History of the Natural History Museum at Tring

Walter Rothshchild in his zebra-drawn carriage
  • The Walter Rothschild building
    Akeman Street, Tring
    Hertfordshire, HP23 6AP

  • Open Monday-Saturday 10.00-17.00, Sunday 14.00-17.00

    Closed 24-26 December

The Natural History Museum at Tring was built in 1889 to house the incredible zoological collections of Walter Rothschild.

Discover animal specimens from all over the world here, from tiny beetles to huge bears.

Lionel Walter Rothschild was a rich, eccentric and determined character who dedicated his life to the study of animals. His private collection formed the foundation of the Museum at Tring.

At the age of seven, Walter - as he preferred to be called - declared to his parents that he was going to 'make a museum', and began to establish himself as a collector.

By the age of 10, he had amassed a collection of specimens including beetles, butterflies, birds, fish and mammals. At 18 he moved to Cambridge to study natural sciences, and for his 21st birthday his father gave him money and land to build the museum Walter had first declared would be his some 14 years earlier.

In 1892, at 24 years old, Walter opened his museum to the public. It remains one of the largest private natural history collections ever assembled.

Walter employed dozens of collectors who travelled the world to bring back new specimens for display and research, and live animals for study and breeding. He was particularly fascinated by cassowaries and giant tortoises, and even trained zebras to draw his carriage.

Following Walter's death in 1937, the building and collection were gifted to the nation and became part of the Natural History Museum.

Today it retains its unique Victorian character, including its original floor-to-ceiling, glass-fronted hardwood and iron cases. The 4,000 specimens on public display are still arranged in taxonomic order, classified into related groups, just as they were in Walter’s lifetime.

Bird Group

The Museum at Tring looks after one of the largest ornithological collections in the world, composed of 1,150,000 skins, skeletons, nests, sets of eggs and specimens preserved in spirit, as well as the ornithological library with 75,000 works.

If you are a researcher and wish to visit the collection, please contact the Bird Group. The collection is not open to the public.

Ornithology Library

The Rothschild Library houses a collection of ornithological literature dating back to the sixteenth century, and a contemporary collection that includes serials from around the world. 

The libraries at Tring are also home to original artwork and manuscript materials. 

They are open 9.30-15.30 from Monday to Thursday, by appointment only.

Arrange a visit by emailing the ornithology library or calling 0207 943 6156.