It was 150 years ago this week that Tring’s most famous resident was born – and the town helped mark the event with a series of celebrations to remember Walter Rothschild.
Born on February 8, 1868, in London, Walter moved to the new family home in Tring Park aged four, which was where he started his now famous private zoological collection.
Having told his parents at age seven that he would ‘make a museum’, by the age of 10 he had to his name a large collection featuring beetles, butterflies, birds, fish and mammals.
Having shown no interest in his family’s banking business, Walter’s dreams came to fruition when in 1892 he opened his museum, which is now the Natural History Museum in the aptly named ‘Rothschild Building’ in Akeman Lane.
At its largest, Rothschild’s collection included 300,000 bird skins, 200,000 birds’ eggs, 2.25m butterflies and 30,000 beetles.
He also owned thousands of specimens of mammals, reptiles and fish. It formed the largest zoological collection from one individual ever.
Following Walter’s death in 1937, the building and collection were gifted to the nation and became part of the Natural History Museum.
And it was there this week where Walter – who famously was pictured riding a giant tortoise – was remembered by a new generation in a party organised by the museum’s learning and events manager Abbie Shaw.
“We had all kinds of things going on,” says Alice Adams, who is exhibitions manager at the museum.
“We had over 160 people come along to the party, and in advance of that our learning and events team worked with some local primary schools to create some bunting.
“At the museum we had Victorian games that Walter would have played as a child, and arts and crafts so people could create their own beetle collection like Walter.”
There was also a Walter character treading the boards as the real-life Walter would have, interacting and posing for pictures with guests.
And pupils from the commercial music course at Tring Park School for the Performing Arts, which is now the home of the mansion where Walter lived, did a live show to entertain visitors.
“It was a great event to remember Walter,” added Alice of the celebrations, which were held at the museum on Friday.
And with 4,000 specimens on public display at the museum, Walter’s passion remains a legacy for the people of Tring to enjoy on their doorstep.