One door closes, another opens…

By Anna Jones, HOPE Project Manager

At the start of National Insect Week, Anna Jones reflects on an entomological escapade that has involved the relocation of over one million insects, and that will allow us to transform the Westwood Room into a ‘Museum within a Museum’ for the first time this autumn…


When we set out on our HOPE adventure in the winter of 2019, what was being called an ‘ambitious’ task seemed almost impossible. Could Museum staff, volunteers, and interns restore, rehouse, and relabel over one million British insects in just over one year?

HOPE for the Future is the Museum’s three-year project to protect and share our amazing British Insect Collection. HOPE is a natty acronym that spells out the project’s aims (Heritage, Outreach and Preservation of Entomology), and is also a nod to Frederick William Hope, a founding collector of the Oxford University Museum of Natural History. Supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and thanks to National Lottery Players, the project focuses on the intertwined heritage of our British Insect Collection and the Westwood room.

The Museum’s British Insect Collection represents all insect groups from butterflies to beetles and bees, flies, and fleas. It is ‘Designated’ by Arts Council England as being of national and international importance.

The Collection spans almost the entire history of British entomology, providing extensive information on biodiversity during and after the Industrial Revolution. It offers an extraordinary window into the natural world, and includes dozens of iconic species now considered extinct in the UK, like the large copper butterfly and blue stag beetle. In order to protect these valuable specimens, we had to transfer them by hand from their old cork-lined drawers, preventing reactions between the cork and the insects’ pins from degrading the specimens and making them friable. These drawers were then transferred out of their original home, in the Westwood room, to new cabinets elsewhere in the Museum.

Finally, the meticulous moving of specimens is miraculously complete; an achievement described by our Director as “beyond the Museum’s wildest dreams”. Now the last of the cabinet doors is snugly closed, we rest assured that our collections are secure and will be preserved for the public for years to come. At the same time, we prepare ourselves to take the trailblazing step of opening the doors to the Westwood room to the public for the first time.

Originally called “Mr Hope’s Musuem”, the Westwood room became a favourite meeting place for naturalists in the nineteenth century. Now empty, the Westwood room can be restored to its former Pre-Raphaelite glory. We will also transform the room to create a new multi-purpose public space with displays on biodiversity, habitat loss, and how we can use museum collections to study our environment.

HOPE for the Future will allow the public to access the Westwood room for the first time: a beautiful, historic, and artistically-important part of the Pre-Raphaelite history of the Museum. From Autumn 2022, we will use the space to host insect-focused public engagement programmes and other popular Museum events — all connected to our learning and community programmes. Here. we hope to inspire the next generation of scientists and encourage people to care more for the wildlife on their doorsteps.


Want to learn more about insects?

  • Events: HOPE has many outreach activities coming up over the next few months, including Summer Schools, Discovery Days, and Entomologist Clubs with children and young people. We also run an outreach programme with families, grandparents, and community elders, encouraging thousands of people to appreciate insects, and their relationships to humans and other wildlife.
  • Crunchy on the Outside: read our blog for young entomologists
  • Donate to the HOPE appeal: help us to continue to inspire the public to learn about insects

The Prince and the Plinths

By Hayleigh Jutson, HOPE Community Engagement Officer & GLAM Community Engagement Assistant and Danielle Czerkaszyn, Librarian and Archivist


With the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee in the air, Hayleigh and Danielle reveal the royal connections that are integrated into the very fabric of the Museum, and reveal the surprising story behind our empty plinths.


Visitors walking around the Main Court of Oxford University Museum of Natural History will find themselves circled by the stony gazes of 19 life-sized stone statues. These sculptures of eminent scientists, philosophers, and engineers include likenesses of Aristotle, Charles Darwin, Galileo, Linnaeus, and Isaac Newton. Alongside these men of science stands a statue of Prince Albert, husband and consort of Queen Victoria. Although now slightly hidden behind the T-rex, Prince Albert’s statue was given pride of place in the main court, a lasting reminder of the Royal family’s contribution to the establishment of the Museum.

Constructed between 1855-1860, the main structure of the Museum of Natural History was built using funds from Oxford University. However, the University only provided enough money to construct the shell of the building. All additional decorations – the stone carvings, pillars, and statues both outside and in – were to be funded by public donations and private subscriptions. To decorate the new building, Oxford’s scientists, along with the architects Deane and Woodward, invited Pre-Raphaelite artists to come up with designs that would represent nature in the fabric of the building.

A key element of the Museum’s decoration involved the commissioning of a series of portrait statues of ‘the great Founders and Improvers of Natural Knowledge.’ These effigies were meant to represent a range of scientific fields of study, and act as inspiration to researchers, students, and other visitors to the Museum. The University came up with a list of six ancient Greek mathematicians and natural philosophers and eleven modern scientists to be included in the Gallery. Funded by private subscription, donors could provide a statue of one of these ‘Founders and Improvers’ for £70 (equivalent to ~£8000 in today’s money).

Prince Albert, a great supporter of the arts and sciences, convinced Queen Victoria to fund the first five statues of modern scientists, costing £350 in total. The first statue that Queen Victoria commissioned and paid for was of the philosopher Sir Francis Bacon — remembered as one of the fathers of the ‘scientific method’. His statue was carved by Pre-Raphaelite sculptor Thomas Woolner. The remaining four statues that Queen Victoria paid for – of Galileo, Isaac Newton, Gottfried Liebnitz, and Hans Christian Ørsted – were to be sculpted by Alexander Munro. However, Munro was only able to complete three of these. After the University of Oxford repeatedly failed to fulfil Munro’s request for a likeness of Ørsted, the statue of the Danish physicist went unfinished. Not wanting to waste the money that had been gifted by Queen Victoria, the Museum decided to arrange for a plaster cast to be made of a pre-existing statue of Ørsted, which was sent over from Denmark in 1855.

It was hoped that Queen Victoria’s generous donation would encourage other wealthy individuals to fund the remaining statues. Initially, the plan worked. However, as time went on, donors began to favour British men of science rather than the University’s original list of international candidates. As a result, funding for many of the statues on the University’s list never materialised, and those plinths remain vacant to this day.

Even if the commissioning of the Museum’s sculptures didn’t go entirely to plan, there is no doubt that Prince Albert made an important contribution to the construction of the Museum. Fittingly, he is also commemorated amongst the Museum’s sculptures. Carved by Thomas Woolner, Albert’s statue sits behind the tail of the T-rex skeleton in the Main Court. It was presented to the Museum by the citizens of Oxford in April 1864, and remains a tribute to a champion of the arts and sciences, and one of the Museum’s earliest and most influential supporters.

Statue of Prince Albert in the Main Court of the Museum