s.
This is an additional page to compliment the exisitng images.

The Booth Collection

The Booth II Collection

The Booth IV Collection

Victorian label by Pratt and Sons of Brighton.

Great Black Backed Gull chicks by Pratt of Brighton.

American Widgeon by Pratt of Brighton.

Victorian label by Pratt of Brighton

Black Grouse by Pratt of Brighton.

Cirl Bunting by Pratt of Brighton.

Corn Bunting by Pratt of Brighton.

Dabchick by Pratt of Brighton.

Cream Coloured Courser by Pratt of Brighton.

Grey Plover by Pratt of Brighton.

Montague's Harrier by Pratt of Brighton.

Nightjar by Pratt of Brighton.

North Atlantic Giant Petrels by Pratt of Brighton.

Ptarmigan by Pratt of Brighton.

Ptarmigan by Pratt of Brighton.

Shore Lark by Pratt of Brighton.

Snow Bunting by Pratt of Brighton.

Winchat by Pratt of Brighton.

Arctic Terns by Pratt of Brighton.

Arctic Terns by Pratt of Brighton.

Tree Sparrows by Pratt of Brighton.

Brambling Finch by Pratt of Brighton.

Caspian Terns by Pratt of Brighton.

Common Gull chicks by Pratt of Brighton.

Dunlin with eggs by Pratt of Brighton.

Kentish Plover by Pratt of Brighton.

Redshank chick by Pratt of Brighton.

Redshank by Pratt of Brighton.

Redstart by Pratt of Brighton.

Ringed Plover by Pratt of Brighton.

SkyLark by Pratt of Brighton.

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