The Grant Museum of Zoology

Sure, you can go to the Science Museum in South Kensington. It’s huge, and has lots of cool stuff.

But small museums have such an inviting feel to them. Often they seem personal, because they sometimes are the dream of one person or a small group of people. And in England, there are so many of them.

I have a certain attraction also to the University of London, even though I’ve only attended one presentation there. It’s at the heart of my research, because it was the opening of the University exams to all comers that made it possible for lower middle-class people like HG Wells to get their degree. It was their exams that led to the demand for institutions like the University Correspondence College. And it’s in Bloomsbury, with its own wonderful Virginia Woolf history. Plus it’s got Red Lion Square, where Wells taught at the University Tutorial College labs.

But it doesn’t feel like a cohesive area, perhaps because, like a number of English universities, its buildings are scattered about. Among them is the Grant Museum of Zoology, a small Victorian museum that belongs to the University.

 

It’s only open from 1-5 in the afternoon, so one day in October I found myself hanging around on the sidewalk with a handful of other people, all of us wondering whether we could go in. Turns out there was an inner door, so we waited until someone who knew it was open went in, then we trailed behind.

For those of us who work with students, it’s enchanting, because the student influence is everywhere. I admit I was looking for a particular gorilla skeleton, but that’s not my fault.

A book on the university showed it in the 1880s. Wells got friendly with it about that time too.

 

 

So of course I had to find it. And I did. The poor thing is squashed into a case with a bunch of other stuff.

Yes, I was there to see a gorilla skeleton once touched by H.G. Wells. But there was so much more. Squishy things in jars. I love that stuff.

I didn’t even know that sea mice were a thing. And all this for students to use to study zoology, as Wells had done. They had rows and rows of little tubes with little animal bones.

And, most fascinating to me, an actual item used by T.H. Huxley in his classroom!

Now, I’m not a biologist (nor do I play one on TV), but history of science, technology, the Victorian era – that’s my thing. It’s enough to made you

Unlike large museums, where every individual item can take on extreme importance with a big sign for each thing, small museums pack a lot of stuff into each square inch. The collection is obvious, and it’s the collection that counts.

This place has things you’ll never see in your life. A jar full of moles. Human skeletons ordered by type. Drawers of things you can’t identify (but students have to). Monstrous centipedes in liquid. Giant squid.

Looking for where Wells got his raw (and I do mean raw) material? It’s all here.

So you bet I coughed up some cash to Make Taxidermy Great Again.

 

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