The origins of the Natural History Museum go back to 1753, when Sir Hans Sloane left his extensive collection of curiosities to the nation. Originally this was housed in the newly-formed British Museum but by 1860 Sir Richard Owen (right), who was in charge of the natural history collection, had persuaded the Government that a new building was needed.
The chosen site in South Kensington was previously occupied by the 1862 International Exhibition building, once described as ‘one of the ugliest buildings ever raised in England’. Ironically, its architect, Captain Francis Fowke, won the competition to design the new Natural History Museum.
However, in 1865 Fowke died suddenly, and a relatively unknown young architect was brought in to complete the project. Alfred Waterhouse created a new design, changing the style from Renaissance to German Romanesque. The beautiful Waterhouse Building opened to the public on 18 April 1881.
The entrance to this world-famous London landmark was inspired by basalt columns in western Scotland. Its architectural style is Romanesque.
Once described as a 'true temple of nature', the Natural History Museum is one of the most distinctive buildings in London. Discover more about its architecture in this online multimedia tour.
Explore the fascinating histories of the exotic species and British flora depicted on the Waterhouse building ceiling panels.
The Geological Museum - now the Red Zone - once housed part of the Geological Survey. It merged with the Natural History Museum in 1985.
The state-of-the-art Darwin Centre took around 25 months and 280 people to build. Find out more about this ambitious project and take a walk through the building's spectacular atrium while marvelling at the gigantic cocoon inside its glass box.
From microscopic slides to mammoth skeletons, the Museum is home to the largest and most important natural history collection in the world.
The Museum Archives look after the official records of the Natural History Museum, a unique resource documenting our collections, collectors, staff and iconic buildings.