Natural History Museum, Tring – Hertfordshire January 2020

by Emma Bumpus on January 20, 2020

Adventure and scientific discovery take careertraveller to a kingdom of exotic and curious animal specimens at the National History Museum in Tring Hertfordshire.

Just a 40-minute fast train ride or 38-mile drive from London awaits this picturesque historic market town whose plethora of independently run shops, cafes and restaurants sits proud in the rolling Chiltern countryside. Located in a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) stands the prominent 19th century Victorian mansion of a museum, which now distinctively part of the Natural History Museum in London, brings us close and upfront to the wonderful zoological collections and life of Lionel Walter Rothschild.

Inside we uncover 6 beautifully maintained Galleries of historical specimens and research collections that tribute Walter, who born into wealth and prosperity developed a lifelong passion for the natural world. Greeted by a giant first floor polar bear, we unearth travels of science, zoology and taxidermy with displays of crab-Eating Foxes from the Savannas in South America to extinct dodos from Mauritius.

Home to a public display of classified 4,900 specimens in original glass fronted iron and hardwood cases from floor to ceiling are samples of endangered species and zoo animals that Walter once cared for, including a mandrill nicknamed George! Full of wonder, colour and curiosity, it is no surprise to learn that the museum looks after one of the largest ornithological collections in the world with a library of 75,000 works.

We advance to the Rothschild Room where Walter’s legacy comes alive with a giant life size model tortoise that replicates one of many he obtained from the Galapagos Islands. Protecting them from potential extinction and hunting is a story of his love of nature and animals with timeline dating back to 1872 when the Rothschild family bought the aristocratic Tring Park estate.

Images of gentry and sweeping woodland landscape reveals the origins of Walter’s aspiration to create a museum at the early age of seven. A collection of birds, beetles and butterflies, plus the addition of a curator in his teens, transports us back to 1889 where he was given the resources to establish his own museum. Not bad for a twenty-first birthday present!

Gallery to gallery depicts Walter’s world with Gallery 3 exhibiting iridescent hummingbirds that echo Walter’s journey to the tropical rainforests of Ecuador. Wooden cases reveal oddities, including a dressed flea collection from Mexico which once sold as souvenirs to tourists in the 19th century. Amongst the giant armadillo and pendulous fish we enter an arcade of brilliance with specimens accumulated from over 48 countries.

A collection of odd hoofed mammals including Zebras in Gallery 4 celebrates Walter’s unusual and outlandish specimens at Tring Park, which once housed kangaroos and emus roaming wild in the grounds. We even learn he trained zebras to pull a carriage and once took them to Buckingham Palace on a royal invitation!

As a museum first opened to the public in 1892 stand Galleries 5 and 6, which built at the turn of the twentieth century bring history alive with antelope, amphibians and domestically bred dogs in what feels like a bizarre menagerie.

Before we leave one of the largest private natural history collections compiled for study and breeding, we enter Gallery 2 where the Wildlife Photographer Of The Year exhibition showcases 34 images of wildlife. Storytelling photos of animal portraits, behaviour and habitat are a journey round the world with stunning international award winning nature photography that reflects Walter’s passion and interpretation of the natural world. Brilliant!

Further information:

Natural History Museum at Tring
Natural History Museum London

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