The Natural History Museum in London is a museum of natural history 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, the Natural History Museums 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, the museum is a world-renowned 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, 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 known as British Museum until 1992. Originating from collections within the British Museum, the landmark Alfred Waterhouse building was built and opened by 1881, the Darwin Centre is a more recent addition, partly designed as a modern facility for storing the valuable collections. Like other publicly funded museums in the United Kingdom, the Natural History Museum does not charge an admission fee. The museum is a charity and a non-departmental public body sponsored by the Department for Culture, Media. Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge is a patron of the museum, there are approximately 850 staff at the Museum. The two largest strategic groups are the Public Engagement Group and Science Group and this purchase was funded by a lottery. Sloanes collection, which included dried plants, and animal and human skeletons, was housed in Montagu House, Bloomsbury, in 1756. Most of the Sloane collection had disappeared by the decades of the nineteenth century. Dr George Shaw sold many specimens to the Royal College of Surgeons and had periodic cremations of material in the grounds of the museum and his successors also applied to the trustees for permission to destroy decayed specimens. In 1833 the Annual Report states that, of the 5,500 insects listed in the Sloane catalogue, the inability of the natural history departments to conserve its specimens became notorious, the Treasury refused to entrust it with specimens collected at the governments expense. The huge collection of the conchologist Hugh Cuming was acquired by the museum and that collection is said never to have recovered. The Principal Librarian at the time was Antonio Panizzi, his contempt for the history departments. The general public was not encouraged to visit the Museums 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 and 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
Image: Entrance to Natural History Museum, Cromwell Road, London SW7 geograph.org.uk 1034304
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.