Monday, 6 February 2012

Stepney Nature Study Museum


The former mortuary in the churchyard of St George's in the East became the Borough of Stepney Nature Study Museum in 1904. It was largely the work of curate Claude Hinscliffe (who would later found the Church League for Women's Suffrage with his wife), while the cost of £253 1s 2d was paid by an anonymous benefactor. 

The tiny building received up to a thousand visitors a day, and in a 1907 guide to London's parks and gardens, Alicia Amherst gave an enthusiastic account:
The superintendence of the garden is left to Miss Kate Hall, who takes charge of the Borough of Stepney Museum in Whitechapel Road, and also of the charming little nature-study museum in the St. George's Churchyard Garden. What formerly was the mortuary has been turned to good account, and hundreds of children in the borough benefit by Miss Hall's instruction. Aquaria both for fresh-water fish and shells, and salt-water collections, with a lobster, starfish, sea anemones, and growing sea weeds are to be seen, and moths, butterflies, dragon-flies, pass through all their stages, while toads, frogs, and salamanders and such-like are a great delight. The hedgehog spends his summer in the garden, and hibernates comfortably in the museum. The bees at work in the glass hive are another source of instruction. Outside the museum a special plot is tended by the pupils, who are allowed in turn to work, dig, and prune, and who obtain, under the eye of their sympathetic teacher, most creditable results.
However, not all the 'exhibits' were well-behaved. The Borough Librarian complained in 1937 that the Museum's monkey had bitten staff and public alike!

During World War II, many of the local children were evacuated from London and the museum closed. It has never reopened, and today the building looks sad and derelict. It is on English Heritage's Buildings at Risk register, although there are hopes that a new use for it will soon be found.


Hels said...

Great idea! I imagine that Nature Study Museum in an inner city area would have been a real treat in 1904. It looks too small, derelict and isolated now, but there may be a photo somewhere of school children going through the museum with their teachers.

SilverTiger said...

Today's equivalent is perhaps the city farm.

I wonder what happened to the exhibits when the museum closed down.

helen said...

Great old building!

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