Ipswich Museum, High Street IP1 3QH

Ipswich Museum in High Street opened in 1881, purpose-built for the education of the working classes in the natural sciences. Its founders were at the cutting edge of scientific debate and generations of benefactors donated outstanding collections of natural history, archaeology, geology, and ethnography.

George Ransome, of the Ransome engineering company which helped to build Ipswich’s prosperity in the 1800s, supported the idea of a museum in Ipswich. The credit for bringing a museum to Ipswich goes to Rev. William Kirby, who was the first President when the original museum (now Arlington's Restaurant) opened in Museum Street. Over sixty leading scientists lent their support as Honorary Members or Vice Presidents and soon the Museum acquired a national reputation.

Ipswich Museum’s members were at the heart of the controversial debate about evolution. In the years before The Origin of Species was published, displays were set up to illustrate these revolutionary ideas. These early radical thinkers gave public lectures at the Museum on astronomy, geology, and natural history.

Generations of curators, many of whom were at the top of their field, added to the collections and continued the tradition of free public lectures. Local collectors and benefactors donated their collections to the Museum, such as the Ogilvie bird collection and the Claude Morley insect collection. Nina Layard and many other archaeologists excavating across Suffolk deposited their finds at Ipswich Museum, creating outstanding prehistoric and Anglo-Saxon collections.

The story of the Museum is bound up with the stories of significant people such as Ransome; those who contributed to its thinking; Professor J.S. Henslow, the second President of the Museum and Charles Darwin’s mentor; the curators, such as Dr John Ellor Taylor; the collectors, such as Ogilvie and Morley; and the archaeologists, such as Basil Brown and Nina Layard.

This rich tapestry weaves together national debate, people’s stories, and the collections, that makes Ipswich Museum so distinctive. It gives the Museum the ability to bring the collections alive through the eyes of those individuals and reinterpret them through a contemporary lens by Ipswich people. Ipswich Museum has collections of national and international significance, notably in geology, because of this amazing history.

[Source: Colchester and Ipswich Museums; The Friends of Ipswich Museums]

Links: Colchester & Ipswich Museums websiteThe Friends of Ipswich MuseumsIpswich Society Image Archive; Historic England Listing