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  • Whales on the Road

    By Ruth Siddall, on 6 July 2017

    This weekend, 8th and 9th July, the Grant Museum is running an event of massive proportions – the Whale Weekender – when the public is invited to come and rebuild and clean their whale skeleton. Long before it came to the Grant Musuem, the whale in question begun life-after-death, in 1860, when it was sold to be toured around the country as a whole carcass. That particular venture did not go very well for anyone involved.

    This post is about dead whales touring the country on the back of lorries. There are not many things these days that provide pretty much no hits when Googled, but this subject seems to be one of them. You may well be asking why I would be Googling ‘Whales’ ‘Lorry’ ‘Supermarket Car Park’. Here is the answer…

    I was talking to my colleague Jack Ashby, Manager of the Grant Museum, about their upcoming #WhaleWeekender extravaganza, and he mentioned the incredible history of their specimen and its intended national tour. I told Jack that I remembered seeing a whale in the back of a truck when I was a kid in Salford in the early 1970s. Jack looked at me like I had said 1870s. On reflection there is certainly a circus side-show, freak-show element to this experience. Until speaking to Jack, I have not thought about this for years. (more…)

    Help us build and clean a whale skeleton

    By Jack Ashby, on 3 July 2017

    Some of the whale's backbone, in one of our stores.

    Some of the whale’s backbone, in one of our stores.

    This weekend we will be attempting to rebuild our largest specimen – a northern bottle-nosed whale skeleton. And we would like you to help us do it.

    The specimen’s story begins in 1860 when it was originally collected in Somerset, when an expedition set off across the Bristol Channel in pursuit of “two great fish” (as they were described by the local newspaper – whales are, of course, mammals) – one of which was brought back to land. After a period “on tour” as a whole carcass, the prepared skeleton was displayed hanging from the ceiling of the Weston Super-Mare Museum. It eventually came to the Grant Museum in 1948, but it had been dismantled into its separate bones. (Its full, remarkable story, including the use of entirely inappropriate whale-murdering equipment, misguided entrepreneurship, rancid carcasses, financial ruin, and the unusual tasks the wife of a 19th century curator might find herself doing, can be read in a previous post).

    At over eight metres long in life, different parts of the skeleton have been stored in different cupboards and cabinets across the Museum and its storerooms. (more…)

    Animal Facts to Fall in Love With…

    By Rachel H Bray, on 12 February 2016

    In anticipation of Valentine’s at the Grant this Friday (12th February) I have sought out some animal facts which you will otterly love! On Friday the museum will be holding a themed late opening with Valentine’s-related animal tags being placed around the museum. Please excuse the Valentine’s puns – I’ve had a whale of a time writing this!

    (more…)

    Angels, fairies and dragons revisited: Did putti fly like bumblebees?

    By Jack Ashby, on 30 April 2014

    In 2011 our 15th Annual Robert Grant Lecture was given by UCL’s Professor Roger Wotton. It was called Zoology and mythology: looking at angels, fairies and dragons and explored the biological plausibility of these creatures based on their representations in art. Prof Wotton dissected (not literally, obviously) the anatomy that would be required for angels, fairies and dragons to fly. The lecture was amusing and illuminating – and we wrote about it at the time.

    Now, on his blog, Roger has returned to the subject to investigate something he couldn’t fit into the lecture – putti. Putti are the porky little naked boys with tiny wings. Many people might (inaccurately) call them cherubs. In his whimsical yet biological account, Wotton says…

    It is only possible to speculate on how putti fly, although their naked, often chubby bodies indicate that the generation of sufficient temperature is not a problem. (more…)

    Focus on the Positive

    By Dean W Veall, on 11 March 2014

    We’ve hosted a variety of events (film nights, game shows etc) in the Grant Museum

    Voting

    Voting

    but none have been quite like Thursday 27th February’s event. That event saw our speakers talking about Crystal Palace Dinosaurs, London’s bats, faecal digesters and molecular biology all trying to cajole, convince and in one case bribe the audience to win the £2,000 prize. The event in question was Focus on the Positive.

