ITS treasures have been wrapped up in a darkened Victorian building for a year while essential restoration work has taken place.

And while it has been closed, staff at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History have been busy restoring skeletons and taking artefacts out into the community.

Now preparations are being made for its reopening next month as the work on restoring its 150-year-old leaky roof, which closed the museum in December 2012, has ended.

Interpretation and education officer Rachel Parle, who has been running the museum’s Darkened Not Dormant blog through the year-long closure, said: “We are feeling really excited about having lots of people back in to the museum and showing off how lovely the roof is looking and the museum at its best again.


  • Rachel Parle with the Victorian graffiti on a high beam

“We have a new cafe as well.

“People will be able to come in and spend time there overlooking the dinosaurs.

“We are ready to have the light back in as it has been very dark in here.”

The museum has been full of scaffolding during the closure as contractors worked to remove, clean and replace 8,500 glass roof tiles with new sealant to prevent leaks.

Artefacts from butterflies to animal skeletons were packed away, with only the T-Rex and iguanodon dinosaurs remaining in place.

These were wrapped up and boxed to prevent any damage.

Ms Parle said: “Two thirds of the museum has been full of scaffolding. We have not really seen the roof at all.

“It is good seeing the museum come back to normal.”


  • Endeavour star Shaun Evans filming at the museum

The work on the roof uncovered Victorian graffiti high in the rafters in April last year reading: “This roof was painted by G Thicke and J Randall, April 1864.”

Thanks to an Oxford Mail report, George Thicke’s great-great-great-grandson Steve Moorwood, from Temple Cowley, got in touch with the museum to view the writing.

The museum has installed a plaque in the rafters with the names of the team involved in the roof refurbishment, which includes the names of the roof’s original painters – Mr Thicke and Mr Randall.


  • Sir David Attenborough

Closing the museum for a year also allowed a team to partly restore five hanging whale skeletons, which had not been lowered for 100 years.

Ms Parle said: “We have learnt a lot during the closure. We have a new appreciation for the building. We have been up close to see the detail and the love, care and attention that went into building the museum.

“We realise how lucky we are to be here really and how important it is to look after it.”

The closure also proved the perfect setting for an episode of detective drama and Morse prequel Endeavour in October and the filming of Sir David Attenborough’s Eden Channel show Natural Curiosities.

The Endeavour filming was for the second episode in the new series.

Ms Parle said: “Because most of the building was full of scaffolding, the Endeavour crew were only able to film behind the scenes.

“David Attenborough said he found it really helpful to have the museum closed as it meant they could get on with it.

“It was really exciting.”

The closure also gave museum education staff a chance to take its artefacts into the community, including an interactive treasure trail called ‘Go to Town,’ where 12 exhibits popped up in Oxford city centre.


  • Scott Billings with the T-Rex

Ms Parle added: “We have had some great experiences. We have been out at festivals, schools, other museums – we have been taking the museum to them.”

The museum reopens on Saturday, February 15, when it will be open from 7am to 5pm.

Breakfast will be served in the new cafe from 7am until 10am.

Museum spokesman Scott Billings said: “There will be plenty going on throughout the day with talks, live music, star specimens, bug handling and more.”

There will be family half-term activities at the museum from February 17-19. Entry is free.

Residents have great treasures on doorstep

The Oxford University Museum of Natural History is just one of the university’s museums in the city.

There are more than one million visits to the institution’s museums and collections every year.
The Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology houses extensive collections of art and antiquities, ranging back over four millennia. Established in 1683, it is the oldest museum in the UK and one of the oldest in the world. Admission is free.

The University Museum of Natural History houses the university’s scientific collections of zoological, entomological, palaeontological and mineral specimens. With 4.5 million specimens, it is the largest collection of its type outside the national collections. Admission is free.

The Pitt Rivers Museum holds one of the world’s finest collections of anthropology and archaeology, with objects from every continent and from throughout human history. Admission is free.

The Museum of the History of Science is housed in the world’s oldest surviving purpose-built museum building. It contains the finest collection of historic scientific instruments from around the globe. Admission is free.

The Bate Collection of Musical Instruments celebrates the history and development of the musical instruments of the Western classical tradition, from the medieval period to present day. Admission is free.


  • The roof restoration work at the Museum of Natural History

The University of Oxford Botanic Garden is the oldest botanic garden in Britain, and boasts the most compact but diverse collection of plants in the world. An adult day ticket costs £4.50.

The Harcourt Arboretum is home to informal gardens, walks and rides. Six miles south of Oxford, it is an integral part of the plant collection of the Botanic Garden. Adult tickets cost £4.50.

Christ Church Picture Gallery houses 300 Old Master paintings and almost 2,000 drawings in a purpose-built gallery of considerable architectural interest. Adult admission cost £3.


  • Conservator of life sciences Bethany Palumbo cleans a 150-year-old killer whale skeleton


The Museum of Natural History was built in 1861.

Including archives, the zoological collections have more than 250,000 specimens. This includes the most complete remains of a dodo in the world.

The museum is a Grade I listed building renowned for its neo-Gothic architecture.