Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Hidden London: stuffed, pickled, embalmed

When considering the form of your final peace, you may wish to heed the indignities suffered by these mammals in our rationalist capital:

Forest Hill's Horniman Museum is famous for its overstuffed walrus - filled by a taxidermist in the 1870s unfamiliar with the beast's multiple folds.

It's not the first thing you expect to see on entering a museum: a jar full of pickled moles, reminiscent of a competition to guess the number of sweets. UCL's Grant Museum boasts all sorts of zoological curiosities but don't, as I did, go immediately after lunch. (Thank you, though, to the enthusiastic woman who encouraged me to smell inside the cabinets!)

UCL has an even stranger corpse on its premises, however. Jurist and philosopher Jeremy Bentham instructed that his body be preserved upon his death in 1832 and there he is, perched in a glass cabinet. The head is made of wax - the real appendage having suffered all forms of humiliation - but his dressed body remains, at the end of the south cloisters in the university's main building.

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