History of the Museum
Originally part of the British Museum, the natural history collections (founded on those generated by Sir Hans Sloane) were moved to South Kensington when the now Grade 1 listed Waterhouse building was opened in 1881. The Museum became a separate legal entity with its own Board of Trustees on enactment of the British Museum Act, 1963, but was known after that time as the British Museum (Natural History), until the Museums and Galleries Act 1992 when it was officially retitled the Natural History Museum. The Walter Rothschild Zoological Museum at Tring (now known as the Natural History Museum at Tring) was added in 1937 when it was given to the nation by the second Baron Rothschild. Responsibility was assumed for the Geological Museum (now the Earth Galleries) from the Natural Environment Research Council when the latter's British Geological Survey moved to Keyworth in 1985. The Natural History Museum is both a Non-Departmental Public Body (NDPB), funded in part by Grant-in-Aid from the British Government provided through the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, and an exempt charity. Approximately half of its expenditure is derived from sources of self-generated income, including bodies awarding grants for scientific research.
The Museum Today
The Natural History Museum’s mission is to create advocates for the planet – inspiring millions of people to care about the natural world and make the positive changes in their daily lives that will create a world in which both people and planet can thrive.
The NHM is the guardian of one of the world’s most important natural history collections. Through our own unrivalled expertise and by opening up access and participation for all, we are unlocking answers to the big issues facing humanity and the planet:
- The origins of our planet and life on it, and the impact of change;
- The diversity of life and the delicate balance of ecosystems that ensure the survival of our planet;
- Sustainable futures, for example the security of our food supply, the eradication of disease and the management of mineral and ore scarcity.
The Natural History Museum is internationally recognised for its dual role as a centre of scientific excellence and as a leading visitor attraction, presenting natural history to the general public through exhibitions, a programme of public events and a presence online and on social media. Its principal purposes are to discover and make available to the scientific community the information contained within its collections of natural history specimens and to entertain, interest and educate people of all ages in natural history.
The Museum is entering an exciting new phase in its development. There is an imperative to improve the conditions for storage of collections and plans to realise this by moving some collections to Thames Valley Science Park, in collaboration with the University of Reading. New digital, analytical and genomic technologies are emerging which both increase the potential user base of the collections and enable greater information to be derived from even the oldest specimens. These changes are facilitating exciting new research opportunities. Finally, a vibrant programme of temporary exhibitions will complement a planned refit of major galleries, and plans are in place to redevelop the Museum’s gardens, creating outdoor galleries and new outdoor learning activities for young people.
These plans need to be resourced. The Natural History Museum is an Arm’s Length Body with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport is its sponsoring government department. NHM receives Grant in Aid funding to support a proportion of its cost-base, but much of the Museum’s income is generated from external commercial and fundraising sources. The ambitious Vision and Strategy to 2031 will make growing and diversifying this self-generated income even more important to success.