The Natural History Museum at Tring was first opened in 1889 to house the extraordinary zoological collection of the eccentric Lionel Walter Rothschild, who was fascinated with exotic animals.
Rothschild was born into a wealthy German banking family, affording him the opportunity to indulge his interests. He spent his life studying wild animals and collecting taxidermy specimens from around the world. A shy but eccentric man, Rothschild was known to pick up guests from the local train station in his zebra-drawn carriage and escort them to his house where kangaroos, ostriches, giant tortoises, camels and even a potentially deadly cassowary bird roamed free on the grounds.
Rothschild’s interest in animals started early in life, and he reportedly announced to his parents at just age seven that he would open a museum for his collection, which was on its way to becoming the largest private zoological collection ever amassed by one person. Sure enough, the Walter Rothschild Zoological Museum was opened at the family’s Victorian estate at Tring Park in 1889.
Now known as the Natural History Museum at Tring, the extensive collection is wonderful to browse. The exhibits include everything from a full-size giant sloth skeleton to real fleas dressed in Mexican traditional clothing, so tiny they have to be viewed through a microscope. There are thousands of specimens collected from all around the world, including some now-extinct creatures like the dodo bird , lesser bilby (a marsupial), passenger pigeon and Tasmanian tiger that you will be hard-pressed to see anywhere else.
By today’s standards, Rothschild’s collection methods are controversial. He would have the animals drawn in their country of origin by an artist, then shot, skinned, and transported to England where they were recreated from the drawings. This technique was prone to some misrepresentation; sharp observers will notice that some of the penguins at the museum were stuffed with the neck fully extended rather than the more natural, relaxed pose, and the polar bear seems to have an almost cheeky smile.
Know Before You Go
Tring Natural History museum is open to the public from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. from Monday to Saturday and from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sundays. Entrance to the museum and temporary exhibits is free.