A much-loved city attraction is set to be restored to its former glory with the summertime completion of a £325,000 project.
Southsea’s Cumberland House Natural History Museum has been a part of Portsmouth life since its grand opening in the early 1900s – and now one of its best features, the Butterfly House, is being completely rebuilt.
Home to more than 100 inhabitants at any given time, the newly-re-designed space will be purpose-built for the butterflies and its figure-of-eight pathway layout will allow visitors to feel like they’re going on a journey, rather than simply just being in a room.
Butterflies will fly around visitors for the first time as they enter the house, creating a completely new experience.
The old Butterfly House, which sat at the back of the museum, has been knocked down and work is underway to get the new one constructed just a few metres away.
Jane Mee, head of Portsmouth Museum and Visitor Services, says: ‘We know the Butterfly House is the most popular part of the museum. A report conducted by a specialist in 2015 showed the conditions in the original building weren’t that good for exotic butterflies in terms of light levels, potential hazards and more.
‘At about the same time we received a condition report on the state of the building, which indicated it was reaching the end of its life. The two things together were the motivation for change.
‘The butterflies will soon be able to thrive in much better conditions and because of this more of them will be in flight when people visit.’
The museum is owned by Portsmouth City Council, which is funding the majority of the project. It’s home to a number of displays and exhibits including an A to Z of natural history, which introduces children to the wonders of the natural world and the city’s natural history collection.
There are also habitat displays featuring local wildlife sites such as Farlington Marshes and Hilsea Lines, and the ever-popular observational beehive where up to 9,000 European honey bees live.
Jane adds: ‘With the project came an opportunity to get some other repairs done. We’ve replaced the lift at the front of the building with a ramp. There’ll be good access for wheelchair-users now and other visitors with mobility issues.
‘We’re restoring the rear elevation of the building to reveal the original terrace and architectural features. This whole project will restore the building to its former glory and allow a better experience for visitors.
‘Visiting the museum is a Portsmouth tradition. People who went along as children now bring their own children and grandchildren.’
The cost for the main part of the work, funded by the council, is £290,000. A crowdfunding scheme with a target of £34,000 has also been set up in order to kit out the inside of the new butterfly house with appropriate planting and a water feature.
For that work the museum has received a number of generous donations from local businesses. It got £5,000 from Tesco, £350 from Waitrose, £800 from Fyffes, and £4,245.50 from Victorious Festival, plus a promised donation of more than £2,000 from the Friends of Cumberland House.
Rod McLean, area development worker for Portsmouth City Council, has been working on the Cumberland House Natural History Museum project for a year.
He says: ‘The old Butterfly House was built in the 1980s and we found it would be more expensive to repair it than to build a new one. We decided to knock it down because it was unattractive and covered up too much of the main building, and now from inside the museum you can see the beautiful garden.
‘The new Butterfly House will be 5.8m x 12.9m and has been designed for butterflies rather than people. It needs to have high levels of humidity and a temperature which is fairly regular. These things combined means the butterflies will fly about – before they didn’t because it was too dark or too cold.’
Upon completion of the project in July, butterflies will be imported from ethical source Stratford Butterfly Farm. There will usually be up to 10 different species present in the house at any time.
The museum will hold a launch day and a number of events in celebration.
In the 1800s it was a private house before Portsmouth City Council bought it. In the early 1900s it became an art gallery, then a museum.
In the summer of last year visitors to the building were asked their thoughts on the museum’s plans, all of whom were positive and supportive.
Rod, who says he has enjoyed working on the project, adds: ‘We’re trying to get people, especially children, in touch with nature.
‘There’s been a sharp decline in native species of butterflies in the past few years, so things are being planted in the garden to encourage them to breed and feed, and we’re hoping that will then encourage people to plant in their own gardens.
‘I’d say the museum is one of Portsmouth’s top attractions and the new Butterfly House will strengthen this – it’s going to be a purpose-built feature.’
Admission to Cumberland House Natural History Museum at Eastern Parade is free. The attraction is open all year round, Tuesday-Sunday, from 10am-5.30pm (5pm in winter).
Call (023) 9281 5276 or visit portsmouthnaturalhistory.co.uk for more details. To donate to the Butterfly House Project, visit spacehive.com/butterfly-house-project.