Natural History Museum

Waterhouse's attention to detail

Elevation of a lamp for a gatepier

Elevation of a lamp for a gatepier, Natural History Museum, 1878
Sepia pen on tracing paper
Artist: Alfred Waterhouse (1830-1905)
Copyright: RIBA Library Drawings Collections 


Alfred Waterhouse was very involved with all aspects of his architecture. Designs in his own hand exist for all details of the interior and exterior of the Natural History Museum, from the decorative sculpture, ventilation systems and museum cases, to the street furniture outside.

Several drawings by Waterhouse exist for railings, gate piers and lamps. This intricate lamp design is for the central piers in front of the museum. It shows the lamp almost as built. All the ironwork throughout the museum, including this lamp with its crown at the top, was completed by Hart Son, Peard and Company.

In addition to the almost 300 working drawings at the RIBA bearing Waterhouse's hand, there are over 130 of his drawings for decoration within the Museum’s own library. It is particularly amazing that Waterhouse devoted such attention to all features and details of his design given that he was running 18 other substantial jobs at the same time as the Natural History Museum, including Manchester Town Hall and Eaton Hall.

In recognition of Waterhouse's great work at South Kensington and in the North East, he was awarded the Royal Gold Medal of the RIBA in 1878, and was President of the Institute 1888-1891.