Peter Spicer

It is very important to start this article by saying that we understand that many people these days find the idea of taxidermy, the stuffing of animals, birds and fish, totally abhorrent. However, we also recognise that in earlier times the possession and collection of these specimens was very popular and allowed people to ‘enjoy’ wildlife in this particular way. Sadly, it also represents the various ‘sports’ involving the hunting and killing of animals and birds for pleasure.

It is important in the history of Leamington to relate the story of Peter Spicer, who was based in the town, because he was one of the most skilled of taxidermists in the world in his time. He is noted for the settings of the birds and animals including the material on the floor of the case and the painted backgrounds, usually in watercolour . His trademark was often a signature which appeared on a pebble or stone at the front of the case, perhaps similar in a way to the mice which appear in most of Terence Cuneo’s paintings and the wooden furniture and carving of ‘Mouseman’, Robert Thompson.

Spicer always advertised that the business began in 1798 as a trophy maker but that it also created taxidermy for other firms. However, it has not been possible to trace the family back further than a farmer, Thomas Spicer, who was also a saddler, in Wellesbourne and Warwick in the eighteenth century.

33 Jury Street, Warwick

Peter’s father was John Spicer who had his home and an apothecary and taxidermy shop at 33 Jury Street, Warwick.  The premises are now (2022) a Pizza Express restaurant but it was earlier ‘The Porridge Pot’ and a pot still hangs outside to remember this. John was born about 1816. He married Eliza Walker in 1834. Peter was born in 1839. John also traded in artificial birds’ eyes and British and foreign animal skins. John was thrown by a horse and severely injured when he was acting as a trumpeter in the Warwickshire Yeomanry in May 1865; sadly, he never recovered and died in August 1866, aged 55.  Son Peter carried on the taxidermy trade.

Peter Spicer married Ann Ward of Leamington in 1865. They had three children who survived to become adults – Amy, William Sidney (born 1869) and Emma. Sadly three other children,  Alice, Peter and Ann, died in infancy. His wife Ann died in 1874. Peter then married his housekeeper, Lavinia Williams, and they had two children. Sadly, Percy died in 1886 at age of 11 years but Gilbert Henry, who was born in 1880, survived to enter the business in due time.

6 Victoria Terrace

Peter started his own business in Leamington Spa in about 1860 at No 4 Upper Parade. At some date he moved to Wellington Street and then to No 10 Victoria Terrace in 1871. This terrace was numbered in sequence as part of Bath Street and the address is sometimes given as Bath Street. To add to the confusion the street was renumbered in 1875 and the premises became No 6. His business dealt in skins of animals and birds in various forms and was initially listed in directories as a glover (presumably leather) but at the same time it was advertised as a taxidermist and ‘plumassier’ (a person who deals in ornamental plumes and feathers).

By 1872 Peter Spicer was described as ‘well-known’ and in the following years he was lauded as probably the best taxidermist in the country, if not the world. He was praised for the quality of his window display in 1873. In 1876 he was also recognised for the quality of his drawings of birds and animals.

Heron and Pochard

Peter’s sons William Sidney and Gilbert Harry joined the business when they became adults and the business traded as Spicer and Sons from about 1904. When Spicer & Sons applied for exemption of their single employee from call-up in July 1918 it was stated that they previously had 17 employees before the war began. Clearly the business was almost destroyed in the war. In 1921 the partnership of the father and two sons was dissolved. Father, Peter, retired at that date and the business of taxidermy was continued by William, whilst his step-brother Gilbert carried on the business of furrier.

In a rating appeal case in 1929 it was stated that Spicers occupied all four floors of No 10 Victoria Terrace. It was said that the business was mainly creating products on commission or for sale and only 7% of the business was regarded as retailing. By 1929 the taxidermy business was also using premises in New Street, probably at No 32 which had been the property of taxidermist E H Maycock. Around 1930 William Spicer gave an insight into the scale of his business. He said that in a typical year they created up to 600 foxes’ masks in the hunting season and 200 stags’ heads. Given the scale of the business, there was a form of mass-production, with a range of sizes of premade plaster and papier-mache skulls

Dated 1951

being made for the heads of the foxes and stags. This was not a ‘one-man’ enterprise. The business moved in its entirety from Victoria Terrace to the New Street premises in 1948. It finally closed about 1960. The shop in Victoria Terrace was taken over by a confectioner, it later became a branch of the Trustees Savings Bank and then Lloyds Bank and became the home of a single ATM cash machine. In 2022 it is home to the newly opened ‘The Boiler Room’ bar.

Sadly, in 1922 (only about a year after taking on the business as furrier) the Peter’s son Gilbert Harry Spicer, furrier and glove maker, was adjudged to be bankrupt. It is believed that he subsequently moved to Worcester.

William Sidney Spicer was living at ‘Aldways’, Kenilworth Road, Blackdown in 1935.

The focus of this story, Peter Spicer, died on 20th January 1935 when he was living at ‘Selbourne’, No 16 Leam Terrace East, at the age of 96 years. He had earlier lived next door at No 14. It has been said that his survival to a great age was exceptional, bearing in mind his daily contact with chemicals, including arsenic. in an age with less knowledge of, and regard for, health and safety.

Brief Note on Other Taxidermists in Leamington
William Maycock was in Bath Street in 1856 and E H Maycock was at No 32 New Street in 1886; it is likely that they were related.
J Jackson, taxidermist and featherist, was at Market Street, Tavistock Street (part of Covent Garden Market), in 1863. Jackson may have taken over the business from a Mr Covington. Jackson was living at Greville Terrace, Milverton, in March 1878.

Pictures of hundreds of examples of Peter Spicer’s work and those of his sons and a wealth of information about taxidermy can be found at the website on the following link:-
The book, ‘A Record of Spicers’ by Robert Chinnery (2001) is a comprehensive review of the business and its products and is available in Leamington Library