The current site of the museum in South Kensington was previously occupied by the 1862 International Exhibition building, once described as 'the ugliest building in London'. Ironically, it was the architect of that building, Captain Francis Fowke, who won the design competition for the new Natural History Museum. However, in 1865 Fowke died suddenly and the contract was awarded instead to a rising young architect from Manchester, Alfred Waterhouse. Waterhouse altered Fowke's design from Renaissance to German Romanesque, creating the beautiful Waterhouse Building we know today.
The museum is home to the largest and most important natural history collection in the world. It all started with Sir Hans Sloane, an 18th century collector whose collection of 80,000 items was bought by the nation. Over the years, voyages of discovery, such as Cook's epic journey aboard the HMS Endeavour, boosted the collection until there are now more than 70 million specimens, ranging from microscopic slides to mammoth skeletons.