In October 1844 16 gentlemen met at the home of Dr. Battersby and agreed that the time had come to form a "Natural History Society". Two of these were William Pengelly and Edward Vivian, both of whom were to play a major role in both the Society and in the excavations of Kent's Cavern which were to follow. Its first home was was in the [Higher] Terrace where a small museum was set up. Later, rooms were rented, including some in the Freemason's Hall. A library was established at the first meeting and its stock of books has continued to develop for a century and a half.

In 1871 plans were made for new premises, the designs, described as "early Gothic freely treated", being drawn up by William Harvey Jr. The land in Babbacombe Road was given by Mr Cary and it was possible for the foundation stone to be laid just three years later. It opened in 1875. The first major addition was the "Pengelly Hall" in 1894, behind but attached to the main building. The 20th century has brought many alterations and additions. These include a "new floor" in 1928; the "Laycock Gallery (1955) and, more recently, new displays and remodelled galleries (called after former presidents, Vivian, Holden and Leach).

© copyright John Pike

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