Coming down


The picture above gives some impression of the latticework of scaffolding and ladders that have grown to occupy the spaces inside the Museum. In places the density of the scaffolding is visually impenetrable as you can see in the black and white photograph below.

A dense structure of lines  and levels cuts across the upper gallery level of the central court.
A dense structure of lines and levels cuts across the upper gallery level of the central court.

Some of the very top layers of this scaffold are set to come down now that the tiling on the central apex is completed. Where tiles have been cleaned or replaced the sunlight pours in to the upper spaces and the sky is clearly visible beyond. Previously, the tiles offered only a murky view of the outside world, obscured by decades of dirt and organic growth.

It is a great experience poking around in the normally sequestered heights of the Museum’s architecture. I have been lucky to be able to get up there a number of times during the construction work, photographing the different phases and the unexpected finds that have been uncovered in the process.

One thing you notice up in the roof is the level of intricate detailing that was applied right to the very top of the structure. Beams are painted with strikingly colourful geometric patterns; finials and capitals offer ornately-sculpted flora, each distinct from its neighbour; and even the pipework carries little decorative flourishes here and there.

The story of the design and construction of the building is recounted in articles available in the Learning More section of our website. These are worth a read if you’d like to know more about the thinking and work behind the Museum building, which originally opened in 1860. There are also plans for an exhibition that will reveal the Pre-Raphaelites’ influence on the design of this so-called ‘cathedral to science’, following a period of research by Dr John Holmes.

As the scaffolding is struck and the building contractors descend back to the lower levels, so the secrets of the Museum return to their hiding places. We have already discovered a number of names and dates scrawled, painted and even carved into the structures – more on that soon. But perhaps there are more messages from the past, overlooked during the current roof work. If so, could it be another century or more before anyone claps eyes on them?


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Scott Billings, Communications coordinator

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