Natural History Museum
Learn more about Natural History Museum
- Not to be confused with the Museum of Natural History.
The Natural History Museum is one of three large museums on Exhibition Road, South Kensington, London (the others are the Science Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum). Its main frontage is on Cromwell Road. The museum is home to life and earth science collections comprising some 70 million items. There are five main collections: Botany, Entomology, Mineralogy, Palaeontology and Zoology. There is also a wildlife garden containing native fauna and flora.
The foundation of the collection was that of the Ulster doctor Sir Hans Sloane (1660–1753), which allowed his significant collections to be purchased by the British Government at a price well below their market value at the time. This purchase was funded by a lottery. Sloane's collection, which included dried plants, and animal and human skeletons, was initially housed in Montague House in Bloomsbury in 1756, which was the home of the British Museum. In the late 1850s, Professor Richard Owen, Superintendent of the natural history departments of the British Museum saw that the natural history departments needed a bigger, separate building.
Land in South Kensington was purchased, and in 1864 a competition was held to design the new museum. The winning entry was submitted by Captain Francis Fowke who died shortly afterwards. The scheme was taken over by Alfred Waterhouse who substantially revised the agreed plans, and designed the façades in his own idiosyncratic Romanesque style. Work began in 1873 and was completed in 1880. The new museum opened in 1881, although the move from the old museum was not fully completed until 1883.
Both the interiors and exteriors made extensive use of terracotta bricks to resist the sooty climate of Victorian London. The terracotta for the interior and exterior was made by the famous Gibbs And Canning Limited of Tamworth. The bricks include images of plants, animals and fossils. The central axis of the museum is aligned with the tower of Imperial College London (formerly the Imperial Institute) and the Royal Albert Hall and Albert Memorial further north. These all form part of the complex known colloquially as Albertopolis.
Legally, it remained a department of the British Museum with the formal name British Museum (Natural History), usually abbreviated in the scientific literature as B.M.(N.H.) or BMNH. In 1963, the Natural History Museum became an independent museum with its own Board of Trustees, and in 1986 absorbed the adjacent Geological Museum of the British Geological Survey. However, it was not until the Museums and Galleries Act of 1992 that the Museum's formal title was finally changed from B.M.(N.H.) to The Natural History Museum.
Between 1974 and 1988 the Geological Museum became world-famous for exhibitions including an active volcano model and an earthquake machine, and housed the world's first computer-enhanced exhibition (Treasures of the Earth). The museum's galleries were completely rebuilt and relaunched in 1998 as a multimedia exhibition entitled The Earth Galleries. In the 1990s, the other exhibitions in the Waterhouse building were retitled The Life Galleries. The Natural History Museum's own Mineralogy displays remain unchanged as an example of the 19th-century display techniques of the Waterhouse building.
The newly-developed Darwin Centre (named after Charles Darwin) holds a collection of millions of preserved specimens, interactive materials and new workspaces for the Museum's scientific staff. Lectures and demonstrations occur daily, and are sometimes webcast. The shared space is designed to bring visitors into close contact with working scientists. Phase one of the Darwin Centre has been completed, and houses the Zoological department's spirit collections — organisms preserved in alcohol. Phase two of the project will bring the Entomology collections and Botanical collections under the same (new) roof. As of 2005, the Entomology Department is storing its collection before the building is pulled down and replaced. Currently Darwin Centre Phase One (or DC1 as it is called) is closed to the public while DC2 is beginning built. The current estimate is DC2 will be ready for opening in 2009.
The Darwin Centre is also home to Archie the squid, an 8 metre long giant squid taken alive in a fishing net near the Falkland Islands. The squid is currently on display in a prominent position in the large specimen room, in a reinforced glass tank containing a mixture of formaldehyde and saline solution.
The museum holds the remains and bones of the River Thames Whale that lost its way on 20 January 2006 and ended up in the Thames. Despite major rescue attempts, the Bottlenose Whale died shortly before it was due to be released back into open waters, when it suffered a convulsion and died on board the barge taking it toward the sea. These bones were donated following a campaign by The Sun newspaper. They will not however be put on display and are instead in their warehouse for the storage of the larger collections such as mammals and palaeontology in Wandsworth.
The closest London Underground station is South Kensington — there is a tunnel from the station that emerges close to the entrances of all three museums. Admission is free to all, though there are donation boxes in the foyer.
 External links
- Official website
- Kids website
- Darwin Centre webcast page
- Research and Curation site
- Library and Archives website
- Picture Library
- Search all online collections and research data
- Website of the daughter Museum at Tring, Hertfordshire
cs:Přírodopisné muzeum (Londýn)
de:Natural History Museum es:Museo de Historia Natural de Londres fr:Muséum d'histoire naturelle de Londres it:Museo di storia naturale di Londra he:המוזיאון להיסטוריה של הטבע (לונדון) nl:Natural History Museum ja:ロンドン自然史博物館 pl:Muzeum Historii Naturalnej pt:Museu de História Natural de Londres ru:Музей естествознания (Лондон) fi:Natural History Museum