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Rowland Ward

Rowland Ward
Taxidermist to the World !

‘The Jungle’ 167 Piccadilly, London

Rowland Ward Ltd. Of Piccadilly, taxidermist company to Big Game Hunters of a previous era and regarded by many as the finest British historical taxidermist of his time.
James Rowland Ward the eminent English naturalist and specialist in big game, who was primarily responsible for the firm's worldwide renown, was born in London in 1847. He died in 1912, but his company has a long and prestigious history and remained for many years the market leader and finest British taxidermy firm in the world.

Rowland Ward's father, Henry, an intimate friend of the celebrated American naturalist, John James Audubon, founded a taxidermy business at the beginning of the 19th century. Young Rowland, whose original ambition was to become a sculptor, went to work for him at the age of 14. This was a logical move, for as a boy Rowland had exhibited an intense interest in animal life and often removed the skins of small mammals to make piece molds and casts. In this way he acquired a thorough knowledge of animal structure.
After working 10 years for his father, Rowland started his own taxidermy business and established the showroom called "The Jungle" in London’s fashionable Piccadilly district. The products of Rowland Ward Ltd. are familiar to museums, collectors and big game hunters throughout the world, and their work covered all aspects of taxidermy.
Rowland Ward's ambition was to make taxidermy a refined art, superior to the old-fashioned crude style of straw-stuffed animal skins. His vision called for the animals to look as life-like as possible and setting up animals in natural groups.
Ward made up his mind to study nature and adapt it to taxidermy. At the beginning he often worked far into the night, eventually dropping asleep on his workroom floor out of sheer exhaustion. When he was modeling an animal in a particular pose he would make frequent visits to the zoo before he obtained exactly what he wanted. Then from a drawing or a small wax model a life-size copy was reproduced in his workroom. Later he designed a "special naturalist's" camera which saved many of his zoo-going trips. He discovered and developed the use of wood wool as a foundation for his models. However, his greatest contribution to his firm was the use of wood and metal skeletons, over which was placed a malleable modelling compound to shape the muscles and folds in the skin. Rowland Ward likened his methods to those of a painter who paints his figure in the nude and then clothes it. In that way, said Ward, he achieved life, expression and action in his work.
Before a specimen can be preserved in a natural position and with life-like proportions, Ward insisted upon making a series of careful measurements of its body. He extended his focus on measurements to create the first widely accepted scoring system for big game animals and publish his "Horn Measurements and Weights of the Great Game of the World" (1892) which became in subsequent editions "Records of Big Game". He also published some of the all-time greatest sporting literature and "Rowland Ward's Sportsman's Handbook to Practical Collecting and Preserving Trophies".
'Wardian Furniture' was another of Rowland Ward's innovations a style much admired in its day. He made 'Zoological Lamps', their supports composed of variously arranged birds or quadrupeds; other 'household objects' made from the spolia of animals and birds were introduced. Thick elephant or rhinoceros hides were turned into a cloudy, amberlike material suitable for table tops. Ward designed brooches, necklaces and earrings out of such things as tiger claws, elephant hair and fine metals. Among the more unusual products to emerge from 'The Jungle' were registered crocodile umbrella-stands, snake tables, a hall porter's chair made from a whole adolescent elephant, elephant foot drink cabinet and a dumb-waiter bear.
Ward also modeled, apart from the usual mounted heads and full sized animals, dramatic exhibition groups in surroundings imitating their natural habitat. Ward's huge displays were seen at major international exhibitions and attracted considerable attention and gained admiration of Mr. Rowland Ward's masterly designs, modellings, and general arrangement.
Colonial and Indian Exhibition,1886.
An avid collector of scientific and rare specimens, Ward acquired dodos, the largest elephant tusks in the world, record horns and animals of every kind and size, from a white tiger to a white hedgehog. He made numerous valuable presentations to the British and other natural history museums. He mounted many deceased pets, some famous race horses of his time, a champion shorthorn cow, and a special pet dog of Queen Victoria.

When Rowland Ward died in 1912

When Rowland Ward died in 1912, an autocratic businessman named John B. Burlace acquired the business. He sold out in 1937 to two men, Martin Stevens, who was foremost among the younger game enthusiasts at that time, and Gerald Best. The new team hardly had time to dust the cobwebs away before World War II came. The company's premises were blitzed, and the business only barely continued to exist until peace came. Stevens was killed in combat and his share of the business was bought by his friend Best, who chose to expand it, basing his choice on the potentialities of a firm with an established reputation which, he ran successfully for over twenty years.
Best had thrown himself like a fury into the organization and traveled extensively in search of new trade, the firm had recaptured all of the glory it knew when its namesake long ago ran the business. For over a century, the firm was the market leader, at a time when taxidermy was an integral part of the science of natural history.
When Gerald Best died in 1969 the business was divided into its different trading sections and left to his sons. The workshop closed its doors in 1977, when so much of this art form went out of fashion.
Sadly, taxidermists have received little credit for their efforts and biographical information on individuals is therefore very scant. Yet it is increasingly recognised that taxidermy and the scientific preservation of animals form an important part of the history of natural history, inviting curiosity about one of the most famous contributors in this area.
Author P.A. Morris has spent many years collecting material on Rowland Ward and his taxidermy, his book, entitled Rowland Ward: Taxidermist to the World (2003) attempts for the first time to put on record the work of Rowland Ward as a tribute to him and to those who worked for the Company that he founded.