As a research lover, it is most satisfying when everything falls into place, like the perfect jigsaw puzzle.
A few years back I asked Keith Johnson of Anthropologie to advise on a good lunch spot in London. He directed me to Thomas Cubitt, a few blocks from Sloane Square.
I loved the interior, all washed out & paneled in soft greys with a great gastro pub menu. I have since drawn inspiration from it for my own commercial spaces.
Whilst researching for my latest book, I delved into the life of Walter Rothschild, a true eccentric from a wealthy English/Jewish family. Walter’s father gave him some land on the outskirts of Tring Park as a 21st birthday present, now part of the Natural History Museum.
His passion & expertise (he started to work toward opening a pubic zoo & museum aged seven) was largely unrecognised in his time, however today his extensive & meticulous collections are coveted and researched extensively. The zoological museum was first opened to the public in 1892 with herds of cassowariess, kangaroos & zebras amongst others.
At its largest, Rothschild's collection included 300,000 bird skins, 200,000 birds' eggs, 2,250,000 butterflies and 30,000 beetles, as well as thousands of specimens of mammals, reptiles and fishes. They formed the largest zoological collection ever amassed by a private individual.
Many of the bird skins are housed at the American Natural History Museum in NYC, one of my very favourite museums.
One of Rothschild’s energetic passions was the plight of the Galapagos land tortoises. which saw me visiting the islands earlier this year with a greater knowledge & insight. He had many tortoises at Tring, with the oldest & largest dying of sexual frustration at the park after being gifted to him by a Middle Eastern princess!
My favourite history period to immerse myself in is the mid-late 19th century. This was a time when science & religion were questioned & debated as bold adventurers & buccaneers sponsored by deep-pocketed patrons traversed the globe in search of evidence & wonder.
In London in 1851, a great exhibition was organized with Prince Alfred at its helm, to expose & exhibit the many wonders of industry & nature from around the globe. The purpose built glass structure was designed by Joseph Paxton!
I have bought many treasures over the years from my visits to Paxton Gate in San Francisco. It is all beginning to make sense!
On reading ‘The World for a Shilling: How the Great Exhibition of 1851 Shaped a Nation’ (not a well written book but full of fabulous information) all my people & places began to interlink. Thomas Cubitt was a guarantor and oversaw the construction of the crystal palace and then went on to build at Tring Park in collaboration with Rothschild. AMAZING.
To explore on your own:
Visit Tring Park
Shop at Paxton Gate
Read ‘The World for a Shilling’
Eat at Thomas Cubitt