Natural History Museum, London

Natural History Museum
Entrance to Natural History Museum, Cromwell Road, London SW7 - geograph.org.uk - 1034304.jpg
Natural History Museum, London is located in Central London
Natural History Museum, London
Location within Central London
Established1881; 137 years ago (1881)
LocationKensington & Chelsea, London, SW7
United Kingdom
Coordinates51°29′46″N 00°10′35″W / 51°29′46″N 00°10′35″W / 51.49611; -0.17639
TypeNatural History Museum
Visitors4,434,520 (2017)[1]
DirectorMichael Dixon
Public transit accessLondon Underground South Kensington
Websitenhm.ac.uk

The Natural History Museum in London is a natural history museum that exhibits a vast range of specimens from various segments of natural history. It is one of three major museums on Exhibition Road in South Kensington, the others being the Science Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum. The Natural History Museum's main frontage, however, is on Cromwell Road.

The museum is home to life and earth science specimens comprising some 80 million items within five main collections: botany, entomology, mineralogy, paleontology and zoology. The museum is a centre of research specialising in taxonomy, identification and conservation. Given the age of the institution, many of the collections have great historical as well as scientific value, such as specimens collected by Charles Darwin. The museum is particularly famous for its exhibition of dinosaur skeletons and ornate architecture—sometimes dubbed a cathedral of nature—both exemplified by the large Diplodocus cast that dominated the vaulted central hall before it was replaced in 2017 with the skeleton of a blue whale hanging from the ceiling. The Natural History Museum Library contains extensive books, journals, manuscripts, and artwork collections linked to the work and research of the scientific departments; access to the library is by appointment only. The museum is recognised as the pre-eminent centre of natural history and research of related fields in the world.

Although commonly referred to as the Natural History Museum, it was officially known as British Museum (Natural History) until 1992, despite legal separation from the British Museum itself in 1963. Originating from collections within the British Museum, the landmark Alfred Waterhouse building was built and opened by 1881 and later incorporated the Geological Museum. The Darwin Centre is a more recent addition, partly designed as a modern facility for storing the valuable collections.

Like other publicly funded national museums in the United Kingdom, the Natural History Museum does not charge an admission fee. The museum is an exempt charity and a non-departmental public body sponsored by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.[2] Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge is a patron of the museum.[3] There are approximately 850 staff at the Museum. The two largest strategic groups are the Public Engagement Group and Science Group.[4]

History

An 1881 plan showing the original arrangement of the Museum.
(Link to current floor plans).
The Natural History Museum, shown in wide-angle view here, has an ornate terracotta facade by Gibbs and Canning Limited typical of high Victorian architecture. The terracotta mouldings represent the past and present diversity of nature.
The main hall of the museum
Statue of Charles Darwin by Sir Joseph Boehm in the main hall

The foundation of the collection was that of the Ulster doctor Sir Hans Sloane (1660–1753), who 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 Montagu House, Bloomsbury, in 1756, which was the home of the British Museum.

Most of the Sloane collection had disappeared by the early decades of the nineteenth century. Dr George Shaw (Keeper of Natural History 1806–13) sold many specimens to the Royal College of Surgeons and had periodic cremations of material in the grounds of the museum. His successors also applied to the trustees for permission to destroy decayed specimens.[5] In 1833 the Annual Report states that, of the 5,500 insects listed in the Sloane catalogue, none remained. The inability of the natural history departments to conserve its specimens became notorious: the Treasury refused to entrust it with specimens collected at the government's expense. Appointments of staff were bedevilled by gentlemanly favoritism; in 1862 a nephew of the mistress of a Trustee was appointed Entomological Assistant despite not knowing the difference between a butterfly and a moth.[6][7][verification needed]

J. E. Gray (Keeper of Zoology 1840–74) complained of the incidence of mental illness amongst staff: George Shaw threatened to put his foot on any shell not in the 12th edition of Linnaeus' Systema Naturae; another had removed all the labels and registration numbers from entomological cases arranged by a rival. The huge collection of the conchologist Hugh Cuming was acquired by the museum, and Gray's own wife had carried the open trays across the courtyard in a gale: all the labels blew away. That collection is said never to have recovered.[8]

The Principal Librarian at the time was Antonio Panizzi; his contempt for the natural history departments and for science in general was total. The general public was not encouraged to visit the Museum's natural history exhibits. In 1835 to a Select Committee of Parliament, Sir Henry Ellis said this policy was fully approved by the Principal Librarian and his senior colleagues.

Many of these faults were corrected by the palaeontologist Richard Owen, appointed Superintendent of the natural history departments of the British Museum in 1856. His changes led Bill Bryson to write that "by making the Natural History Museum an institution for everyone, Owen transformed our expectations of what museums are for".[9]

Other Languages
Simple English: Natural History Museum
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Natural History Museum