Dead Animals: A Family Outing to Brighton’s Booth Museum

01/08/2017

The Booth Museum in Brighton is one of those places that we’ve been meaning to go to for ages but just never quite gotten around to it. But with the weather taking a turn for the worst last weekend we found a window in our kids busy social lives to finally pay the Booth Museum a visit. It is an odd experience, it’s essentially a big room of dead animals posed in tableaus of varying degrees of grisliness, yet the kids were fascinated by it all and it’s certainly a museum that sparks some interesting questions.

Jars at Booth Museum
Not sure what’s in these jars, best not to look too closely

Introduction to the Booth Museum

The Booth Museum is a Victorian-era building on Dyke Road, opposite Dyke Road Park and very close to Park’s cafe. There’s on-street parking and it’s usually easy enough to find somewhere to pull-in. Parking costs roughly £1 an hour for a maximum of 4 hours. Brighton train station is about a 20 minute walk away, it is a bit of a hill though. The Booth Museum is small and you can easily get around it in an hour. It doesn’t have any refreshments but the Dyke Road Park Cafe does snacks and cakes if you need to refuel, although it is a little cosy for pushchairs. There’s also a playground further into the park which is sizeable and good for a run around. I assume the Booth Museum gets a lot of visitors from the park if the rain comes in!

If you’re going with little kids there are some steep steps up to the main entrance of the Museum so you might need help with a pushchair. Once you’re inside then everything is on one level and a pushchair can easily fit down the wide hallways.

Entry is FREE, with a £3 recommended donation. It’s open 10am - 5pm (closed for around 75 minutes at lunch, that’s how old fashioned it is) but closed on Thursdays and only open 2pm - 5pm on Sundays. There’s a small shop at the entrance where you can treat the kids to little toys or something more educational like fossils or books. The toilets are also at the entrance and have recently been refurbished so the Museum now boasts a large nappy changing room in the disabled toilet.

Exploring the Booth Museum

The Booth Museum is formed largely of a collection put together by Edward Thomas Booth, an ornithologist who apparently preferred to spot birds at the end of his gun barrel. He had hunted and mounted birds in over 300 cases when the Museum opened under Brighton ownership in 1891. So yes, the initial comments from the kids were along the lines of “killing”, “death” and “that one’s eating a lamb!” I think I wimped out by saying, “I’m sure they all died of natural causes” when I probably should have talked about how back then shooting animals was how they studied them, and we don’t do that any more. Be prepared for some questions!

Stuffed Birds at Booth Museum
“Don’t worry kid, I’m sure they lived long, fruitful lives”

There’s a lot to see, the walls are packed with these dioramas, 3 cases high so even grown-ups don’t get a good view in the top ones. They are delicately put together with birds and chicks positioned ‘naturally’ and it’s great to see the size of some of them up close, especially the huge eagles and vultures. Some of the birds of prey have the bloodied corpses of their victims at their feet, the most gruesome one being a pack of gulls around a ram with its eyes pecked out but hey kids, that’s nature for you, red in tooth and claw.

Down the centre of the museum is an area displaying hundreds of butterflies of all shapes and sizes plus tables and chairs so the kids can do some drawing if they fancy. Look out on the Booth Museum’s What’s On page as they often have special things happening that kids can go along to. There’s also loads of jars with weird looking things preserved in them and animal skulls mounted everywhere.

Butterflies at Booth Museum
Butterflies, thousands of ‘em

There’s an area at the back of the Museum which has skeletons and bones of all shapes and sizes, including a huge elephant skull, and even a narwhal horn. There’s a replica dodo skeleton which is at the beginning of the Museum in its own special case.

One word of warning, there’s an exhibit which is styled as a Victorian-era living room and surrounded by a rope that seems to trigger an alarm if you walk past it and breath. Obviously our little kids had to keep touching it which meant a staff member was frequently rushing over to check they hadn’t destroyed the place. It’s probably less hassle to just steer the kids away from that bit.

As a fan of weird and wonderful collections like Ripley’s Believe It or Not and the Fortean Times, the Booth Museum is a quirky little place I wouldn’t mind exploring without the kids who constantly kept running off - mostly to find eggs in the bird exhibits. The kids did find it entertaining though and it’s the perfect place to let them explore. Typically museums are vast and tiring, but the Booth Museum’s size means you can do a few laps and find something new each time. We’ll be back!