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Credit: James Medcraft

The Natural History Museum opens The Anning Rooms for Members and Patrons

The rooms are named in celebration of Mary Anning (1799-1847), a pivotal figure in natural history. 

The Natural History Museum is delighted to announce that the Anning Rooms, an exclusive space for Members and Patrons, will open on 3 September. The rooms are named in celebration of Mary Anning (1799-1847), a pivotal figure in natural history. As an early nineteenth century fossil hunter, she made numerous important contributions to science throughout her lifelong exploration of the Jurassic Coast in Dorset.

Located in the South Central Towers of the Grade I listed Waterhouse building, the long-unused rooms have been exquisitely refurbished and repurposed. They are accessed via a private door on the second floor of the Museum's central Hintze Hall, next to the giant sequoia exhibit.

The space has been designed to meet the needs of the Museum's growing number of Members and Patrons. It includes a new restaurant, dining room and study. The brand-new interior celebrates nature down to the smallest detail - even the wallpaper print uses imagery from the Museum's vast collections of botanical illustrations, displaying a variety of fruits, vegetables and grains.

The Anning Rooms boast unparalleled views, looking out over Cromwell Road and beyond, to Crystal Palace and the North Downs. Visitors can also get a closer look at architect Alfred Waterhouse's 1870s terracotta façade embellished by majestic terracotta beasts and delicate plants. Like in Hintze Hall, the eastern half features extinct species while the western half features living ones.

Christina Heap, Head of Membership at the Natural History Museum, says, 'We are delighted to be able to breathe new life back into this neglected, historic space. The beautifully curated suite of rooms will provide an exciting, inspiring and engaging space for Members and Patrons to enjoy, celebrating the Museum's world-class collections, work and activities.

 'In line with the Museum’s aim of championing women in science, we are proud to have named the rooms in recognition of Mary Anning’s vital contribution to early palaeontology and geology.'

The Museum commissioned Dannatt, Johnson Architects to deliver the architectural design, coordination, exhibition design and fit-out. They developed the vision for the rooms with the aim of revealing the quality and character of such a unique and historic space.

The interior of the rooms showcase the work and breadth of the Museum’s collections in a new way in order to form an exciting and distinctive destination, which is aimed to delight and inspire the Museum’s members.

The new interiors have been carefully detailed with subtle references to the rest of the Waterhouse building. Tiling patterns and floors refer to the terracotta coursing and mosaic-work of Hintze Hall and adjacent galleries. Terracotta window reveals and cills have been cleaned of paint and exposed to celebrate Waterhouse's work.

The interpretation for each room helps link the space to the history and collections of the Natural History Museum.

The cabinet of curiosities

Immediately upon entering the rooms, visitors are met with a U-shaped staircase built around a veritable 21st century five-metre-tall cabinet of curiosities. The display of over 150 specimens and objects - from ancient stone tools and antique instruments to glistening minerals and colourful insects - reflects the breadth and diversity of specimens housed and studied at the Museum.

This feature was inspired by cabinets of curiosity from the 16th century. A precursor to modern museums, these cabinets, or Wunderkammer ('wonder rooms' as they were known), showed off extraordinary objects and specimens collected from around the world.

Cabinet highlights include:

Ocean treasures
The size of the sperm whale flipper is especially striking as it looms over delicate coral, colourful shells and ammonites. Together, these specimens represent our oceans, Earth's last great unexplored wilderness. Despite making up more than 70% of our planet's surface, there is still much about the oceans that we do not know. The Museum's scientists study marine specimens from around the globe, from tiny fossils to vast whale skeletons, informing debate on issues including climate change, ocean acidification and plastics in the sea.

Fascinating insect drawers
A selection of insect specimens on display demonstrates the dazzling diversity of colour, shape and size across different insect orders. The Museum houses the oldest and most important entomology collection in the world, comprising over 34 million insects. Gathered over 350 years, these specimens represent both taxonomy and some of animal life's greatest success stories: insects.

Dazzling minerals
Visitors can spot examples from the vast mineral collection that the Museum holds, including intensely green malachite and a sparkling amethyst. The Museum houses one of the world's finest collections of 500,000 rocks, gems and minerals, including 5,000 meteorites. A 19th century brass goniometer is also on show, used to study the shape of crystals by measuring the angles between the crystal faces - a reminder of the Museum's long history of innovative and cutting edge mineralogy research.

Astonishing taxidermy
A pair of taxidermy hares at the top of the case are posed demonstrating 'boxing' behaviour, which is exhibited during courtship and mating. Other taxidermy specimens displayed nearby include an Atlantic puffin, a little owl, and peregrine falcon - just a few examples from Museum's vast collection of birds, most of which are housed at the Museum's sister site at Tring in Hertfordshire. Displaying animals in anatomically correct, lifelike positions has long been a method of informing the public about the range of life on Earth.

