Arthur Silas Covington. Naturalist, Taxidermist and Hairdresser
by Linda Ayres
Arthur Silas Covington was a reserved man who never sought fame. Nonetheless, he became widely known as a naturalist and as one of the best taxidermists in Great Britain.
Arthur was born in 1847 at Canning Street, Bedford. He was the youngest of the six children of William Covington and his wife Rebecca, nee Sabey. His father was an ostler, who looked after horses for the guests at the Lion Hotel in the High Street, Bedford. The innkeeper of the Lion Hotel was William Tebbs. He was a taxidermist, and was skilled in making eyes for birds. Hearing that Arthur, who was only six years of age, liked butterflies, William Tebbs gave him box of large copper butterflies, which were a rare species at the time as well as being valuable. This box of large copper butterflies was the start of Arthur’s interest in taxidermy.
At the age of just 14, Arthur left the Commercial (Modern) School and joined Titus Tompkins, as his apprentice as a taxidermist and hairdresser at 65 High Street, Bedford. Titus made mourning jewellery by means of weaving long pieces of human hair into necklaces and bracelets or small locks of hair into rings or encased behind a locket. In 1865 Titus went bankrupt, and Arthur by now aged 18, opened his first taxidermy and hairdressing shop, at 16 St. Paul’s Square. Customers from all parts of England sent Arthur birds and animals and from these he created life-like specimens. Many of the rare species found in Bedfordshire passed through his hands.
On the 24th July 1867, Arthur married Margaret Peacock at Bedford Registry Office. Margaret was born on the 28th May 1849 at Offord D’Arcy in Huntingdonshire. She was the daughter of a tailor, John Peacock and his wife Martha. On the 3rd December 1873, Arthur (aged 26) became a member of the Church of England, when he was christened at St. Paul’s Church, Bedford. He subsequently became a sidesman at St. Peter’s Church, Bedford.
Arthur’s occupation on the 1871 census for St. Pauls Square is given as a bird stuffer. The 1881 census for Bedford records him living at 1 Lurke Lane. It gives his occupation as a master naturalist and hairdresser. In 1895, Margaret and Arthur moved to 20 Foster Hill Road, where he also practiced as a taxidermist. On the 15th November 1915, Margaret died aged 66 years. They had no children. In 1918, Arthur (aged 71) married his second wife, Sarah Ann Butterfield (aged 54.) She was the youngest of the four children of a boot maker, Edward Butterfield and his wife Dorcas. Her family lived at 42 Castle Lane, Bedford. On leaving school Sarah was employed by Harry Hody a butcher and his wife Catherine as a live-in servant at 8 Grove Place, Bedford. By 1911 Sarah was a boarding house keeper at 38 Castle Road Bedford. After their marriage they lived at 56 Pembroke Street while Arthur carried on his practice as a taxidermist at 20 Foster Hill Road.
In 1921, a journalist of the Bedfordshire Times and Independent interviewed Arthur. He spoke in detail of the rare birds that he had seen in Bedfordshire such as the great spotted cuckoo, the great black woodpecker, the little bittern, the ruff, the osprey, the rough legged buzzard, the hen harrier and the bearded tit. His own collection included many beautiful and well-mounted specimens among them being the honey buzzard, the great bustard, the purple and squacco heron, the great eagle owl, a great bittern, the last kite killed in Bedfordshire in 1822, the hoopoe, the avocet, the buzzard hawk and golden eagle. The largest pike that ever passed through Arthur’s hands weighed 32lb. He also had a good collection of eggs and several of the birds in his collection came from Bedfordshire. In his collection of mounted animals were two polecats native to Bedfordshire. . The wild cat and the pine marten were formerly native to our woods although Mr Covington’s species came from Scotland. In his collection he had specimens of one of the rarest of English large copper butterflies. Some of his exhibits were in the Pritchard Museum at the Bedford Modern School.
On the 12th September 1925, after a brief illness, Arthur died aged 78 years, at his home in Pembroke Street. The funeral service took place at St. Peter’s Church and was conducted by the Rev. Corney. After the service the cortege made its way to Foster Hill Road Cemetery, and he was laid to rest with his first wife Margaret. Grave Ref: E3.9
Sarah moved into 20 Foster Hill Road. She died there on the 29th January 1950 aged 86 years. Her burial took place a short distance from Arthur’s grave. Sarah’s grave is unmarked in Section S. Supplementary Plan Grave 133
The Bedford Times and Bedfordshire Independent 31st July 1860
Bedfordshire Times & Independent 18th September 1925
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