Obituary of Alfred Watkins

Transactions of the Woolhope Naturalists’ Field Club, 1935, 165–167.


Obituary Memoir.


Born 27th January, 1855—Died 7th April, 1935.

It is impossible to assess too highly the debt the Members owe to Alfred Watkins for his contributions to, and support of, the Woolhope Club during a period of nearly half a century. His death causes a void in our ranks which will be felt for many years to come. Born in the City of Hereford he lived his whole life in the county, and in an age when motor transport was unknown he had acquired a more intimate knowledge of the byeways and remote regions of the county than anyone had or has since obtained.

He joined the Club in 1888, and was elected a Member of the Central Committee in 1893, and in 1915 became a Member of the Editorial Committee, and acted as Archaeological Editor from the creation of that office in 1917. In the latter capacity he contributed annually Reports on Archaeological matters that came under his notice during the year, and these copiously illustrated with reproductions of his excellent photographs have been the means of recording many important observations which otherwise might have passed into oblivion.

In 1919 he occupied the Presidential Chair, and dealt in his Presidential Address with Early Local Bee-keeping, illustrated with photographs that he had taken many years previously and which must be unique.

During his long life his activities ranged over a wide field and his knowledge of many and varied subjects was considerable. His reputation as a photographer and inventor of photographic appliances was world wide. Of his inventions the Watkins’ Bee Exposure Meter was probably the most extensively used and best known, and proved it boon alike to professional and amateur photographers.

From 1900 onwards he furnished our Transactions with over ninety per cent. of the illustrations, until they became known as the best illustrated publications of any local Archaeological Society.

His literary contributions also were many and valuable. One of the early ones was a list of the Pigeon Houses of the county, well illustrated and with descriptive particulars. The publication of this list drew attention to these now disused but once very {166} important adjuncts to every manor, and has been the means of saving a number from demolition, a fate that unfortunately has befallen others since the record was made.

The “Papers” from his pen ranged over a wide field, including Local Potteries, Offa’s Dyke, ancient buildings, old trackways, and many articles on antiquities in the City of Hereford. His lectures on “Elizabeth Barrett of Hope End,” and “The Ledbury of John Masefield” recalled many incidents in the lives of these poetical geniuses not before recorded. An excellent piece of work was his Old Standing Crosses of Herefordshire, published in a separate volume under the auspices of the Club in 1930. This is an exhaustive catalogue of these religious remains in which the county is so rich, and each cross is illustrated from one of his fine photographs.

In his later years he took up the study of ancient trackways and the question of their alignment in straight lines through ancient sites, and if the arguments he brought forward in support of these did not always commend themselves to the more sceptical archaeologist, yet in his book, The Old Straight Track, he has left behind much food for thought, and a wealth of illustrations which will be a source of pleasure and instruction for years to come.

Another subject in which he took a special interest was milling and the appliances connected therewith. Being a miller by trade, owner of The Imperial Flour Mills in Hereford, which were founded by his father, Charles Watkins, he was particularly qualified for such research. He gathered together a collection of milling tools, mostly local, which he presented, from time to time, to the Hereford Museum.

Alfred Watkins was an individualist and in his antiquarian researches his records were all made from his own personal observations and to that extent are of greater value in not relating anything from hearsay.

His sense of the beautiful in nature and art was highly developed as is apparent in his writings, and more so in his photographs, although he suffered from the severe handicap of colour blindness. In spite of such a disability he tried his hand at coloured photography, and an early specimen of his work in this direction is an illustration of a stained glass window in Eaton Bishop Church, to be found in the Transactions.

The writer, who over a period of twenty years, was privileged to consult with him in connection with the editing of the Transactions, and who also had to make constant appeals to him for help in arranging the Meetings, can testify that he always found him a willing helper and one to whom no trouble was too great if it would in anyway further the interests of the Club.

An appreciative summary of his merits is given by the writer of his obituary memoir in the Hereford Times and may well be repeated {167} here: “Disinterested service seems to have been the main-spring of his existence. All his knowledge he gave freely and eagerly, with no thought of material advancement. He worked hard all his life in gaining knowledge and imparting it. He loved his native city and had its interests ever at heart. Under his brusque manner lay a kindly nature, generous and just”.

His portrait, from a recent photograph, forms a frontispiece to this Volume.

He was laid to rest on Wednesday, April 10th, in the cemetery at Hereford, leaving a widow and son and daughter to mourn his loss.
G. M.