Well for one, this tiny museum has been described as the home of the 'diorama' – the first of its kind at the time to display birds in their natural habitat; an idea since copied all over the world and perfected in New York's American Museum of Natural History and The Smithsonian Institute in Washington. Imagine! This ground-breaking Smithsonian-approved museum just 10 minutes from my house.
|Booth as a young boy, around his time at Trinity College.|
Booth was a typical affluent Victorian, exposed to shooting, the natural world and taught taxidermy at an early age, it's no surprise he became a man with a serious ambition – to exhibit an example of every species of British bird. The more obsessed with his project he became, the more time he spent on expeditions – Trinity College, Cambridge,
And then there are those hunting sandals...
By 1874, his collection of birds and taxidermy had outgrown his marital home – Bleak House – on Dyke Road, he built a new home for it in his garden, soon to become The Booth Museum we know today.
|The Booth Museum when it opened, 1874.|
So now, it's time to take a look inside... but first you have to close your eyes and imagine the sounds of chirruping forest birds echoing from the ceiling and around the museum for the full effect, because this is what you hear while you're browsing the cabinets. Then there's that small-museum musty smell – inescapable when you're surrounded by over 100-year-old stuffed birds and animals. With all this in mind, let's begin. There are 300 dioramas – glass cases depicting birds in their natural habitat – inside The Booth Museum building which is a basic building that resembles a giant shed with a high galvanised pitch roof.
Once he'd fulfilled his ambition to exhibit one of every British bird, he began setting his sights further afield, collection species from all around the world... from birds of paradise to parrots – even returning with the skeleton of a Dodo, that mysterious and beautiful extinct flightless bird once found on the island of Mauritius until the 17th century.
A recreation of his home reveals a treasure-trove of Victorian curiosities and taxidermy, giving us a sense of his character and life...
But don't stop there, for hidden at the back of the museum is a gigantic skeleton cupboard filled with all kinds of bones, from human to horse, blue whale to narwhal – that magnificent unicorn of the sea – turtle to terrapin, spider monkey to chimpanzee... even an Indian elephant.
Visit The Booth Museum at 194 Dyke Road, Brighton.