Top public school asks Yorkshire museum for return of taxidermy collection admired by David Attenborough it has held since 1967

Wakefield is to lose a famous collection of preserved animals and objects which belonged to Victorian conservationist Charles Waterton.

The collection has long been a popular display at Wakefield Museum and has been on loan to the city since 1967.

But, after more than half a century, owners Stonyhurst College have asked that the objects be returned.

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Stonyhurst, where Waterton was pupil, say they intend to display them in a new gallery at the Roman Catholic boarding school near Clitheroe, in Lancashire.

Sir David Attenborough admiring the Waterton Collection during a visit to Wakefield Museum in 2014Sir David Attenborough admiring the Waterton Collection during a visit to Wakefield Museum in 2014
Sir David Attenborough admiring the Waterton Collection during a visit to Wakefield Museum in 2014

Waterton was an environmentalist, eco-warrior and explorer who built the world’s first nature reserve at his home in Walton, near Wakefield.

He acknowledged the damage that was being done to the environment by the Industrial Revolution and campaigned against pollution, poaching and land enclosure.

Waterton, who died in 1865, was also a skilled taxidermist, preserving specimens he found on his travels abroad.

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His collection of taxidermy has been popular with visitors, attracting hundreds of thousands of people to the city’s museum.

Waterton was an inspiration to broadcasting legend Sir David Attenborough, who paid tribute to the naturalist when he came to open the city’s new museum after it was relocated to Wakefield One, on Burton Street, in 2013.

Sir David said at the time: “Charles Waterton was little known not only internationally but, shamefully, in this country too. But he was a great and important figure.

“One of the things that this spectacular building has done is to make a marvellous, beautiful, fascinating museum.

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“And within it there is that wonderful reminder of one of the great men who lived close to this city in the nineteenth century.”

Wakefield Council has said Waterton’s contribution to history will continue to be told.

The local authority’s Museum Service still own an large collection of his personal letters and belongings.

Coun Michael Graham, Cabinet Member for Culture, Leisure, and Sport at Wakefield Council, said: “We have been very fortunate to have been able to borrow this fantastic collection of objects from Stonyhurst College for the past fifty years.

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“Many of our residents have enjoyed seeing them on display, particularly the caiman under the floor at Wakefield Museum, but it is now time for the objects to return to Stonyhurst College to be enjoyed by a different audience.

“We now have a great opportunity to rethink how we tell Waterton’s story, in a way that is relevant to people today.”

The focus for the new Waterton display will be on his environmental campaigning, his protection of nature, and his support for those with mental health issues. Residents are being invited to have their say on how to tell his story.

Coun Graham added: “We want people to be a part of the process of deciding what we show and say.”

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Kevin Trickett, president of Wakefield Civic Society, said the loss of the collection is an opportunity to explore other areas of the city’s history.

He said: “We need a museum that tells us more about Wakefield. We have a great heritage of mining, waterways and woollen mills and there are lots of things in storage that are seldom seen in the museum.

“It will be a shame to lose the collection, but there is a lot more to Wakefield’s history than Charles Waterton. Let’s bring Wakefield’s story to life.”

The Waterton collection is on display in Wakefield Museum until the end of this year.