The Rock Room is Getting a New Home
By Nick J Booth, on 7 April 2016
A Geology Museum has existed at UCL since 1855 (UCL was founded in 1826), 14 years after the first professor of Geology, Thomas Webster, started at UCL. However geology has been collected for longer – the first recorded donation of geology specimens to UCL came in 1828 from a Mr. Davies Gilbert. Today the collection consists of over 100,000 specimens, from microfossils to large trace fossils, and ranging in age from c4.5 billion year old meteorites to relatively recent fossils (including my favourite fossil crab).
The Rock Room has been in its present location since 1908, although then there was a second room dedicated to Physical, Stratigraphical, and Palaeontological collections (not quite such a catchy name as ‘The Rock Room’ though). During this time the collections were cared for by Edith Goodyear, under the professorship of Edmund Garwood (Edmund has a lecture theatre named after him, Edith a room in the Lewis’ Building). During this time a number of important collections were donated, including the Johnston-Lavis volcanological collection.
With such a long history the collections have had a varied past – a number of important collectors have left their material to the collection, while some of this was so long ago that records are patchy and those specimens are now lost / have been damaged, this also means that as an old collection we have material that we couldn’t collect now. For example three columnar basalt samples from the Giants Causeway in Northern Ireland, a UNESCO world heritage site now and somewhere that you definitely can’t go and hack pieces off any more.
The Geology Collections continue to be heavily used in teaching by UCL Earth Sciences, and at present the Rock Room itself doubles up as a student common room / meeting room / museum space, which is open to the public every Friday.
The planned new home for the Rock Room, and in fact all the Geology Collections, is in the Kathleen Lonsdale Building. This is the only building on campus named after a woman, the crystallographer Dame Kathleen Lonsdale who became the first female professor at UCL (in Chemistry in 1949) and also the first female member of the Royal Society (in 1945, joint with Marjory Stephenson). This new location will also ensure that the Earth Science Department, the department which the Geology Collections belong to, comes together in one building (it’s currently spread across campus). The new building will also house both student hub space, and new lecture theatres.
We are planning on using the same furniture in the news Rock Room so it will still have the same feel, and it will located on the ground floor of the Kathleen Lonsdale Building, so hopefully easier to find for visitors to find. The present Rock Room will be closed from the end of May, but we hope to re-open in the new space before the end of the year with the same public opening hours (Fridays 1-3). We also plan to continue to host occasional public pop-up events.
So this summer my life will almost entirely be taken up with counting, documenting, sorting and moving rocks, fossils, minerals and a variety of other types of objects from the Geology Collections. I’m sure I’ll make a few interesting discoveries and I expect a few to feature in future blog posts.
Nick Booth is one of the Teaching and Research Curators at UCL.