Saturday, March 15, 2014

Musketeers, polar explorers and a dodo at Two Temple Place

Sometimes you come across something in London so wonderful you can't quite understand how you never knew it was there (*), and your reaction is a bit like Keats:

  Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
    When a new planet swims into his ken;
  Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
    He star’d at the Pacific—and all his men
  Look’d at each other with a wild surmise—
    Silent, upon a peak in Darien

For Two Temple Place is just lovely - but then to fill it with a giant model DNA guarded by the building's wooden musketeers, a dodo, a polar explorers diary and much more ... well, what a treat.

Two Temple Place was built by Lord Astor in 1895 and is crammed with goodies, from a boat shaped wind vane (below) to doors encouraging women into arts and crafts (below that):

It is currently home to an exhibition from Cambridge University, focussing on Discoveries in Arts, Sciences and Exploration

And there's been quite a few scientists they can refer to, such as this egg collected by Charles Darwin on his voyage around the world on the Beagle:
If you're wondering who broke it, well that would be Darwin himself, trying to squeeze it into a slightly too small box (oops).

There was also a complete dodo skeleton (top) and in the background an amazing bronze roaring lion mask from south Arabia that is apparently so unusual it is hard to date, as it has no comparisons. Even the exhibitions own web site's page on the item seems unsure, dating it as either 350 - 750 BC or 600 - 800 BC.

In the central stairwell there is a wonderful DNA, a replica of the one created by its discoverers, James Watson and Francis Crick, guarded by a musketeer:
Upstairs there are more exhibits including this diary from one of the many high latitude expeditions organised by Cambridge's Polar Institute:
All in all a gem: enough but not too much, and in a truly spectacular building.

Free to entry its open until the 27th of April and you can get a feel for it via this BBC audio slideshow.

(*) It turns out it has been opened to the public since October 2011 and then only during an exhibition.


Tillerman said...


Do you know if the original DNA model built by Crick and Watson is still in existence?

JP said...

I don't think so: I think they had to reconstruct it

Tillerman said...

There is a famous picture of Crick and Watson with the original model at

By the way, I have an English first edition of Watson's book The Double Helix which came out when I was an undergrad at Cambridge (and which is one of the best books ever about scientific discovery.) I should have got Crick to sign it as I often saw him around town in those days. I wonder if he would have done it? It would be worth a fortune now!

Tillerman said...

To answer my own question, it seems as if the Science Museum in London has a reconstruction of the double helix model of DNA containing "some of the original metal plates" used by Crick and Watson. This reconstruction includes the critical feature of the original model, that the helix is supported around a retort stand!

Check out this page.

I guess the original model was torn down when some lab assistant needed the retort stand.

JP said...

Nice picture! But of course no musketeers :(

It looked like it was made of scientist meccanno, so I guess someone's kid wanted a working Ferris wheel or something so they dismantled it.

Tillerman said...

Yes, it was basically "scientist meccano" although meccano made to specific requirements by the machine shop at the Cavendish. As I recall, some of their meccano was left over from previous model building by John Kendrew and other components like the bases and the phosphorus atoms were built by the shop specifically for them.

15 years later, when I was a chemistry undergrad, we could buy plastic kits for building molecular models.

Wouldn't it be fun if one day some toy Ferris wheel showed up on Antiques Road Show and it turned out to have the original Watson/Crick pyrimidine and purine meccano pieces?

JP said...

Have you seen this story of the BBC "discovering" art work involving Constable?