When we come on a school trip they run fascinating workshops where they pass around real animal skulls and the children have to guess what the animal might be and what it eats based on the teeth.
There are a lot of vegans who would not set foot in a place like this. It is full of dead, stuffed animals collected and preserved by an eccentric Victorian (were there any other kinds of Victorians?)
But I admire him as a person.
From the museum website:
Lionel Walter Rothschild, 2nd Baron Rothschild, was born in 1868 into an international financial dynasty, but was destined to be famed as a zoologist and collector rather than as a banker.
Building a museumAs a child, Walter knew exactly what he wanted to do when he grew up, announcing at the age of seven, 'Mama, Papa, I am going to make a museum...'. By the time he was ten, Walter had enough natural history objects to start his first museum, in a garden shed.
Before long, Walter's insect and bird collections were so large they had to be stored in rented rooms and sheds around Tring. Then in 1889, his father gave him some land on the outskirts of Tring Park as a 21st birthday present. Two small cottages were built, one to house his books and insect collection, the other for a caretaker. Behind these was a much larger building, which would contain Lord Rothschild's collection of mounted specimens. This was the beginning of the Zoological Museum, which opened to the public in 1892.
Passion for natural historyEducated at Magdalene College, Cambridge, Walter worked for the family firm in London from 1889 to 1908, though his passion was for his natural history collection. At this time his collection was one of the largest in the world.
Walter's interest in natural history was not restricted to museum specimens. He kept an astonishing variety of animals in the grounds around the Museum and in Tring Park, including zebras, a tame wolf, rheas, kangaroos, kiwis, cassowaries and giant tortoises. He even drove a team of zebras into the forecourt of Buckingham Palace.
Political careerWalter Rothschild also had a political career, as a Liberal and Liberal Unionist Member of Parliament for Aylesbury from 1899 to 1910. He was closely involved in the formulation of the draft declaration for a Jewish homeland in Palestine and in 1917 a letter from Arthur Balfour, addressed to 'Dear Lord Rothschild', set out the Balfour Declaration, which committed the British Government to supporting the establishment in Palestine of a national home for Jews.
This is a small museum, but it is packed with good stuff to look at. And whilst I would NEVER advocate collecting on this scale today, I am appreciative that someone did in the past because that is how we learn.
Here are just some of the interesting things you can see courtesy of their website:
|A massive polar bear greets you at the entrance to the gallery. Victorian taxidermists placed a friendly smile on the face of this animal, which is in fact a powerful hunter.|
|Open the doors of the specimen cupboards and see these fleas dressed as Mexican dancers. They were sold in Mexico as curiosities and these ones were made in 1905.|
|This extinct quagga originated in South Africa. The last one died in Amsterdam in 1883.|
|This mandrill once lived in London Zoo and may have met President Roosevelt. He has a bright blue and red nose, with a matching colourful bottom that particularly appeals to school parties.|
|The giant Japanese spider crab has a leg span that often reaches two metres or more. It is normally found at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean.|
This is one Spiderman took (duh!) but one of my favourite parts of visiting here with children from my school is the way they all run over to me to proclaim, “Miss! There are spiders over there! Come let me show you!” and so I am led to see them about 10 times every time I visit the museum. And you know what? I don’t mind at all.
Being Easter holidays I wondered if the museum would be empty, but thankfully it was packed. Thankfully from their point of view as I want this lovely little museum to have lots of visitors who will become interested in science and animals and nature, but from our point of view it was packed with no neck monsters who were running around and making it hard to see the exhibits. But I was glad to see it is full and in a weird coincidence we ran into one of the year 3 children from my school!
It was a wonderful day and then we bussed home and rested and watched more telly and read and just generally “chilled out” until Saturday morning when it was time to leave.
I don’t care what other people say about what makes a holiday—this was definitely one of the best ones I’ve ever had.