Discoveries at Two Temple Place

Photography: Martin Gardner

Discoveries: Art, Science & Exploration from the University of Cambridge Museums. Photography: Martin Gardner.

A cracked egg, a Greek god’s foot, a dodo skeleton and a collection of goggles through the ages do not immediately sound like a recipe for a fun day out. But these objects are just some of the weird but wonderful exhibits in the new show at Two Temple Place. Kate West went to see the most curiously compelling exhibition in the area this Spring.

Every year Two Temple Place opens its doors for a few months to host an exhibition, with the specific remit to showcase UK regional collections. In 2012, their inaugural year, they held a very successful William Morris exhibition and last year a charming exhibition of work by artists from the Newlyn School. This year’s show is Discoveries: Art, Science & Exploration, an exhibition of objects drawn from the collections of the eight University of Cambridge Museums.

Photography: Martin Gardner.

View of part of exhibition from above. Courtesy Two Temple Place. Photography: Martin Gardner.

There is a cabinet of curiosities feel to this exhibition and the choice of objects is hugely eclectic – from a collection of Pacific Island paddles to a reproduction of Watson & Crick’s model of DNA – but the unifying theme here is that each represents some point of human discovery.

The exhibition explores both the definition of the word ‘discovery’ and the very notion of discovery itself. Co-curator and Director of the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Cambridge Professor Nick Thomas says that the exhibits chosen “represent man’s quest to find his place within the world (and far beyond), and also his triumphs, frustrations and wrong turns.”

Some objects are very beautiful like the 18th century silk album of Utamaro prints from the Fitzwilliam Museum. Some are extraordinarily rare, or indeed unique, like the Sufi Islamic pearl-inlay Snakes and Ladders board from North India. And some are just plain peculiar, like the 22 pairs of snow goggles dating from 1875 to the present day from The Polar Museum. But all have a story of discovery to tell and many have left Cambridge for the first time.

The Discovery Telescope

The Discovery Telescope.

Most museum exhibits by definition have a very static existence but The Discovery Telescope from The Polar Museum’s collection must be the most widely travelled object in any museum in the world. From 1875-76 it was aboard HMS Discovery during Sir George Strong Nares’ expedition, the first British attempt to reach the North Pole. It then went with Robert Falcon Scott’s 1901-04 British National Antarctic Expedition on RSS Discovery. In 1976 the telescope returned to the Arctic on HMS Sovereign and was taken to the exact same location that Nares’ sledging party reached in 1876. And finally, in 1984, The Discovery Telescope was placed on board the Space Shuttle Discovery, completing 96 low Earth orbits, a distance of some 2.5 million miles.

The cracked Tinamou egg from Charles Darwin’s own collection.

The cracked Tinamou egg from Charles Darwin’s own collection.

Some of the smallest and most insignificant-looking exhibits are the most fascinating. One glass case contains a single small cracked egg, less than two inches long, that represents a quite different kind of discovery. This discovery was that of Liz Wetton, a long-standing volunteer at the Museum of Zoology, who was sorting through an old box of collected birds’ eggs in the museum’s archives in 2009 when she came across a specimen labelled with the signature of a C. Darwin. She put it to one side for the curators to have a look at, not thinking that it could have any great significance if it was boxed up in the archive, to find that she had rediscovered the one solitary surviving egg of the 16 eggs collected by Charles Darwin on the voyage of HMS Beagle. According to a note that came with the egg when it was donated to the museum the crack was apparently caused by Darwin himself, “the great man put it into too small a box and hence its unhappy state.”

For the younger visitors there are free special afternoon events on offer and there is a Young Explorers Time Traveller Trail for them to follow around the exhibition. And any Harry Potter fans, young or old, might enjoy seeing the name chosen by the polar scientists for the Digital Optical Module from the IceCube Neutrino Telescope at the South Pole on show. It has, like many of the modules, been given a name from the Harry Potter books: this one is the ‘Triwizard Tournament’.

So take a walk down to the Embankment and enjoy this absorbing exhibition before the doors to Two Temple Place close again at the end of April until next year.

Exhibition open until Sunday 27th April

Admission: FREE

Art, Science & Exploration
from the University of Cambridge Museums

Two Temple Place
2 Temple Place WC2

Two Temple Place

The architectural gem that is Two Temple Place


Two Temple Place itself is worth the visit and is one of London’s architectural gems. Built for William Waldorf Astor in 1895, the house was designed for use primarily as Astor’s estate office. The building is now owned by and houses The Bulldog Trust – a charitable foundation. The splendid neo-Gothic mansion sits slightly set back from the Embankment on Temple Place, about 200 yards upriver from Blackfriars Bridge.


Monday and Thursday to Saturday 10am – 4.30pm
Wednesday Late 10am – 9pm
Sunday 11am – 4.30pm
Closed on Tuesdays

Wednesday Lates
Cafe and Bar open late

Free Wednesday events

Wednesday 16th April 6-9pm
Making Discoveries & Graphic Narratives: Campaign for Drawing
Draw your own story and breathe life into characters with graphic novelist Karrie Fransman (The Guardian, The Times) Teens+
Limited spaces – booking advisable

Wednesday 23rd April 6-9pm
Jazz Night
Enjoy the exhibition accompanied by ambient jazz from the London College for Contemporary Music

Free family events

Monday 14th April 1-3pm Drop in
Games Galore
Inspired by the ancient Snakes & Ladders board on display, have an afternoon of board game fun – revisit the classics or discover a new favourite.

Thursday 17th April 1-3pm Drop in
Puppet Explorers
Create your very own Captain Cook or Mary Anning 3D explorer puppet

Friday 18th April 1-3pm Age 6+
Easter Egg-stravaganza
Turn an egg into a work of art! Create an Easter bunny, a chick or your own egghead character!
Limited spaces – booking advisable

Evening events

Thursday 27th March 7pm
Darwin and the Arts
Cambridge Professor Dame Gillian Beer reveals how Charles Darwin’s early devotion to music, poetry and art retained its influence over his theories.
Tickets: £8

Friday 11th April 7pm
Poetry in Motion
Experience the beauty of Rumi poetry, music, laser and dance with a stunning performance in the Great Hall.
Tickets: £15

Book tickets to events at
For more information about the exhibition and to see more events visit, email or telephone 020 7836 3715.