    (more…)

    Bentham, Utilitarianism and Sex

    By Nicholas J Booth, on 5 February 2014

    Bentham later in life.  Photo courtesy of UCL Art Museum.

    Bentham later in life.
    Photo courtesy of UCL Art Museum.

    On February 14th (yes, Valentine’s day) I will be giving a short talk at ‘Late London: City of Seduction’, part of the Museum of London’s special events program, on the auto-icon of Jeremy Bentham. I will be introducing the auto-icon, discussing how it was made and talking about some of the legends that have built up around it (head used for a game of football anyone?). I will then relinquish the floor to Professor Philip Schofield, head of the Bentham Project, an expert of Bentham’s life and works.

    So, a dead Philosopher, a mummified head and an articulated skeleton don’t sound very suitable for Valentine’s day do they? And maybe they aren’t, however if you look closer at the philosophy Bentham helped found…

    (more…)

    Friends of the Grant Museum Annual Trip: Royal Institution & Linnean Society

    By Naomi Asantewa-Sechereh, on 12 December 2013

    Dried specimens of twinflower (Linnaea borealis)

    Dried specimens of twinflower (Linnaea borealis)


    Each year we organise an outing for the members of our Friends programme to visit other museums and attractions. Annual trips are a great way for us to meet the Friends of the Grant Museum and for them to meet other Friends. We try to visit places that aren’t normally accessible to the public or go behind the scenes. As the organiser of this year’s event I got to tag along.

    This year we visited the Royal Institution, home to eminent scientists such as Michael Faraday, and the Linnean Society, the world’s oldest active biological society. Here are a few of the things I discovered that day. (more…)

    Passionate enthusiastic scientists – just another way of saying Geek?

    By Jack Ashby, on 19 November 2013

    Last week I went to a presentation at the Zoological Society of London about the impact on museum visitors of meeting real scientists. The speaker, Amy Seakins, is just finishing a PhD which examines this topic, specifically on visitors to the Natural History Museum (NHM) who encounter real scientists through the excellent Nature Live programme.

    Among the many interesting findings were her results on how the visitors’ concepts of what “scientists” are like changed after seeing them speak. Seakins asked them to describe what they think of scientists before and after the events.

    Scientists are Geeks
    Before, the common theme from the answers was that scientists are socially awkward boring geeks fixated on their single topic. These are obviously negative constructions. If this really is how the average person (who is engaged enough in science to visit a museum about it) sees us then there is a problem. Thankfully it’s a problem that formats like the NHM’s Nature Live can fix… (more…)

    Museums Showoff: Celebrating the mundane

    By Mark Carnall, on 18 October 2013

    Earlier this week I was lucky(?) enough to have a spot on the excellent Museum Mile Museums Showoff special as part of the Bloomsbury Festival. For those of you who don’t know, Museums Showoff is a series of informal open-mic events where museum professionals have nine minutes to show off amazing discoveries, their research or just to vent steam to an audience of museum workers and museum goers. My nine minutes were about the 99% of objects that form museum collections but you won’t see on display. They fill drawers, cupboards, rooms and whole warehouses. But why do we have all this stuff? Who is it for? In my skit on Tuesday I only had nine minutes but I thought I’d take the time to expand on the 99% and the problem of too much stuff (particularly in natural history museums) and what we can do with it.
    (more…)

    And 11 months later

    By Dean W Veall, on 8 August 2013

    Dean Veall here, Learning and Access Officer at the Grant Museum of Zoology. As I pack my panniers and get ready to mount my trusted bicycle for an extended August break back in the rolling hills of the valleys of Wales I thought now would be an apt time to present a reflection on my first 11 months here at UCL and share some insight into the working life at the Grant Museum.

    I started in September 2012, and my only real recollection of that first week was sitting in the Museum in the corner with my back to my new colleagues staring at our green main wall, a wall I came to know intimately over those two weeks in the middle of September we were closed for refurbishment.

    The green green wall of the Grant

    The green green wall of the Grant

    (more…)