What?: I’ve been following this place on social media for a while, since my friend who used to go on day trips out of London every weekend before she moved away altogether visited and said it was weird and hilarious and I had to go. The museum then posted a picture of their dressed fleas on their Instagram and I knew my friend was right. Also I kind of wanted to do it while Coronavirus was still a thing, since it has rendered everything completely shit with the weird exception of museum-going, which is now totally stress-free, even with under-fives.
NHM Tring reminded me a lot of the Horniman’s natural history gallery with its old-school floor-to ceiling cases, galleried landings and domed ceiling. It’s wildly different to its Kensington-based big-sister museum, but that’s probably because until 1937 it had nothing to do with it, having been the private collection of Walter Rothschild since 1889 and only taking on the NHM name in 2007. As such it’s a million times more eccentric and – in my humble opinion – better than the Exhibition Road museum. And, while small, it’s well worth the trek to Tring for.
So, what can you actually do here? Well, if you don’t like taxidermy then this isn’t the museum for you, because that’s basically all we’re looking at. Thankfully our kids both love frolicking amongst the stuffed skins of deceased animals, so we were laughing here – particularly since both of them could see everything without having to be held up and it was impossible for Roma to destroy anything, so they were free to run from aisle to aisle squealing with delight at the hundreds of former lifeforms that have been rearranged with varying degrees of realism staring back at them through glass eyes.
The only interactive part of the museum (the Rothschild Room) was closed on the day we visited, along with the temporary Animal Mummies: What’s Inside exhibition (both reopening 24th October 2020), which was a bummer, but the dressed fleas were still there in all their felty glory so all was not lost. Other highlights included the big cats, the dogs and the sea lions, although to be fair it was all pretty great. Since it’s only a small museum and our kids tend to rush around things like it’s their last day on Earth, we supplemented our excursion with a visit to a playground in nearby Wigginton, which was a big hit.
When and where? NHM Tring is open daily from 10.30am-4.30pm and free tickets must be booked in advance. It took us just under an hour to drive here from Kentish Town and we parked for free in the adjacent Dawes Park car park, which also has a nice picnic area attached to it. Trains take about 45 minutes from Euston, although Tring train station is a bit of a mission from the museum so driving is probably a better option if you can.
Best bits: Obviously the fleas.
Worst bits: I guess it would have been nice to see all the galleries since it was a small museum and a bit of a mission to get to, but I wouldn’t be averse to coming back to see them once they’re open.
Would we come back? Yes.
Babu meets the sea lions at the Natural History Museum at Tring.