Having opened its doors for the first time in April 1881, the Natural History Museum is now a world-class attraction and leading science research centre, housing more than 80 million specimens and welcoming more than five million visitors annually.
The museum’s origins date back to 1753 and a generous offer made by a renowned doctor, Sir Hans Sloane. Sloane travelled the world treating royalty and members of high society, while fulfilling his passion for collecting natural history specimens and cultural artefacts along the way.
After his death in 1753, Sloane's will allowed Parliament to buy his extensive collection of more than 71,000 items for £20,000 - significantly less than its estimated value. The government agreed to purchase Sloane’s collection and then built the British Museum so these items could be displayed to the public.
In 1856, natural scientist, Sir Richard Owen, took charge of the British Museum’s natural history collection. Due to the growing and immense size of the collection, Owen convinced the board of trustees to build a separate building to keep these national treasures and so the Natural History Museum was born!
In 1864 Francis Fowke, the architect who designed the Royal Albert Hall and parts of the Victoria and Albert Museum, won a competition to design the Natural History Museum.
When he unexpectedly died a year later, the relatively unknown Alfred Waterhouse took over and came up with a new plan for the South Kensington site.
Waterhouse used terracotta for the entire building as this material was more resistant to Victorian London's harsh climate.
The result is one of Britain’s most striking examples of Romanesque architecture, which is considered a work of art in its own right and has become one of London's most iconic landmarks. Victorian explorers’ regularly unearthed new species of exotic animals and plants from all over the British Empire, and Owen wanted a building big enough to display these new discoveries in what he called a cathedral to nature.
Owen's foresight has allowed the Museum to display very large creatures such as whales, elephants and dinosaurs, including the beloved Diplodocus cast that was on display at the Museum for 100 years.
The Museum remained part of the British Museum until 1963, when a separate board of trustees was appointed, but it wasn't officially renamed the Natural History Museum until 1992.
In 2009 the Darwin Centre was opened to the public and houses the Museum’s historic collections as well as its working scientists. The centre's unique Cocoon structure displays the Museum's most important plant and insect specimen collections, and is equipped with state-of-the art research facilities used by more than 200 scientists.
Guests will be able to examine the huge assortment of wildlife stored in glass jars in the zoology spirit building, as well as gaze up at some of the largest mammals on the planet including mammoths, whales and giraffes.
Dinner will be served close to the Darwin Centre’s Cocoon where you will be mesmerised by hundreds of fascinating species. Marvel at butterflies, plants, and historic herbaria whilst networking with other attendees in one of London’s most beautiful landmark buildings.