Natural History Museum's Dippy the dinosaur to go on holiday

One of London museum’s best-loved exhibits – a giant Victorian cast of a diplodocus – to be loaned to any museum in UK big enough to host it

Anyone with a very large spare room is invited to apply for a very large house guest: Dippy the dinosaur, one of the best-loved museum specimens in Britain, is going sofa surfing.

The Natural History Museum is inviting any indoor museum in the UK with enough space to accommodate the giant Victorian cast of a diplodocus to apply to host Dippy for at least a four-month visit after it is dismantled and removed from the South Kensington institution’s magnificent central hall, where it has been the star attraction for the past 35 years.

Dippy’s place of honour will be taken by another giant, the genuine skeleton of a blue whale, the largest animal ever known to have lived on earth, brought to the brink of extinction by human hunting. The whale, which was injured by a whaler and then beached at Wexford in south-east Ireland, was one of the first specimens bought by the museum, which paid £250 for the skeleton, though space wasn’t found to put it on display until 1935. The plan is to display it from the summer of 2017 suspended dramatically as if diving from the roof.

Since Dippy arrived in London 110 years ago, the dinosaur has enthralled generations of schoolchildren and appeared in many films. The casts of 292 bones packed into 36 crates came as a gift – by virtual royal command – from the American millionaire philanthropist Andrew Carnegie.

The museum says it hopes Dippy will be seen by millions more people, visiting all parts of the UK including crossing the sea to Northern Ireland. Each host – invited to register interest from Tuesday – will be expected to organise a programme of public events around the visit.

The museum says the key considerations in choosing the venues will be space, a strong enough load-bearing floor, security and the scope to reach a wide audience. The skeleton, which will have to be dismantled and reconstructed at each site, is 21.3 metres long, 4.3 metres wide and 4.25 metres high – slightly shorter than it was originally, since its position has been altered to reflect changing scientific opinion on the appearance in life of the enormous animals. It was originally constructed with its head up and tail dragging, but now carries the tail dramatically high over the heads of its audience.

The director of the Natural History Museum, Sir Michael Dixon, said: “For many of us that first glimpse of Dippy was a formative moment in our childhood, evoking awe and a genuine wonder at the natural world. A UK tour of the iconic dinosaur will surely prompt curiosity and a desire to explore, helping to inspire the scientists of tomorrow. Generating those ‘lights on’ moments for as many people as possible is at the heart of what museums give to the nation.”

He added that the museum had never sent anything as large as Dippy out of the museum, and conservators had spent months checking that the cast was robust enough to cope.

The fossilised bones of the dinosaur, which lived between 148m and 156m years ago, were discovered by railroad workers in Wyoming in 1898, and recognised as a new species of diplodocus. Carnegie acquired the bones as a centrepiece for his new museum in Pittsburgh, and the creature was diplomatically named Diplodocus Carnegii.

Edward VII saw a picture of the spectacular installation while visiting Carnegie at his palatial Scottish castle, Skibo, and remarked that he would like something similar for the new natural history museum in London. The hint was enough: Carnegie commissioned a replica cast, which arrived in South Kensington in 1905, greeted by an opulent party for 300 guests.

The enormous cast has been moved several times in the museum, and spent the second world war in the cellars for protection. It has dominated the central hall since 1979, and has starred in many films including Paddington, the final Night of the Museum film, Secret of the Tomb, and the 1975 One of Our Dinosaurs is Missing – though in that the thieves opted to steal the more petite Apatosaurus.

When Dippy eventually returns home from his travels, the museum intends to make a permanent display for him in South Kensington.


Maev Kennedy

The GuardianTramp

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