In praise of… Manchester Museum

I have been at a conference at Manchester University for the past two days. The conference has been based at the Manchester Museum, which is managed by the University as part of its public engagement activities. We were very lucky last evening to have the opportunity for a private tour of some of the Museum’s collections, before being served dinner in the main gallery.

The Museum was originally established by the Manchester Natural History Society and the Manchester Geological Society to House the collections of various businessmen and collectors from the northwest of England, during the 19th century. The Manchester Museum building as it is now was designed by Alfred Waterhouse and opened in 1890. Waterhouse was the architect of the Manchester Town Hall, the Natural History Museum in London’s Kensington, and Strangeways Prison in Manchester. The distinct architectural vernacular that is the hallmark of each of these buildings is repeated on a much more human scale in the Museum building, with a full height atrium running through the heart of the space, and galleries open to the atrium and running around all four sides.

The museum’s collections inevitably reflect the eclectic tastes of the original collectors, with taxidermy examples of animals and birds from all four corners of the globe, recreations of dinosaur skeletons, and an actual skeleton from a sperm whale that was originally washed up on a beach in North America and brought to Manchester for display. Elsewhere, there is an extensive Egyptology collection, displays of Native American clothing, and examples of rocks from meteorites, and other planets in our solar system. It’s not often that you get the chance to touch a piece of Mars!

If you’re in Manchester with an hour to spare, I heartily recommend the Museum as a place to visit. And it’s free!

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