The Last Zoological Museum in London
The Grant Museum of Zoology and Comparative Anatomy is at no risk of going extinct.
The Grant Museum of Zoology and Comparative Anatomy is a much under-appreciated remnant of the scientific process that led to the ultimate acceptance of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. What the museum lacks in scale, it makes up for in its curation, curiosity and wit. Tucked away in central London, its humble entrance may be found opposite University College London on the side of the Rockerfeller Building. The interiors open up to reveal smaller collections all placed beside each other in order to represent different animal groups. As the last remaining museum of Zoology in London, it is its placement of different species besides each other in a thought provoking way that differs it from other similar institutes of interest such as Bart’s Museum of Pathology and the Hunterian Musum. This is due to the purpose of the museum as a landmark of comparative anatomy. This study has long served as evidence for evolution as it indicates that various organisms share a common ancestor. It was the founder of the museum, Robert Edmond Grant who brought this field of study into the scientific mainstream in the early 19th century. He was the first Professor of Zoology and Comparative Anatomy in England, however, upon his arrival at University College London he realised that he had no resources with which to conduct his courses. Thus, his collection was born in 1827 that we now recognise as the museum today.
The Grant Museum of Zoology features many of Robert Grants original collection amongst its 68,000 specimens. What is on display is no mere collection of skeletons arranged in such a way as to emphasise similarities in features (although this does constitute as theme in many of the displays, such as the four leaning skeletons of apes and a human who guard the upper library), there are also related items of unusual significance united by their individual oddity. A highlight is the small collection of rare Blaschka glass models: painstakingly accurate anatomical models of the most fragile underwater creatures all made by hand by the studio of Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka who were the most eminent model makers of the 19th century. These creations are a prime example of the blurred lines of science and art during this time and their works may be considered to be the logical, scientific counterparts to the carnival-esque creations of Faberge. In terms of artistic merit, their installation of microscopic slides is also a forerunner of fascination. This back-lit cave of 2,300 microscopic slides gives a bisected glimpse of the most sprawlingly large dimension of the animal kingdom: microscopic creatures.
There are also some items that seem to raise more questions then they answer, such as the Jar of Moles. This is exactly what you would expect, consisting of a large jar filled with preserved moles upon which to bestow your wildest speculations as to the reasons behind its existence. Though the skeletons are certainly the museum’s crowning achievement: a complete Dodo, Tasmanian Tiger and Quagga are all amongst its ranks and are considered to be some of the rarest specimens in the world (the Quagga, in particular, went extinct in 1883 and there are only 6 skeletons in existence). Every creature you can think of has been collected together and appears to have been housed in an interior that seems to have been frozen in time, which best sums up the nature of the Grant Museum of Zoology.
The Grant Museum of Zoology and Comparative Anatomy may be found at the Rockefeller Building, University College London, 21 University Street, London WC1E 6DE
Opening hours: Monday-Saturday 1-5pm