Museum Snapshots

The Spalding Bird Museum

The Spalding Bird Museum was owned by the Spalding Gentlemen’s Society and run by Ashley K. Maples and taxidermist Ben Waltham. It contained 840 specimens of British birds and many other specimens, in 160 display cases. Maples died in 1950 and a lack of funds forced the Society to sell the premises in 1953, when a small part of the collection was moved to Ayscoughee Hall and much of it loaned to Leicester Museum. The Hall closed for refurbishment in 2003, when the whole bird collection was transferred to Leicester Museums Service.

Images via South Holland Life (PDF)

Ben Waltham, taxidermist, with an Osprey in the Bird Museum’s workshop, 1949
Museum Snapshots

Cheltenham College Museum

Cheltenham College’s museum was created in 1870, and its emphasis on Natural History can be seen in this photo. The public were admitted on one afternoon a week. In 1923 the museum was moved into a larger and more modern building, but was packed away during the Second World War. The museum closed in 1976, when the collection was sold to Liverpool’s World Museum and what is now Portsmouth University.

Read more about the College’s history.

Museum Snapshots

National Butterfly Museum

This postcard dates from 1981. St. Mary’s is a late 15th-century house with extensive gardens, which has been owned by various notable people including the Hon. Algernon Bourke, one-time owner of White’s gentleman’s club in St. James’s, London. Bourke and his wife are said to be the inspiration for characters in Oscar Wilde’s play, The Importance of Being Earnest. A more recent owner was Paul Smart, a lepidopterist with a large collection of butterflies.

Smart founded The Saruman Museum in 1970 in private premises in Tunbridge Wells in Kent. The museum moved from there to Beckley near Rye, Sussex, in 1975, and was established at St. Mary’s in March 1980 as the National Butterfly Museum. Smart was an international expert on butterflies, and published an encyclopedia which contained over two thousand species. The ‘National’ in the museum’s title was never an official designation and caused some disquiet amongst Smart’s colleagues. It has been suggested that although the museum was open to the public and had educational displays, it was primarily a butterfly trading agency.

Whether truly a museum or not, it seems not to have been a financial success. Between forty and fifty thousand specimens from the collection were offered for auction at Christie’s in July 1982, with only two lots sold to Glasgow Museums (PDF). The house and contents including the rest of the collections were successfully auctioned at Sotheby’s in October 1983.

saruman museum paul smart

Advertisement for The Saruman Museum from The Entomologist’s Record and Journal of Variation, vol. 89, 1977.

For more on the history and contents of the two museums, see: Tennent, W. J., 2005. The ‘National Butterfly Museum’ (Bramber, West Sussex) and dispersal of butterfly ‘type’ material following a Sotheby’s sale in 1983., Entomologist’s Gazette, 56 (1): 13-24.

Museum Snapshots

Birmingham Nature Centre


This building has had various lives, with at least four different institutions occupying the site. It was once the Cannon Hill Museum and devoted to the history of Birmingham. Around 1953, changes at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery led to the natural history department establishing a museum on the site. It subsequently became the Birmingham Nature Centre and is now the entrance to Birmingham Wildlife Conservation Park.

It is situated on the edge of Cannon Hill Park, which opened in 1873. The park was designed by T. J. Gibson, who had previously designed London’s Battersea Park.

(Image via Birmingham Images)

Some information about the history of the museum is from: Wingfield, Christopher. “(Before and) after Gallery 33: Fifteen years on at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery” Journal of Museum Ethnography 18 (2006): 49-62, p.57. (read online at