MMNHS† Meeting --- April 2006.
The Manchester Museum has been part of Manchester University since the 1870s. Prior to that it was a private club for gentlemen, founded in 1825. The Manchester Society for the promotion of Natural History was situated near the site now occupied by the G-Mex centre and there is still a street in that area called Museum Street. The collection was enormous and was the private plaything of wealthy industrialists and mill owners. They all had a little ivory ticket, which allowed
them access to the museum. The society became bankrupt in 1868. Manchester had a high number of† non-conformists, such as Quakers and Methodists, who were excluded from attending the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge and so it started its own university in Richard Cobdenís house in Quay Street. This is same Richard Cobden who took up the leadership of Manchesterís campaign against the Corn Laws. The university moved to Oxford Road in 1850 and started awarding its own degrees and developed into the university we know today.
The collections of the Manchester Natural History Society were transferred to Owens college Ė now the Victoria University of Manchester Ė between 1868 and 1873. The new Manchester Museum opened in 1888. The museum was taken over by the university on the advice of Thomas Henry Huxley. Huxley was a great believer in the education of the working person and in liberal education and he was not interested in the aristocracy. He was interested in Manchester as a city, as it had grown as a result of industrial activity. There are sketches in the museum drawn by Huxley showing how the museum should be laid out. These show the splitting of research materials and displays, as is used in museums today, rather than the old idea of having a large room full of a jumble of all kinds of material. Huxley influenced the Manchester museum for many years.
One exhibit in the museum was the mummified body of a Manchester woman. She didnít want her family to inherit her money and so couldnít be buried in the ground. The mummy was kept in a grandfather clock in the museum. It also had two stuffed dogs from Lyme Park in Cheshire. This was a Mastiff style dog that originated at Lyme Park, in the 1500s, known as the Lyme Mastiff. The breed was probably one of the ancestors of the modern Great Dane. There is a stuffed cow of the British white cattle type, from these early days of the museum, which is still on display. Most large museums have a large whale skeleton on display and the Manchester Museum is no different in this respect. The skeleton is of a sperm whale and has been in the museum since 1898. It had been washed up in America and was purchased by one of the curators of the museum whilst he was on holiday there.
William Hoyle who was the first director of the museum was an expert on cephalopods --- octopuses and squid. He worked on the Challenger collection. In 1909 he moved to Cardiff and took all his cephalopod specimens with him. A fair number of other staff were associated with the Challenger Expedition of 1872 Ė 1876. This expedition discovered the mid-Atlantic ridge and discovered that the ocean floor was a very dynamic system and not a lifeless desert as previously thought. The museum has about five hundred microscope slides from the expedition. Unfortunately, slide collections are not easy to display in public galleries. Mention was made of Marie Stopes who was a brilliant student at Manchester University. The museum has some of her microscope slides that she used whilst studying at the university.
Apparently, Victorians and Edwardians used to use museums and societies as a way of introducing their daughters into society. Their daughters were used to help them with their scientific work. Typically they would have their daughters labelling specimens for them. The more daughters you had, the more work you could get through.
The natural history collections of the museum are enormous. In the botany section there are about two million herbarium sheets. The entomology section has about two million specimens. Zoology and Palaeontology probably have about a quarter of a million specimens each. Only a small portion is on display at any one time with most of the material being kept in the back rooms of the museum. The museum is aiming for a more dynamic approach to the display of specimens with exhibits being changed more often. Unfortunately, some of the displays in the museum are rather too high to be easily accessed by young children but cannot be changed as they are listed.
I have to admit that I have never visited the Manchester Museum myself but after hearing this interesting talk I am going to have to make the effort to remedy this. As I live within less than an hour of travelling time, and visit Manchester fairly frequently, I really donít have an excuse not to do so.
††††††††††††††††††††† ††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††Derek Haworth
Click on a link below to view a picture Ė
AT THE MEETING -
EXHIBITS AT THE MUSEUM -