Secret Scotland

If it's secret, and in Scotland…

Glasgow’s Hunterian Museum may be set for relocation

The Hunterian is the oldest public museum in Scotland, and comprises a number of collections and sites. There is, of course, the Hunterian Museum itself, but to look at that alone would miss out the Hunterian Art Gallery, the Mackintosh House, the Zoology Museum, and the Anatomy Museum (which is only open ‘by appointment’). These can all be found in various buildings which are make up the University of Glasgow in the west end of Glasgow.

Fuller descriptions can be found in Venues at The Hunterian.

I have to confess to having been a stranger to the Hunterian until 1997, never quite getting there as I always stopped at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, or the Kelvin Hall, after the Museum of Transport was sent to squat there. An hour or two spent in either or both venues meant there was never time to go further when I was in the area. Taken together, all the Hunterian venues can easily eat a day if visited all at once.

Electron 100

However, in 1997 I did get there, thanks to a number of events which celebrated 100 years of the electron, identified as a particle in 1897 by JJ Thomson and his team of British physicists in 1897. The Hunterian hosted a special exhibition, Electron 100, which ran for most of year, and had numerous technical displays on show, in a room opened for the occasion, opposite the area where the existing historic exhibits are displayed. Toys on show included a working cloud chamber (which you had to manually pump in order to see the vapour trails), a cosmic ray detector that showed the particle tracks as random electrical discharges as they passed through the room, and a small electron microscope. Most of the controls were locked down, but you could still play with the target positioning and magnification settings. Videos were on show, together with static displays and presentations from the operators of various particle accelerators that were considered ‘big’… before the LHC arrived.

I lost count of the number of times I visited the Hunterian while this exhibition was installed, and I’m sure the staff simply left it in place for weeks, or even months, after it officially ended. It looked to me as if they simply didn’t bother to close the doors, Rather than being closed and dismantled, it seemed to slowly evaporate over time as the items were returned to their real homes… until there was virtually nothing left, then they closed the doors. It was a fascinating show for anyone involved in physics or electronics, and had allowed the museum to bring out many early electrical instruments from around the turn of century, which showed that Glasgow/Scotland actually had a much greater tradition of fine instrument makers of the time than might be thought.

Sadly, although I used to be able to find references and articles on Electron 100, the centenary of the electron, despite the web being a supposedly vast archive of knowledge, I can’t find any references to the centenary today, other than a few articles from 1997 where authors have mentioned it.

Relocating The Hunterian

The Hunterian is a nice museum to wander around quietly, with a huge range of items ranging from meteorites to Roman artefacts (and not forgetting the old electrical instruments, together with pieces of original transatlantic telegraph cable), but one can’t help feeling it is incredibly restricted by its location within the Randolph Buildings of the university. It has a huge collection, and apparently only has space to show 0.5% of what it owns. It may be in an appropriate setting, but when you visit, there is always a feeling that something is missing.

Relocation would not be a sin. When it first opened in 1807, the museum was in a specially constructed building off the High Street, next to the original university campus . When the university moved to its new site at Gilmorehill, the museum went with it, and the collections moved into their new home there in 1870.

The Hunterian, Scotland’s oldest public museum based at Glasgow University, could relocate to nearby Kelvin Hall under a radical plan designed to increase access to the collection.

Phase one of the project, scheduled for completion by 2016, will involve the creation of a Hunterian Study Centre at Kelvin Hall for collections, research training and teaching.

“In the first phase of development it is planned that all Hunterian study collections currently housed both on and off campus will be co-located at Kelvin Hall,” a spokeswoman for the Hunterian said.

A new Centre for Cultural Heritage skills focusing on museum education practice and cultural policy programmes also forms part of the first development stage.

New public galleries along with exhibition and education areas are to open at the new site by 2020 during the second phase.

“Ideally, we would like to quadruple the percentage of items from the collections on public display, from the current 0.5% to 2%,” said a spokeswoman for the Hunterian.

Via Hunterian considers relocation plan | Museums Association

(Don’t laugh too loudly, but the author of this article has linked to the Hunterian at the Royal College of Surgeons, which is in… London.)

I have to confess that I didn’t recognise the photograph of the entrance, as seen below, but then realised why, and didn’t feel quite so embarrassed.

Hunterian Entrance

Hunterian entrance 2007 © Thomas Nugent via geograph

As you approach this particular door, you arrive via a set of stairs that emerge from just behind the low stone wall you can just see in the bottom right of the pic. I didn’t recognise the pic simply because I always just run up the stairs and through the door (glancing at the noticeboard which always seemed to have an invitation to join the university’s flying school), and have never seen it from the photographer’s viewpoint.

Much easier for visitors to the existing museum to identify is this view from University Avenue, where it appears behind the University of Glasgow  Quincentenary Gates Erected in 1951, the gates commemorate the 500th anniversary of the university, and feature the names of some of the more famous people associated with the university, listed chronologically in five rows – one for each century beginning from the bottom.

The impressive semicircular windowed tower is actually the first room encountered when entering the Hunterian, with the other galleries found in the east wing to the left. The Electron 100 exhibition I mentioned earlier was housed in the wing to west, which is not generally accessible.

Hunterian building

Hunterian building 2007 © Thomas Nugent via geograph

While it’s an impressive location, it is also relatively small.

I’m always a bit resistant to changes like this, but the promise of quadrupling the exhibition space seems too good to miss, and the Kelvin Hall is itself a historic building, so I hope this goes smoothly, and I can see the result. 2020 is the planned date for the move, but who knows what will happen to an 8-year plan starting nowadays?

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April 17, 2013 - Posted by | Civilian, council | , , , , ,

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