While many people will be familiar with the mighty Natural History Museum in central London, fewer will know that it has a sister museum just half an hour by train outside London.
This is the Natural History Museum at Tring, set in a grand Victorian house that was slowly turned into a museum by the voracious collecting habit of a very rich man.
The museum started life in 1889 as a 21st birthday present to Walter Rothschild from his father, the first Baron Rothschild — which is quite some present. Reputedly, the Baron regarded his son’s interest in nature as a harmless past-time, but his son was to go on to build up a formidable collection of — mostly stuffed — animals, and opened his private museum to the public in 1892.
He wasn’t above collecting living specimens either, and was often seen in later years going around town in a carriage drawn by zebras.
Shortly before his death in 1937, Lord Rothschild gifted the entire museum and its collections to the Trustees of the British Museum – on condition that it would remain a centre for zoological research.
Today the museum is still open to the public, and still free to visit.
For a museum that is frankly, in a small town a good distance from anything else, it was packed on a weekend visit. Not overly crammed, but busy enough to highlight just how important the museum is to the local community, and how much interest there is in the collection.
It also retains the air of a Victorian mansion house, with lots of smaller rooms around a central large collection on two floors.
If you’re unhappy seeing stuffed animals, then this is not a place for you to visit, as it is utterly packed with them. More animals than you knew existed each on display with a modest card explaining what it is. Several of the long glass cases wouldn’t look out of place in a trophy hunter’s collection, with heads of African beasts mounted on walls. But thankfully, they are here for educational purposes, and while we can see their living descendants on the TV, there’s still something in being up close to the real thing.
To see the sheer size of some animals and be reminded of the wide diversity of nature.
The Natural History Museum at Tring is open every day until 5pm, although it doesn’t open until 2pm on Sundays.
I’d expect to be able to spend a couple of hours in the museum.
It’s about a half-hour walk from Tring railway station, which is on the line from Euston, or there is a bus service once an hour Mon-Fri and once every two hours on Saturdays (routes 387 and 389). No buses on Sundays. A taxi service is next to the railway station.
Tring town centre is pretty, but small, so don’t really expect to do a lot else.
Oh, while the design is quite garish, the 3D effect in these “paintings” sold in the museum shop is astonishing. I was seriously tempted to buy one for that alone.