England: Tring

In our effort to have more but smaller adventures around England I suggested Tring. I had been wanting to go to the museum at Tring for quite some time now.  Once the private museum of the Rothschild’s, it is located in the grounds of the former Rothschild family home of Tring Park.  The building was constructed in 1889 specifically to house The 2nd Baron Rothschild’s collection of mounted specimens and first opened to the public in 1892.  It became part of the Natural History Museum in 1937, and if you’re an ornithologist employed by the museum this is where you would work as the bird collections are housed here.

It is a place that appeals to me because of the nature of the exhibits.  Here, you won’t find computer screens flashing and blinking or otherwise detracting from the displays.  What you do find are classic collections of articulated skeletons and taxodermically prepared skins of mammals and birds.  They are carefully arranged in related groups in Victorian era wood and glass cabinets.   I can’t think of a better way to capture the imagination of a visitor, to spark curiosity about a group of organisms, than to have actual specimens illustrating the incredible diversity of life right in front of you.  Well, visiting a zoo or seeing wildlife in their natural habitats undisturbed would be better.  But, for most people and for young people, the specimens can be powerful tools in exciting the imagination.

What was the impetus for this visit, however, was an article I read on the Blaschka glass marine animals, of which there was going to be a small special exhibit gallery devoted to them.    The Blaschka’s were a father son team who created glass models of natural history objects.  The accuracy and attention to detail of the organisms they crafted even impresses scientists who study the animals in real life.  They are more famous for their flowers, which are housed at Harvard’s Botanical Museum.  But they created hundreds of marine animals in glass as well.

This is a clear mix of science and art, as any scientific preparation of a specimen is, in my humble opinion.