Grant Museum of Zoology: A new animal necropolis

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The Independent Culture

They stare lifelessly from every shelf: platypus, slipper lobster, flying fox, penguin, pocket gopher, hagfish, tiger, tapir, koala, sea squirt, elephant, tree shrew, dodo, armadillo and thousands more. Elsewhere, 18 baby moles are crammed in a jar, like hairy gobstoppers in a sweet shop.

There is nowhere quite like the Grant Museum of Zoology, established at University College London in 1827 and now reopened on new premises after an eight-month closure.

The museum has 67,000 dead animals in its collection, skeletons, stuffed or preserved in jars. They sit on shelves in old-fashioned cabinets.

"When people found out we were moving they said, 'don't change how it looks,'" says Jack Ashby, the learning and access manager for the museum.

The new home, on University Street, is twice the size of the old space and just as quirky. It's an old medical library, and shelves that previously held anatomical encyclopedias now contain elephant hearts, monkey skulls, sea mice and a gorilla skeleton that was once embraced by HG Wells.

This atmospheric menagerie has none of the button-pushing sterility of many modern museums. A typical touch is the use of a rhino skeleton as a dividing wall between the public space and the back office. But, as Ashby explains, "I've worked here six-and-a-half years and I'm still finding things I didn't know existed." It's that sort of place.

Grant Museum of Zoology, London WC1 (020-3108 2052) Mon-Fri 1pm-5pm