This weekend, we’re running a big game to celebrate the opening of the Natural History Museum’s new Treasures gallery. It’s a hunt across London for sites of particular natural history interest, a bit like the Natural History Museum itself distributed across the city – and it’s going to involve some really remarkable places and stories.
London is so big and odd, with so many different ways to access its history – strange things that happened, strange places that existed, strange traditions with unexpected holdovers hanging on into the present – and this particular directions, important or unlikely natural history, turns up some of its absolutely most fascinating corners. The Hunt includes museums (some of them not normally open on weekends), scientific societies (some of them not normally open at all), massive public spaces, peculiar parks – and some genuinely startling stories.
Just to give you an idea of the sort of story that the Hunt explores – without actually giving away any of the stories themselves, because that would spoil the fun – here’s some of the peculiar fragments natural history we found out about and read up on, but which ultimately weren’t included in the Hunt:
• London’s oldest living thing, the massive Totteridge Yew, over two thousand years old.
• Lost rivers winding below London streets.
• Elaborate tombs of eminent naturalists.
• Any number of old zoos – including a monkey house that’s now a theatre, and an abandoned shopping centre that once housed a tiger
• Pigeon lofts that were home to carrier pigeons vital during World War II
We’ve placed twelve plinths around London, marking the location of twelve outstanding stories not even including any of those above, and we’re inviting you to find them (based on a map giving approximate location) and take a rubbing of a pattern on each plinth to prove you were there.
There’s a prize, too – each site you visit gives you another chance of winning a party for you and 25 friends in the new gallery in the Museum, after closing time.
You can play whenever you like between 10am and 4pm on Saturday and Sunday, this coming weekend.