About rachelparle

I'm Interpretation and Education Officer at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History. I work with families, exhibitions, social media and lots of other fun projects. In my spare time I mostly like visiting other museums!

More than a Dodo

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More than a Dodo no band

Missing tales from behind the scenes in the Museum of Natural History? Yearning for photos and stories of our fabulous collections? Just want to know what we’ve been up to lately? We’re no longer darkened, but we’re as busy as ever and you can now follow our new blog More than a Dodo.  You won’t miss a thing.

Stepping out of the shadows

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Standing in a museum flooded with natural light and buzzing with people, it’s impossible to say that we’re now darkened or dormant. The Museum has been open for one week and we’ve had almost 30,000 people flooding through the doors. So now is the time to put Darkened not Dormant to bed and to reflect on the year gone by.

Aardvark ready for storage Credit: Mike Peckett

Aardvark ready for storage
Credit: Mike Peckett

Back in January 2013, the Museum filled up with scaffolding as work began restoring our fabulous roof. The collections needed protecting, so bizarre scenes of wrapped skeletons and bagged-up taxidermy popped up in the galleries. That’s when the inspiration came to document and share our year of closure through this blog.

The scaffolding towers allowed the construction team to reach the glass roof, but it also gave us all a unique close-up of the Victorian craftsmanship. Staff were lucky enough to go on a tour high up into the roof and we all marvelled at the detail in every strut, screw and spandrel.

Steve and Debbie Moorwood with the graffiti

Steve and Debbie Moorwood with the graffiti

The greatest discovery came in April 2013 when silver paint was found scrawled on a wooden beam. The words read “This roof was painted by G.Thicke and J.Randall, April 1864”. Our curiosity was piqued, then satisfied when we were contacted by a relative of George Thicke, who had read our blog post and started digging in family records. A highlight of the year for me was joining Thicke’s great great great grandson Steve Moorwood and his wife Debbie to see their ancestor’s handiwork up in the roof.

The van at Cornbury Park

The van at Cornbury Park

But we haven’t spent the year hanging about in the Museum waiting for the roof to be finished. Our flamboyant van has been out and about taking specimens and staff to festivals, schools and other museums around the country. Our weekly ‘What’s on the Van?‘ posts have given the expert stories behind the specimens that decorate its bodywork; from Stan the T rex to Darwin’s dung beetle.

 

Even museum specimens escaped the Museum’s darkened galleries and set up temporary homes in Oxford city centre.

Natural HistoriesThe Natural Histories exhibition created in collaboration with the Museum of the History of Science gave visitors the chance to see some of the treasures of our collection while our doors were closed.

Crate and MuseumIf you popped into the bank, the fishmongers or the bookshop at the end of 2013, you may have spotted a bank vole, penguin or bookworm looking a little out of place. Goes to Town was a six-month display of museum specimens in Oxford, with an online trail to track down all 12 and find out a little more about them. After a dramatic breakout, they’ve all made it back to the Museum and can now be seen in more familiar surroundings.

Although we certainly haven’t been dormant while the Museum’s been closed, it has been dark. So it is all the more satisfying to see how successful the restoration project has been at bringing light back into the Museum.

Credit: Mike Peckett

Credit: Mike Peckett

Neil Hyatt, the Project Manager for Oxford University Estates Services, looks back fondly on 14 months of hard work; “Whilst the project has been a complex one to get my head around – the logistics of scaffolding out such a huge space, keeping the interior protected from the heavens opening when the glass was out, the sequence of removal, clean and replacement, the ongoing museum conservation work in the same space, the iron, timber and stone cleaning – it has been a pleasure and delight to work on. Having become so dull and lifeless as the glass got progressively dirty and obscured, the roof now shines with a radiance not seen since it was first constructed.”

Goodbye Darkened not Dormant, it’s been quite a year. Hello again bright and bustling Museum.

Rachel Parle, Interpretation and Education Officer

Bye-bye buckets

Les Smith hands a bucket down to Stuart Knapp

Les Smith and Stuart Knapp wave goodbye to the buckets

It’s raining. In the past, the sound of rain on the Museum’s glass roof would have our Front of House staff rushing for buckets. The Victorian structure is beautiful, impressive, airy… and challenging.

