The Weird and Wonderful World of Walter Potter and his Mad Victorian Taxidermy

Once upon a not-too-long ago, I took to Twitter to ask a very important (translation: probably not that important) question. “What,” I asked, “is your favourite museum that no longer exists?” Well, almost. This was the exact wording:

Walter Potter Museum (From Steyning Museum Collection)
Walter Potter Museum (From Steyning Museum Collection)

The results spoke for themselves. Although some people offered a few suggestions, the one museum people (and by people I mean the ones that follow me, which are largely museum people) all agreed on was Walter Potter’s Museum of Curiosities. So overwhelming was the response and so close to home was the museum’s former home- a quite literal 15 minute journey in the car- that this happened:

You’re probably wondering why I described the place as a ‘mad taxidermy museum’ when it looks so sweet and innocent, like a small village museum ought to. To be honest,  I find the idea of taxidermy  a bit bonkers at the best of times. Let’s face it, sometimes taxidermy can be quite terrifying – just look at the cats at the Museum Fur Naturkunde). The infamous Walter Potter managed to take this bizarre art form one step further.

The Kittens' Wedding by Walter Potter
The Kittens’ Wedding by Walter Potter

No, your eyes do not deceive you. That is, in fact, a taxidermy tableaux of kittens getting married. The Kittens’ Wedding was made in 1890 and was the last work Walter did before he died in 1918.  It transpires that Walter Potter’s specialty was anthropomorphising animals like this and, for a while (about 150 years) at least, this was incredibly popular.

Potter’s Museum continued merrily in Bramber until the 1970s, when the Potter family decided to sell the museum. For a few years the museum bounced around; finding a home in Arundel and later at Jamaica Inn in Cornwall before finally being sold-off in 2003.

The Steyning Museum, wanting to return the collection to its former home, tried to bid for the collection but were unfortunately out-priced, with some pieces going for £500,000. However, Steyning museum was able to rescue some of Walter’s work.  (I must make a point of popping in to see it!)

Badge fans might be happy to know that The Kittens’ Wedding comes in badge form too. It dates from the Museum’s Arundel years.

The Museum of Curiosity Badge
The Museum of Curiosity Badge

So, what did we find in Bramber?

Unfortunately, not much. Knowing that Potter was buried in the local Churchyard, we began our quest for his lasting legacy there.

Bramber Church
Bramber Church

For such a small church, there were rather a lot of graves to examine. Diligently, my companion and I set to work. For one brief, shining moment we thought we found what we were looking for…

The Grave of Walter J Potter
The Grave of Walter J Potter

The grave of a Walter John Potter! But wait… is it the Walter Potter we’re after? According to the internet, the Walter Potter died in 1918. This grave is dated as 1928, so it can’t be him. We searched for another reference to another Walter Potter in the grave yard but, alas! we couldn’t find anything. Perhaps his grave is still there; the etchings eroded, the markings washed away leaving nothing but smooth stone to show where the weird and wonderful Walter Potter is resting.

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6 Comments Add yours

  1. museumsaskew says:

    This is giving me flashbacks to the taxidermied turtle playing a tiny guitar I found in the back of a collections cabinet once…

    And it reminds me of the opening to the American version of “Dinner with Schmucks.” http://vimeo.com/57682847

  2. sapphiradoll says:

    I have seen thse pictures before and really wanted to visit! I can’t believe it was originally in Bramber. What a shame it’s gone 😦

  3. Steve potter says:

    My great great great uncle only found out last year got to take my dad to bramber

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