Natural History

Swallow, illustration by Hector Giacomelli, c.1885 © Bridgeman Images.

It was once believed that swallows spent their winters on the Moon, or asleep on river beds. 

Labour Cabinet ministers walking in the Peak District, 1947. Roderick Floud, courtesy James Franklin/Gresham College.

Britain’s National Parks are a forgotten legacy of postwar reconstruction.

The people of medieval Europe were devoted to their dogs; one great French dog-lover declared that the greatest defect of the species was that they ‘lived not long enough’.

Detail from the cover of Gilbert White’s Selborne, early 20th century

Despite his influence on the likes of Charles Darwin, the 18th-century ‘parson-naturalist’ is sorely underrated.

Hindu goddess Durga riding a tiger, Kota, Rajasthan, c.1800.

No other creature has embodied so many attributes: magic spirit, vermin, guardian of holy men, symbol of mother India, an incarnation of evil yet also its vanquisher. 

Llannerch, Denbighshire, Wales, c.1667, unknown artist.

Four centuries of horticultural endeavours in the modest plots of the ‘lower orders’. 

Wall painting of a bird in a garden, Pompeii, first century AD.

The role birds played in the lives – intellectual, practical, emotional and otherwise – of men and women in the ancient world.

The exotic dead animals that appeared in the menageries of Victorian Britain’s grand exhibitions were far from perfect specimens. Stuffed, stitched, painted hybrids – accuracy was not a priority.

The real and mythical dangers of the wilderness.

Hippopotamus amphibius, an illustration from William Jardine’s The Naturalist’s Library, 1833-43.

The discovery in Victorian London of the remains of ancient animals – and a fascination with their modern descendants – helped to transform people’s ideas of the deep past, as Chris Manias reveals.