Les Smith reaches for the last container

Les Smith reaches for the last container

When the Museum opened in 1860, the architecture was right at the cutting edge, and the unique combination of medieval-inspired arches and carvings sitting alongside the soaring glass and iron roof has even been described as Techno-Gothic. Pioneering projects aren’t always perfect and unfortunately the Museum’s roof has leaked since its creation over 150 years ago. Last year’s roof restoration project was driven by the need to keep the rain out, and now every glass tile is sealed with 21st century technology.

Today the leaks are gone and the Museum is dry. The collection of buckets, boxes and all manner of containers has been removed from the tops of cases and the Front of House stash of buckets has gone. Now we can relax and enjoy the sound of the rain, without worrying if the specimens are getting damp!

Rachel Parle, Interpretation and Education Officer

Rex in a box

Credit: Nicola Fielding

Credit: Nicola Fielding

We couldn’t just tease you with last week’s shot of the Iguanodon being unwrapped. The sight of our enormous dinosaurs being liberated from the foam, tape and chip board which has encased them for the past year is too good not to share.

Credit: Mike Peckett

Credit: Mike Peckett

Each time I look out into the Museum court, another specimen has been revealed. The elephants are back, the camel is looking great and the giraffe is next on the list. But the biggest impact over the last couple of weeks has to be the large dinosaurs regaining dominance in the centre of the Museum.

The T rex and Iguanodon skeletons are far too huge to move… and wouldn’t even get out of the front door! So they had their own bespoke wooden boxes built for them, which protected them from damage and dust during the roof restoration project.

But with just 3 weeks until our re-opening, the boxes are down and the foam wrapping has been discarded. Here are a few of my favourite shots of the return of the dinosaurs.

T rex being revealed Credit: Nicola Fielding

T rex being revealed
Credit: Nicola Fielding

Credit: Nicola Fielding

Credit: Nicola Fielding

The Iguanodon’s tail escapes its box

Credit: Scott Billings

Credit: Scott Billings

Our dinosaurs are ready and waiting for the visitors to return on Saturday 15th February. We all hope to see you then!

Rachel Parle, Interpretation and Education Officer

Breakout!

8.Ident

I bring you breaking news from the Museum of Natural History. As you all know, the Museum has been closed for over a year and, during that time, a number of our specimens have been popping up in unlikely places around Oxford city centre.

The Goes to Town project has seen a penguin in the fish mongers, a bank vole in the bank and a book worm in a book shop. All was going swimmingly until today.

3.RachelSeriousWe’ve been receiving reports from several of our Goes to Town venues that there’s been a breakout. The snowy owl has vanished from the University Church, the edible insects have escaped from the Turl St Kitchen and a white rabbit is on the loose from the Central Library. There’s trouble afoot.

We’ve put together a special bulletin of Oxford University Museum of Natural History News.

Scott Billings at St Mary the Virgin Church

Scott Billings at the University Church

Reporters Bethany Palumbo, Jess Suess and Scott Billings joined me to bring you the latest story direct from the scene.

The mystery has been give an even more intriguing twist by the appearance of letters left behind by the escaped specimens. Each creature has its own motive for abandoning its case, but there is a definite theme throughout; they’re all coming home!

A note left behind by the white rabbit, Oxford Central Library

A note left behind by the white rabbit, Oxford Central Library

Bethany Palumbo at Turl St Kitchen

Bethany Palumbo at Turl St Kitchen

As each report unfolds, it’s clear that the specimens have escaped in order to return to the Museum, ready for our re-opening on Saturday 15th February.

So, who is behind this mass escape? Watch the report video to find out.

Jessica Suess at Oxford Central Library

Jessica Suess at Oxford Central Library

The Museum of Natural History will be the place to be on Saturday 15th February. Even the Goes to Town specimens don’t want to miss out on the action! Join us then, dawn till dusk.

Rachel Parle, Interpretation and Education Officer

Good news travels fast

BBC Oxford's Martin Eastaugh talks to architect Nicholas Bradley

BBC Oxford’s Martin Eastaugh (R) talks to architect Nicholas Bradley (L)

The Museum’s been at the centre of a media whirlwind over the past week. After a rather dormant year, things are coming back to life and the TV cameras, microphones and journalists are keen to capture it all.

Wednesday 15th January marked one month until the day when our doors will swing open again, so it was great to hear us popping up on BBC Oxford… both TV and radio in one day!

