I was never a very outdoorsy child. Interested in old history and buildings rather than dresses and makeup, I was too busy building modern Barbie houses and with my nose in a book, to play skipping games and race around the playground kissing boys (ok, a little of that did happen, usually in the art cupboard if I’m honest). This means it was no real surprise that when the lovely Keri (from Ladies That Travel) and I had our plans of brunch and wandering through Londonscuppered by a bout of dismal weather, we decided to pop over to the Natural History Museum near South Kensington instead.
Warning: Images contain animal skeletons & taxidermy.
As a childhood favourite haunt of Keri’s and one that I grew to love in the first few years living in the UK, the Natural History Museum has a special place in both our hearts, and taking a wander – even on a busy weekend day – was a walk down memory lane.
I was intrigued to learn that the Museum first opened its doors on 18 April 1881, but its origins stretch back to 1753 and the generous offer of a renowned doctor, Sir Hans Sloane. Sloane travelled the world treating royalty and members of high society while fulfilling his passion for collecting natural history specimens and cultural artefacts. What a job!
After his death in 1753, Sloane’s will allowed Parliament to buy his extensive collection of more than 71,000 items for £20,000 – significantly less than its estimated value.
In 1856 Sir Richard Owen – a brilliant natural scientist who came up with the name for dinosaurs – left his role as curator of the Hunterian Museum and took charge of the British Museum’s natural history collection.
In the mid-nineteenth century, museums were expensive places visited only by the wealthy few, but Richard Owen insisted the Natural History Museum should be free and be accessible to all. His ‘cathedral to science’ still attracts millions of visitors a year, including this Kiwi who used to haunt the vaunted halls on a weekly basis.
There is everything imaginable, from tiny seashells as small as my pinky fingernail, to full-size blue whale statues suspended from the ceilings.
The displays rock. (I’m sorry, I’ll get my hat on the way out. Sidenote: if you ever want to unearth a plethora of uber-Dad jokes, google search ‘geology jokes’. They will crack you up.)
One of the reasons we wanted to visit, was to check out the replacement for Dippy (the Diplodocus cast) who presided over the central hall from the 1970s until 2016, before being taken on tour around the country.
This is his replacement.
The Blue Whale skeleton is actually rather beautiful, and so gracefully undulating. It made me appreciate our (almost) swimming with wild dolphins in New Zealand and our luck killer whale (Orca) spotting in Seattle so very much more.
Did we love our wander? Oh so much. The loveliest thing was Keri (a fellow animal lover) telling me of her childhood memories as we walked through the halls – from the gigantic tree slices to her revelation about Dodos.
I also adore the architectural detail hidden in plain sight: the building is a marvel in itself, without taking the exhibits into consideration.
I’d certainly recommend visiting on a weekday rather than a rainy weekend, but even on a with a busy day Natural History Museum is still an amazing place to walk through. And for free!
Down the way is the Science Museum which is full of interactive exhibitions for little ones and children who never grew up, and across the road, there is the Victoria and Albert Museum which is my favourite of all them.
What is your favourite museum in the world? Is it classical and immense, or tiny and very niche?
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