Old countryman
Knutsford Ornithological Society

Thomas Alfred Coward (8 January 1867 – 29 January 1933) was an English ornithologist and journalist who wrote extensively on natural history and Cheshire local history. His best-known work is the three-volume Birds of the British Isles and their Eggs, first published in 1919.[1]

Coward was born at 8 Higher Downs, Bowdon, Cheshire (now in Greater Manchester), the fourth and last child of Thomas and Sarah Coward. His father was a Congregational minister and a partner in the firm of Melland and Coward, textile bleachers.[1] After leaving school Coward joined the family firm, where he remained for nineteen years,[1] until its takeover by the larger Bleachers Association.[2] Coward’s share of the proceeds of the sale allowed him to leave the world of business and devote himself for the rest of his life to the study of natural history, which had been an interest of his since childhood.[1]

Coward supplemented his income by writing articles for a variety of journals and newspapers,[1] and became an extramural lecturer at the University of Manchester. During the First World War he served as Acting Keeper of the Manchester Natural History Museum, housed at the university.[2]

In 1904 Coward married his cousin, Mary Constance Milne.[1] The couple lived at Coward’s home in Lower Bowdon until his death following a heart attack on 29 January 1933, where a blue plaque has been installed in his memory.[3]


A memorial fund set up shortly after Coward’s death raised £900, equivalent to about £68,000 as at 2021.[a]Calculated using the retail price index.[4] The money was used to buy and set aside in perpetuity the nature reserves of Cotterill CloughNature reserve adjacent to Manchester Airport. near Manchester Airport, and the Marbury reed bed at Budworth Mere.[5]

Selected publications

As well as the books listed here, Coward contributed widely to newspapers and magazines including the Manchester Guardian, The Field and Country Life, as well as to journals such as The Zoologist, Proceedings of the Zoological Society, British Birds, and Memoirs and Proceedings of the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society.[1]

  • The Birds of Cheshire (1900), written jointly with Charles Oldham.
  • Picturesque Cheshire (1904)
  • The Vertebrate Fauna of Cheshire and Liverpool Bay (1910, written jointly with Charles Oldham and James Johnstone.
  • Cheshire (1910), part of the Cambridge County Geographies
  • The Migration of Birds (1912)
  • The Birds of the British Isles and their Eggs (1919), a two-volume set expanded to three in 1926
  • Bird Haunts and Nature Memories (1922)
  • Birds and their Young (1923)
  • Life of the Wayside and Woodland (1923)
  • Bird Life at Home and Abroad, With Other Nature Observations (1927)
  • The Life of Birds (1931)
  • Bird and Other Nature Problems (1931)
  • Cheshire – Traditions and History (1932)


a Calculated using the retail price index.[4]