Berkshire’s only natural history museum is located on South Meadow Lane. Take the turning to Keate’s Lane and look out for the plaque on the left which marks how large the chapel would have been if Henry VI’s 1447 plans had been realised in their entirety.
When the road splits, take the left-hand fork onto South Meadow Lane and the Natural History Museum is the first red-brick building you’ll come to on your left.
Through funding from science masters, the first museum opened at Eton in 1875 and displayed a huge collection of British Birds. The original museum was much smaller in size, and was extended between 1903-4 to be the building you see today through a gift from the family of Lionel George Lawson, one of two boys killed in a fire at a boarding house in 1903. The Lawson Memorial Hall was given by his parents in his memory and enabled the college to extend the museum. A plaque located in the Antechapel of Lower Chapel reads ‘The boys who were his friends had the tablet put up to the innocent memory of Lionel George Lawson. He was a keen watcher of birds, and God who Himself remembers the sparrows, took him in his fifteenth year from peaceful sleep to his own bosom’.
The red-brick building is early Tudor in style and provides a further example of diapering – very popular during the Victorian period. Make sure you look up to frieze below the roof of the tower where you can see a witty and decorative use of a peacock motif.
The carved gargoyles, used to convey water away from the side of the building, are also very fitting to the subject matter of the museum!
From 1875 to 1980, the Museum belonged to the Eton College Natural History Society and was curated by the boy members. By 1994, parts of the original Victorian collections had fallen into disarray and the museum was made part of the College Collections. In 2000, it was re-opened for use in teaching and is open to the public on Sunday afternoons. It is also frequently visited by local primary schools who enjoy learning from its extensive collection which continues to grow and now includes over 17,000 objects.
A richly ornamented archway provides a visual link between the Lower Chapel and the Natural History Museum – both of which are a part of the larger ‘Queen’s Schools’. Queen’s Schools was built between 1889 and 1891 to meet the growing need for science teaching and was designed by Sir Arthur Blomfield. The quadrangle is approached through the decorative screen and gateway, crowned by a statue of Queen Victoria.
Accompanied by her daughters, the Empress Frederick and Princess Beatrice, Queen Victoria came to see the newly finished buildings on 19 March 1891, on which occasion the empress unveiled the statue of the Queen. Here you can see the Queen’s Schools before the addition of the Lawson Memorial Hall. A contemporary account of the event was published in the Eton Chronicle