Natural history collections are typically studied in terms of how they were formed rather than how they were received. This gives us only half the picture. Visiting accounts can increase our historical understanding of collections because they can tell us how people in the past understood them. This essay examines the responses of visitors to Walton Hall in West Yorkshire, home of the traveller-naturalist Charles Waterton and his famous taxidermic collection. Waterton's specimens were not interpreted in isolation. Firstly, they were experienced as components of a larger visiting experience, in which travelling to the Hall, being admitted to the grounds, viewing the park, and meeting the owner, were all just as significant as seeing the specimens themselves. Secondly, they were interpreted in conjunction with familiar stories and images relating to Waterton's adventurous collecting activities. Visiting accounts can help us begin to recover what people thought about Waterton and his collection in the nineteenth century. Furthermore, in so far as they were responsible for a large part of his subsequent reputation, they can help us better understand our own, present-day conceptions of Charles Waterton and Walton Hall. © 2003 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
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