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

Into the Light

Reopening banner

We have been darkened now for over a year although, as this blog has hopefully shown, far from dormant. But it is almost time to re-emerge into the light. And what a lot of light there will be…

The cause of our closure – and the subject of many posts here – was the restoration of the beautiful glass-tiled roof of the Museum building. More than 8,000 tiles have been individually removed, cleaned and resealed. The result is a luminous canopy above our heads, where the blue sky of a clear day complements the golden ironwork of the architecture.

Visitors to the Pitt Rivers Museum can already get a good look at the roof as they pass through our Museum on their way, but we are now looking forward to welcoming back our own visitors. And the date is set: Saturday 15th February 2014, when we will be open from dawn till dusk (that’s 7am until 5pm). We’ll have a brand new café which will be serving breakfast from daybreak and food throughout the day. More news on that soon.

As well as the welcome return of lots of favourite exhibits, there will be plenty going on throughout the day with talks, live music, star specimens, bug handling and more.

But as we build towards reopening we are also moving into the twilight days of this here blog. Darkened not dormant will become the very thing it claims it is not – dormant and inactive. Of course, it is not the beginning of the end, but rather the end of the beginning as we will be launching a new Museum blog that will continue to report all the comings and goings from the various collections and departments in the building.

For now though: Saturday 15th February, dusk till dawn. Put the date in your diaries and spread the word. See you there…

Scott Billings, Communications coordinator

Turtley happy!

Black marsh turtle

Why’s our black marsh turtle smiling? It’s turtley obvious, he’s a star! He’s having a Christmas holiday at Banbury Museum where he features in our Natural Histories exhibition. He’s joined by other treasures on tour from the University of Oxford, such as a meteorite from outer space as old as the Earth itself, the jaw of a real Oxfordshire dinosaur… and much, much more.

One of the things I like about Banbury Museum is that its entrance is slap bang in the middle of the Castle Quay Shopping Centre, next to the picturesque Oxford canal. It’s really easy to take a break from Christmas shopping and have a look around, and (yes, you’ve guessed it!) admission is turtley free!

Natural Histories is on until 22 February 2014, Mon – Sat: 10am – 5pm but check holiday period opening times on the museum website

Monica Price, Head of Earth Collections, and co-curator of ‘Natural Histories’

Reading room

Library Reading Room

This past year may have been darkened for our court displays, but we have been working hard to make sure the Library and Archives start to emerge from their dusty shelves and cupboards to see the light of day (figuratively speaking of course: too much light is very bad for books and archives!).

With generous funding from Arts Council England and the Heritage Lottery Fund, there have been two large-scale digitisation projects underway to make two important collections available online: the maps of William Smith, dubbed the ‘Father of English Geology’, and the Flying Icons project to make freely-available scans of the Jones’ Icones, a manuscript of Lepidoptera paintings by William Jones of Chelsea.


A sneak peak at our new online archive catalogue.

These projects have allowed us to develop an online catalogue for the Archive Collections, making access simpler and more widely available than ever. Watch this space to find out about the catalogue’s launch early in 2014.

There is also work underway to upgrade the facilities in our Reading Room, which you can see in the photograph at the top. We’ll have more computer workstations and more work space for readers.

The Library and Archive are open to anyone with a research interest in our collections, and we’re proud to be one of the few Oxford University Libraries with such an open policy.

We’re planning to improve our services during 2014 too and we’d really like a bit of help from you. We have set up this quick survey and would very much appreciate any info people are able to provide.

To visit our Library and Archive Collections, you can make an appointment at, or follow us on Twitter @morethanadodo to find out about tours and workshops coming up in the New Year.

Kate Santry, Head of Archival Collections

The Whales’ Tale

Once in a Whale


This week, the ‘whale aisle’ was invaded by a hoard of riggers and scaffolders, constructing a safe and simple means to transfer the specimens into their new positions in the gallery.


Not moving too far, the specimens are now in size order and are staggered, taking advantage of the vast roof space. The Northern Bottlenose Whale is now at the highest level (7 meters up!) and the Dolphin at the lowest. This new positioning meant transporting the Orca, Beluga and Dolphin out of the aisle on wheels, and then returning them to their new locations, ready to be hoisted.



As a parting gift we made each specimen an engraved acrylic sign. This included updated taxonomic information and a contemporary, larger font to keep with the museum’s new visual identity. To further engage visitors, we provided all information on both sides of the panel. We also used this opportunity to take…

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