Steve's Herpetological Blog

An insight into the life of Steve, his research and the many books he reads


#SciFri: 150 years of the Linnean Society at Burlington House

Back in February, I was lucky enough to attend a Fellows only event at Burlington House to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Linnean Society of London being based there. I’ve been to a number of events at Burlington House over the years, even before being elected as a Fellow, but this was probably the one that was most packed out in all of that time. The evening started with a an excellent presentation about the history of the Society, and where its former bases were, before it moved into Burlington House, along with the other learned societies that it shares this magnificent building with. Despite being 235 years old, I has always assumed that the Society has always been based there, but through this quick history lesson those of us in the audience learned that the Society and its collections did a bit of moving around central London, including to St James’s Square, until its full transition to Burlington House in 1856. Unfortunately, the fateful meeting held 2 years later on the 1st July 1858 where both the theory of evolution by the means of natural selection, where both Darwin and Wallace presented papers, was held not in this toom (despite their portraits taking a prominent place), but elsewhere in Burlington House, demonstrating a further move by the Linnean Society before they got settled.

A fully packed house as Isabelle Charmantier, Leonie Berwick, and Andrea Deneau deliver their presentation investigating the past, present and future of the Linnean Society of London in Burlington House

One of the main reasons why the talk was held, was to unveil the newly decorated staircase, which leads from the ground floor up to the library above, and beyond. This was previously a space where eminent biologists were showcased, but in the interests of trying to make the Society more accessible to everyone and increasing diversity (of all kinds), the decision was made to move a number of the prints within the Society’s collection to the stairwell. These colourful additions cover all aspects of zoology and botany, with each cluster having a plaque associated with them, telling you what species are present, where they are from, who painted or drew them, as well as other relevant information.There has also been a level of restoration completed on their stairs and the associated bannister, including some sanding and lick of paint, to ensure that everything looked fresh and tidy. I much prefer this colourful display of life compared to the portraits that were there before, although they haven’t been lost, they’ve just been moved around a little bit, but are still on display throughout the Society’s meeting spaces.

Part of the newly installed natural history artwork that adorns the walls up the staircase which leads from the meeting room, to the library

After the talk, we all moved upstairs to the library, which is one of my favourite spaces to visit in London. I am still yet to go there one day to borrow or read a book (like I used to do with the ZSL Library). Those of us in attendance had the chance to buy some Linnean Society of London merchandise, as well as copies of some of the prints that were on display, over a glass of wine or two. This was a great chance to meet new people within the Society, and catch up with those I’d met at previous events. I am proud to be part of such an awe-inspiring organisation, which has a great community of biologists within it of all backgrounds and walks of life. It is always great to learn more about the history of such an organisation, and I hope that it is able to remain in Burlington House for another 150 years, despite the challenges that it faces.

A brief social event and raffle was held in the library, one of my favourite places to visit in London

The presentation that evening didn’t just focus on the past, but also the future. The Linnean Society and the other learned societies are facing a crisis at the moment. The government, who is the landlord of the building, has continued to increase the rent each of the societies must pay to stay within the premises. This has now reached a ludicrous increase of 3000% over the course of six years, which for a non-profit organisation which prides itself on fostering ideas and solutions to environmental problems (including climate changes), this is not sustainable. I am utterly disappointed by the government’s decision to hold such valuable societies to ransom in the way that they are, especially seeing as they are internationally renowned institutions. In my mind, it is just another example of them not giving a damn about science within the UK. I could rant about this all day, but if you want to know my thoughts, come and ask me in the pub one day. If you’d like to know more, you can find out more about the campaign to remain at Burlington House here.

If you liked this post and enjoy reading this blog, please consider supporting me on Patreon where you will also gain access to exclusive content. 


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *