Major Percy Horace Gordon Powell Cotton, 1866- 1940

1 Jul

An interesting name for an interesting man, and almost as long as another of my comparisons Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt Rivers! Maurice Egerton just doesn’t quite have the same glamour…

Last week I finally made it to Kent to do the last bit of research needed for my PhD. I visited Quex Park, the one time home of Major Powell Cotton and site of his museum. Powell Cotton knew Maurice, and they were collecting similar objects at the same time, and both used Rowland Ward to prepare their taxidermy. Maurice had his book “a sporting trip to Abyssinia” in his collection, so I knew I would have to see his museum for myself. Unfortunately I had a bit of trouble trying to arrange a research appointment to see the archives, but I was happy to play the tourist and just enjoy visiting the museum, which is something I haven’t had much opportunity to do lately.

From his childhood it is easy to compare Powell Cotton with Maurice, and they were from similarly privileged backgrounds. When he was born in Kent in 1866 his grandfather was the current owner of Quex but he would have been a regular visitor. He also didn’t receive a formal education, and was taught at small schools, but had an early interest in natural history. He was a meticulous record keeper from childhood, whereas I think Maurice only became organised to fit in with other hunter/collectors later on.

I was wondering what sort of building Powell Cotton would have constructed for his collection and how it would compare with the tenants hall at Tatton. It seems at first that Powell Cotton displayed his taxidermy in the billiard room of Quex, and that his collection began to develop along similar lines to Maurice: as trophies displayed in an ancestral home to speak of the power of the collector. But when both men began to run out of space in their homes, their collections and exhibitions diverged down different paths.

Powell Cotton was inspired by the full mounts created in natural habitats by Rowland Ward, and so began construction of a museum that would allow him to present his animals in this manner. The dioramas that resulted at Quex are jaw-dropping and impressive. I didn’t anticipate being quite so blown away by my visit. Like our Rowland Ward trophies at Tatton, his specimens look to be in great condition, but the real wow factor comes from the quantity and variety of animals on offer, particularly large specimens like giraffe and elephant, which moves far beyond Maurice’s collection.

Now I’ve got to get to grips with the important points of comparison between Maurice and Powell Cotton:

  • Maurice’s choice of “trophy heads” for his own collection, vs full mounts donated to museums, and the connotations of trophy displays vs dioramas.
  • The choice of display space, why did Maurice remodel the tenants hall and Powell Cotton construct a purpose built museum? What does each space convey?

Here are some photos, please enjoy, and visit Quex if you can- it truly is an amazing place!

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One Response to “Major Percy Horace Gordon Powell Cotton, 1866- 1940”

  1. Joyce mc July 2, 2014 at 3:52 pm #

    Very interesting Sarah. Looking at the heads it was just like the Tenants hall but the dioramas do look amazing. It is now on my list of ‘must visits’.

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