Restaurant and dining room          

The restaurant and dining rooms, which can seat up to 54 diners, celebrate the natural world using imagery from the Museum's vast collections of botanical illustrations, showcasing a variety of fruits, vegetables and grains. Drawing inspiration from Hintze Hall's hand-painted ceiling, the wallpaper is used as a canvas to showcase the detail and diversity of art work within our collections.

The menu in the fully licenced restaurant and dining area cater for a wide range of tastes, offering classic, seasonal dishes such as slow roast pork belly with root vegetable mash and mustard cream, as well as sandwiches, snacks and cakes. There is also a kids' menu. All the food is ethically sourced and as local as possible.

The Lounge and Study

The second-floor Lounge is an ideal space to chat with friends, have a coffee and take in the spectacular views. On display are four framed facsimiles of Waterhouse's beautifully detailed sketches of the terracotta birds and beasts.

The Study will be a space for quiet moments and reflection. There will be a range of natural history books for visitors to enjoy, among images of those who have made a significant contribution to the Museum's remarkable history.

Carpets made from discarded fishing nets

Building sustainability into capital and renovation projects is a priority for the Museum which is why we sourced our carpet tiles from Net-Works for this project. Net-Works tackles the growing environmental problem of discarded fishing nets in some of the world's poorest coastal communities by recycling them into carpet. The nets are bought from fishermen in developing countries and baled to turn the plastic into carpet-friendly fibres.

Recycling these nylon fishing nets, which take an average of 600 years to break down, negates the need for new plastic production and prevents them from polluting the oceans and damaging marine wildlife. The process of collecting the nets transforms behaviour in fishing communities and provides a local income.

The history of the rooms

The rooms originally housed the botany department, back when the British Museum's natural history section had been moved to South Kensington to become its own museum in 1881. The rooms in the South Central Towers bustled with activity in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Photographs from the Museum's archives reveal that by 1925 the rooms contained desks and large bookcases, stacked high with research material. There were also collection spaces as well as a mounting room where specimens were prepared for display. Also housed within the towers was the cryptogamic (meaning plants including algae, moss and fungi) laboratory, which contained 'a well-equipped laboratory with sterilisers, steam and electric ovens, an ultra-violet lamp, cameras for photomicrography, and facilities for storing the sealed test tubes and encouraging the growth of the contents.'

This area of the Museum sustained a broken roof and shattered windows between 1940 and 1941 during the Blitz. During renovation works in the following decades, the opportunity was taken to develop the tower rooms with a series of post-war alterations, which included additional storage, partitions and further office and laboratory facilities.

The towers were used as laboratory and office space for over 100 years before these facilities were moved to other locations in the Museum. As part of the current transformation, the post-war additions have been removed, offering a modern suite of rooms influenced by the original Victorian Gothic architecture.

About Mary Anning

Mary Anning was a pioneering palaeontologist and fossil collector. Born in 1799 in Lyme Regis, Dorset, she spent her life uncovering prehistoric remains along the Jurassic Coast.

Born into a poor family, Anning began fossil hunting at an early age. When her father died suddenly, she started selling her finds to help pay off her family's debts.

She was 12 when her brother, Joseph, found a fossilised skull, and she spent months painstakingly digging out the rest of the 5.2-metre-long skeleton. People assumed she had found a monster. This ichthyosaur - her first of several extraordinary discoveries over the course of her life - was unearthed just as George Cuvier's theory of extinction was being introduced to the scientific community, decades before Charles Darwin's theory of evolution.

By the early 1820s Anning had cultivated a reputation for finding and identifying fossils. She taught herself anatomy and dissected animals to compare them to her fossils. People sought her advice on anatomy, classification, fossils and geology. She found, dug out, cleaned, prepared and identified countless specimens, and sold them to men from the field of palaeontology.

But these same men would go on to publish the scientific descriptions, taking credit for the specimens she found. As a working-class woman, she was forever on the fringe of the scientific community, rarely acknowledged for her essential contributions to their work.

Today the Natural History Museum displays several of Mary Anning's spectacular finds, including her ichthyosaur, plesiosaur and pterosaur. Much like they did two centuries ago, her fossils continue to captivate visitors from around the world.

Legend has it that Mary Anning inspired this famous tongue twister:

She sells sea shells on the sea shore
The shells she sells are sea shells I'm sure
For if she sells sea-shells on the sea shore
Then I'm sure she sells sea-shore shells

The Museum is proud to pay tribute to this extraordinary woman, who from such a young age changed the course of palaeontology and natural science, and whose ground-breaking work went unrecognised for so long.

Ends

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