The Metamorphosis of Cumberland House Natural History Museum

S&C critic and community correspondent, Emily Priest visits the new butterfly exhibit in Portsmouth’s Natural History Museum and finds a new asset for seafront tourism.

On 19th August, Cumberland House unveiled the result of a year of renovations and a £100,000 + budget. The previous facility was erected in 1986 and needed updating. So, the Friends of Cumberland House group and Portsmouth City Council joined forces to create a new and stylish extension to the museum.

The butterfly house is popular across all generations in Portsmouth and when I first came here, it was on my list of things to visit alongside the Historic Dockyard and Clarence Pier’s 2p slot machines. However, when I turned up several months ago, it was closed for the renovation. So I waited patiently until I saw on Facebook that it was finally open.

The greenhouse used to be directly behind Cumberland House but now it has been moved alongside, and the old butterfly house replaced with a pristine patio. Now, when you enter the museum, bear left through the gift shop, through a small space providing details of the butterfly species you’re about to see, and just past this is the entrance to the new butterfly house.

Inside is light and clean. Everyone inside, adults and children, was smiling as they snapped pictures of butterflies on their phones. Around the edges of the room are exotic plants including bright pink flowers and lime trees, and at the centre is an island of vegetation with a water feature. A bright blue butterfly rested there as I looked on.

I ambled through the space as butterflies, small and large, fluttered past my head: huge brown ones with eye-like patterns on their wings, black and red butterflies, and orange ones with flecks of yellow that could just be glimpsed as they darted past.

On the right-hand side, a large cabinet houses pupae and freshly hatched butterflies. While I was there, a pupae hatched and everyone huddled around the cabinet, gasping at the blue wings as they burst through the shell. Feeding tables dotted here and there with bananas and pineapples provided a feast for the butterflies.

It doesn’t take long to walk around the butterfly house but it is something unique in Portsmouth and literally brings colour and the natural world into your life in a spell-binding way. With no entry cost, the butterfly house is a perfect family outing and certainly entertains the children, even if, for some, it’s just for a few minutes.

More than anything, the butterfly house inspires and entertains, providing something for everyone – locals, tourists, families, students, artists and especially photographers. As the plants and butterflies grow together, I have no doubt this new facility will reach its full potential, and like the Spinnaker Tower and HMS Victory, will become another familiar and well-loved destination in our seaside city.

Photography by Emily Priest