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Gallery 20 will be closed from Friday 1 Dec until noon Saturday 2 December

A photograph of Alfred Rowden with a wild robin on his hand

A black and white photograph of Alfred Rowden with a wild robin perched on his hand

Alfred Rowden (1877-1960)

Alfred Oliver Rowden FRES (1877-1960)

A joyous melody

Alfred Rowden lived in Exeter for most of his life. He moved from Kingston-upon-Thames when he was 23 years old and in later life was the manager of Hammett’s Dairies in Exeter.

Alfred was passionate about the countryside with a special interest in wild birds. He published many articles about nature for the Devonshire Association, and was elected a life member in 1930. He was also a member of the Devon Archaeological Exploration Society and the South Western Naturalists’ Union. His special talent was in imitating the song of the nightingale. This was described by a local newspaper: “By whistling he can so imitate the rich call notes of the beautiful bird that almost immediately the songster will joyously reply from its thicket and burst into melody” (Western Morning News, 5.6.1939).

Rowden’s photography

Alfred was friends with the museum’s curator Mr Rowley, and developed a strong association with the museum. He was a very active member of the Royal Albert Memorial University College Field Club and Natural History Society and gave talks using slides from collection of magic lantern slides. Many of these slides were photographs he had taken of the Exeter area, and he was an active member of the Exeter Camera Club. His collection of 1272 magic lantern slides are now the largest part of the museums’ photographic collection. Highlights of his collection include some very early paget colour photographs, a series showing his tour of duty with the Navy and Army Canteen Board in Mesopotamia during the First World War, and examples of Devon birds’ nests and eggs.

Alfred Rowden and RAMM

As well as his collection of magic lantern slides, Rowden donated a wide range of items to the museum. These included a chameleon found in a box of seeds, a grass snake with a partly swallowed frog which he had found in Stoke Woods, and various small birds from Exeter. Following his death his wife donated his library of 270 natural history books to the museum. His collection of slides has recently been digitised and catalogued, and will be available to browse on our Collections Explorer website.

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