The Hunterian Museum in Glasgow moves

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by Donal Bateson

April 16, 2015 – The Hunterian, including the numismatic collections, is moving to a new location at Kelvin Hall close to its current site on the main University of Glasgow campus at Gilmorehill. This is a joint project with Glasgow City Council and the National Library of Scotland, supported by a major Heritage Lottery Fund grant. In Phase 1 new stores and laboratories, teaching and research facilities and staff accommodation will open in September 2016 for the start of the new academic year.

Grand entrance Main door to The Randolph Buildings and the Hunterian Museum within the main building of the University of Glasgow. Photo: Thomas Nugent /

The Hunterian Museum was first located in the house of its founder, Dr. William Hunter (1718-1783), in Great Windmill Street, London. Bequeathed to the University of Glasgow, it arrived in 1807 on the completion of a specially designed building by William Stark on the Old College site in the city centre near the cathedral. The University vacated this in 1870 for the more pleasant surroundings of the West End where George Gilbert Scott’s magnificent gothic building was constructed on Gilmorehill. This incorporated a new museum which continues to be the centre of the Hunterian collections. The Hunterian at Kelvin Hall will thus be its fourth home.
Currently, however, collections and staff are unsatisfactorily scattered over a number of locations. Apart from the Hunterian Museum in the Gilbert Scott building, there is the 1980s Hunterian Art Gallery and museums in Zoology and Anatomy. The bulk of the collection is housed in three major stores with limited facilities. At Kelvin Hall objects and staff will be together again for the first time in over a century.
The coins and medals are the only collection still stored in the Hunterian Museum. They are kept in the Coin Room which was specifically designed and built for this purpose in the 1870s. It must be one of the earliest examples of a purpose built public coin room. Those who have visited will recall the climb up the stone staircase, the large metal door and the huge walk-in safe. The latter leads to one of the most frequently asked questions, “How was that brought in?” – in bits and welded seems to be the answer. In this safe is housed most of William Hunter’s own collection of over 30,000 specimens, the finest collection in late 18th century Britain and, as is often quoted, “second only to that of the French king”. As part of the original fittings of a listed building the safe will stay.

Kelvin Hall. Photo: James Allan /

Kelvin Hall was originally part of the 1901 Glasgow International Exhibition. It was made of wood and survived until 1927 when it caught fire. However it was rebuilt on a more magnificent scale in stone and over the years has held many prestigious events though its main use was as a sports facility and also later the Transport Museum. Both sport and transport have recently been relocated and Kelvin Hall is being redeveloped as a cultural heritage centre.
The ground floor will house the reception area, some sporting facilities, a café, a joint store for large objects, a University conference suite and the Scottish Screen Archive. The main Hunterian store will be on the first floor along with appropriate preparation, conservation and research laboratories as well as teaching laboratories and seminar rooms. The main store will hold all the Hunterian collections together with the exception of the coins and medals. A new coin room will be constructed outside this. It will consist of an inner strong-room and curatorial work space connected to a coin library on the same level where students, researchers and visitors will be accommodated. Overall the size is much the same as at present in the Hunterian Museum but the new facility will be more convenient and pleasant to work in. Staff accommodation will be on a third floor.
A decant team has now been appointed and over the next two years everything will be packed, stored where necessary, moved and unpacked. However, the numismatic collections are not scheduled for moving until late in the programme. Although there will be prior preparation, packing will not commence until June 2016. The coins and medals will then be moved, probably not with an escort of “six trusty men well versed in the use of fire-arms” as in 1807, immediately to the new coin room and unpacked in time for the September opening. Disruption for visitors will therefore be of short duration but any planned visit should be avoided over the summer of 2016. Equally it may not be possible to answer enquiries during this period.
From late 2016 the Hunter Coin Cabinet will be an important part of The Hunterian’s centralised storage serving this new purpose designed Collections Study Centre. Meanwhile The Hunterian’s current exhibition spaces in the Museum and Art Gallery will be retained. Kelvin Hall Phase 1 will occupy around one third of the building and it is planned that Phase 2 will see the rest turned mainly into new permanent and temporary exhibition galleries. This will occur sometime after the major celebration and events of 2018 commemorating the tercentenary of the birth of William Hunter.

This article was first published in the Money and Medals Newsletter 63 of December 2014.
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More information on the Hunterian Museum at Kelvin Hall you may find here.