By the time the Booth Museum was built in 1874 Brighton had three established taxidermy companies and the Museum has examples from all three in its collections. The history of taxidermy is told, in part, through the exhibition ‘Life in Death’ which currently forms part of the main gallery.
Swaysland & Son (1814 – 1951)
It would seem that the firm had its origins with Stephen Swaysland a ‘Wheelwright & Bird Fancier’ and that he probably supplied live caged birds. His son George went from gardener to taxidermist. He became an accomplished naturalist and was acquainted with many prominent scientists of the day such as Charles Darwin, William Borrer and William Yarrell.
George is actually mentioned in Darwin’s “The Descent of Man”. He claims to have mounted several of the exhibits in the Bramber Museum’s “Who Killed Cock Robin?”
His three sons Henry, George and Walter remained in the family business. The firm Swaysland & Son gradually ceased taxidermy and went back to selling caged birds. Walter’s son Walter continued running the business until it ceased to operate in 1951.
The Booth collections include 23 specimens that are attributed to the Swaysland family firm either as taxidermists or as collectors.
Pratt & Sons (1851 – 1952)
The founder of the firm of H Pratt, H Pratt & Sons, and finally Pratt & Sons was Henry Pratt (born 1818).
Their Brighton premises were at 35 Duke Street, 44 Ship Street, 11 North Street Quadrant and finally 15 Cranbourne Street.
Two of Henry’s children, John and Edwin, stayed in the family business. His oldest son, Henry, became a successful clockmaker in Brighton. John and Edwin both married and one of each brother’s sons, confusingly also called John and Edwin, eventually took over the business.
This was the last commercial taxidermy firm operating in Brighton. It ceased on the death of Edwin Albert Pratt in 1952. The Booth Museum includes in its collections around 50 items attributed to the Pratt family firm.
Brazenor Brothers (1863/8 – 1937)
He and his wife had seven children, five of whom survived into adulthood. They all entered the family business though the girls worked in the furrier shop alongside their mother.
They briefly operated at 20 Duke Street, and afterwards they moved to 39 Lewes Road where they remained till they closed down.
Robert’s style of taxidermy could be described as ‘more enthusiastic than strictly accurate’. His representations of ‘The Babe in the Woods’ adequately demonstrates this.
Brazenor Brothers undertook a great deal of osteological work for the Rottingdean based collector Frederick W Lucas, much of which can be seen in the skeleton gallery in the Booth Museum. One of their biggest tasks was the preparation of the Killer Whale skeleton in the Booth Museum. They undertook several other preparations of large material such as the 20.7 meter long Rorqual. This was sectioned and allowed to rot down in specially built vats on Race Hill. Eventually the skeleton was erected on Boscombe Pier, near Bournemouth, from where it was discarded.
For many years Alfred, the youngest son, was the mainstay of the business. In this he was joined by his son Herbert Ferris Brazenor. Herbert joined the staff of Brighton Museum & Art Gallery and rose to become Deputy Director. He died in 1972.
Jeremy Adams, retired Assistant Keeper at the Booth Museum