London’s Natural History Museum is one of the three museums situated in South Kensington, on the appropriately-named Exhibition Road, along with the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Science Museum.
The museum’s collections include paleontology, entomology, zoology, botany and mineralogy and are comprised of around 80 million objects. Some have significant historical value such as Charles Darwin’s specimens for example. Visitors are also often attracted by the dinosaur skeletons exhibition. Manuscripts, journals, artwork collections and books are also available in the Natural History Museum Library, but access is only provided by appointment.
- Galleries – Divided into several zones that are coded by color, the galleries are comprised of themed-exhibitions, from the history of the Earth, to dinosaurs, birds, plants, minerals and wild gardens.
- Archie – Archie is a giant squid, with a length of eight meters, that was caught in a fishing net in 2004. It has since found its home in the Darwin Centre, where it was frozen, but not dissected and it is not displayed like the other exhibits, but in the basement, in a tank that was constructed especially to preserve this rare specimen in a saline solution with formalin.
- The Blue Whale – The 25-meter-long blue whale skeleton, which weighs 10 tonnes, was in storage for 42 years before it could be properly displayed. That finally happened in 1934, when the present-day Large Mammals Hall (then the New Whale Hall) was built, along with a life-sized model of the whale, completed in 1938, the year it was also opened to the public. The model was built directly onsite inside the hall, due to size and cost issues. An urban legend claims the workers left a time capsule inside the whale.
- Dippy – The central hall is dominated by a replica of a Diplodocus carnegii skeleton, measuring 32 metres in length, which was gifted by Andrew Carnegie, who had the original in the Carnegie Museum. Seeing the immense popularity that “Dippy” acquired upon display, Carnegie made more copies of the original, in order to display it all over the world. Dippy the dinosaur is a museum icon and has even appeared in live-action programs, such as Disney’s One of Our Dinosaurs Is Missing in 1975.
- Dinocochlea – Present in the museum since 1921, the piece was attributed a series of mistaken “identities” over time, from gastropod shell, to coprolite, and it is now supposed to be a worm’s tunnel that has been concreted.
- River Thames whale – Only temporarily on display, the bones of the River Thames whale are usually kept in storage and only used in research. The whale ended up in the River Thames in 2006, after it lost its way.
- Natural History Museum at Tring – Situated in Hertfordshire at Tring, the sister museum was built by Lionel Walter Rothschild and taken into custody by the Natural History Museum in 1938. The original name of the museum was the Walter Rothschild Zoological Museum.
- The Nature Live Program – This event offers visitors the chance to talk to the museum’s scientists on topics such as climate change, space, evolution and biodiversity. In addition, participants may also see exhibits not usually displayed, ask questions and comment.
- Kids Only – In keeping with its interest in education, the museum’s website has a fun, attractive feature for children, called Kids only, where children can explore exhibits and interesting facts about them online, through games and pictures. Whether your child is excited by dinosaurs, nocturnal creatures, volcanoes, or simply wants to ask a scientist some questions, the options are all available on the website.
- London Underground – Take either the Piccadilly, Circle or District line and disembark at South Kensington Station, the closest station to the museum.
- Bus – The buses that stop nearby the museum are C1, 430, 414, 360, 345, 74, 70, 49 and 14. The 360 bus route has a stop on Exhibition Road.
- Bike – You will find cycle racks on Exhibition Road and Cromwell Road Entrance. At the Exhibition Road entrance is a Barclays Cycle Hire point.
- Train – Stop at Victoria Train Station on the District and Circle lines. Walk two stops to the west and you will find the museum.
- Coach – Stop at Victoria Coach Station, which is within walking distance from Victoria Train and Tube stations.
The initial collection of the museum was based on those of Doctor Sir Hans Sloane, including human and animal skeletons and dried plants, which the British Government bought at a below-market price, with funding from the lottery. The Natural History Museum was originally part of the British Museum, but as the collections grew, the space became insufficient. In 1873, construction for a new building started in South Kensington in order to house the Natural History Museu, as per orders of Richard Owen, Superintendent of the British Museum’s natural history departments.
The new building included relief sculptures illustrating flora and fauna, with two different wings for the living species and the extinct ones. This was specifically requested by Owen and it has been suggested that it was intended as a rebuttal of Darwin’s theory of natural selection.
The Earth Galleries that exist today, as well as the Life Galleries in the Waterhouse building used to be part of the Geological Museum that was incorporated in the Museum of Natural History in 1986.
The Darwin Centre is one of the most recent additions to the museum and it is meant to contain the numerous preserved specimens. It is divided into two phases, the first opened to the public in 2002 and the second in 2009. Phase 2 also includes the Attenborough Studio, which organizes educational events such as the Nature Live program, in collaboration with BBC’s Natural History Unit.
- The museum appears in children’s books and even a live-action Disney feature. The hero in Charlie Fletcher’s book hides in the museum and ends up with a pterodactyl chasing him after he breaks a piece off one of the reliefs in the museum. The Disney feature revolves around the stolen skeleton of Dippy the dinosaur, while also including the model of the blue whale. China Mieville’s fantasy novel also features a stolen piece, but this time it’s Archie the squid.
- The BBC six-part documentary Museum of Life was set at the Natural History Museum and explored its history in depth.