IMG_0718Radio journalist Martin Eastaugh seemed to thoroughly enjoy his time with us and put together a really enthusiastic report, which features some names you may recognise. Listen from 01:55 to hear the latest on the Museum’s re-opening. Then at 02:50, make sure you listen to Martin talking to Purcell architect Nicholas Bradley high up on the roof. You have just 5 days left to hear the report, so don’t dawdle!

The BBC TV cameras arrived just in time to capture the unwrapping of one of our very largest specimens, the Iguanodon skeleton. Take a look at Stuart Tinworth’s piece for BBC Oxford news that shows just how beautiful and light the Museum is looking lately.

Museum staff unwrapping the Iguanodon

Museum staff unwrapping the Iguanodon skeleton

Then, to top it off, we’re only on the front page of the Oxford Times!

Of course, the attention’s very nice, but the most positive thing that’s come out of the media coverage is the public’s reaction. We’ve had many people telling us how excited they were to see their “favourite museum” on TV and to hear that they’ll soon be able to come back and enjoy it once more. The good news is, there’s just 29 days to go!

Rachel Parle, Interpretation and Education Officer

The end of the rainbow

Credit: Mike Peckett

Credit: Mike Peckett

Happy New Year everyone! Here at the Museum of Natural History we’re starting the year with a sense of excitement and anticipation. 2013 was a year of darkness. The Museum doors shut on 30th December 2012 and we’ve been closed to the public ever since. But 2014 is a year of change. On Saturday 15th February at 7am, the big Victorian doors will be flung open and the Museum will once again be full of inquisitive visitors.

Stuart Knapp and Mike Peckett put the last tiles in place Credit: Stephen French

Stuart Knapp and Mike Peckett put the last tiles in place
Credit: Stephen French

As I’m sure you know, the closure was necessary to carry out a full refurbishment of the unique glass roof. I’m now excited to say that every one of its 8,500 glass tiles has been removed, cleaned, replaced and sealed. The final tiles were carefully put into place just before Christmas. The roof looks spectacular inside and out, light streams into the Museum and there are no leaks. The work is complete!

So we’re ready to re-open, right?! Well, not quite. Hundreds of specimens are still wrapped, boxed and lying in wait. The next few weeks (40 days to be precise) will be a whirlwind of unwrapping, cleaning, planning and plotting as the Museum staff ensure everything is looking its best again for re-opening.

But now is a chance to celebrate the impressive task that’s been completed and to marvel at our beautiful glass roof. Here you can see Stephen French, Site Manager for Beard Construction, stealing a reflective moment as the work comes to an end.

Stephen French admires his team's work Credit: Mike Peckett

Stephen French admires his team’s work
Credit: Mike Peckett

Rachel Parle, Interpretation and Education Officer

“A thoroughly charming and highly skilled man”

Moths in a drawer made by Brian Edmondson

Moths in a drawer made by Brian Edmondson

At the beginning of the month we heard about the sad death of Brian Edmondson. Brian was a carpenter and ran his own business in Oxford for 42 years. Although many of the staff in the Museum may never have heard Mr Edmondson’s name before, they certainly know his work.

Brian Edmondson Credit: Oxford Mail

Brian Edmondson
Credit: Oxford Mail

Thirty years ago, the Museum’s Hope Entomological Collections started an enormous project to ‘rehouse’ their millions of specimens, moving them from substandard storage boxes to proper glazed drawers. Brian and his team beautifully crafted a huge number of drawers to hold the specimens and made them to satisfy the Museum’s exacting demands for design and build quality. For example, it was essential that they were airtight to prevent any pests (larvae of the museum beetle) getting in.

Dr George McGavin, television presenter and Honorary Research Associate of the Museum, remembers working alongside Brian on this project.

Dr George McGavin

Dr George McGavin

“Brian Edmondson was a thoroughly charming and highly skilled man. His workshop was on the Abingdon Road in Oxford and every so often a truck would arrive and teams of us would carry hundreds of drawers all the way up to the attic floor of the museum (there was no lift in those days!). Brian was a true professional and led a team of first rate craftsmen – the drawers were so well made you could often swap lids from one drawer to another and they still fitted.”

The drawers that Brian designed are still in use today and hold millions of insects in the Museum’s collection. Each time a drawer is pulled out and its contents admired or inspected, we mustn’t forget to pause and appreciate the craftsmanship that went into creating the specimens’ bespoke home.

Rachel Parle, Interpretation and Education Officer