Yorkshire Museum

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Yorkshire Museum

North Riding

Yorkshire Museum.jpg
Type: Museum
Location: 53°57’42"N, 1°5’15"W
City: York
Address: Museum Gardens
For: The Yorkshire Philosophical Society
by William Wilkins
Website: yorkshiremuseum.org.uk

The Yorkshire Museum is a museum in York, at the heart of Yorkshire: it stands just outside the city walls, in the North Riding, by the River Ouse on the north side of the city centre.

The museum was opened in 1830, and has five permanent collections, covering biology, geology, archaeology, numismatics and astronomy.


The museum building

The museum was founded by the Yorkshire Philosophical Society to accommodate their geological and archaeological collections, and was originally housed in Ousegate, York, until the site became too small. In 1828, the society received by royal grant, ten acres of land formerly belonging to St Mary's Abbey for the purposes of building a new museum. The main building of the museum is called the 'Yorkshire Museum'; it was designed by William Wilkins in a Greek Revival style and is a Grade I listed building.[1]

The museum was officially opened in February 1830, which makes it one of the longest established museums in Britain. A condition of the royal grant was that the land surrounding the museum building should be a botanic gardens and one was created in the 1830s. The botanic gardens are now known as the Museum Gardens. On 26 September 1831, the inaugural meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science was held at the Yorkshire Museum.[2]

The Tempest Anderson Hall was built in 1912, as an annex to the museum, and is an early example of a reinforced concrete building. It is used as a conference venue and lecture theatre.

The Royal Archaeological Institute held its summer meeting of 1934 at the museum where it hosted the archaeological congress from 7 July to 17 July.[3]

The Museum was narrowly missed by a bomb during the Baedeker Blitz on 29 April 1942, though the explosion caused damage to the roof and the windows. The Curator, Reginald Wagstaffe, lived in Manor Cottage (a building adjacent to the museum) and was responsible for the subsequent clean-up effort of the debris, during which 'seven large bath-tubs' of broken glass and geological specimens were thrown away.[4]

In the light of financial issues from 1956 onwards, the Yorkshire Philological Society transferred the Yorkshire Museum and Museum Gardens to 'the citizens of York' on 2 January 1961. A plaque on the front of the Yorkshire Museum records this event.[5] The City of York Council set up the York Museums Trust in 2002, to manage the York Castle Museum, York Art Gallery, the Yorkshire Museum and the Museum Gardens.[6][7]

The museum closed in November 2009 for a major refurbishment and reopened on Yorkshire Day on 1 August 2010. The £2 million scheme was largely carried out by the museum's own staff, who restructured and redecorated the interior of the building.[8]

As of 2018, the museum has the following permanent exhibits: "Roman York – Meet the People of the Empire", "Mediæval York: Capital of the North", "Yorkshire's Jurassic World", "After the Ice: Yorkshire’s Prehistoric People", and "William Smith: The Map That Changed The World", referring to the world's first full geological map of a country.[9]


The four permanent collections at the museum are all considered "pre-eminent collections of national and international importance".[10] The collection began in the 1820s, with the collection of animal bones and fossils from Kirkdale Cave in the North Riding.[11]


The biology collection contains 200,000 specimens, including both fauna and flora, with the majority of the collection made up of insects. There are two specimens of the extinct great auk,[12] an almost complete skeleton of an extinct moa, passenger pigeons,[13] and a large collection of Quaternary (c.125,000 years ago) specimens from the Yorkshire region including the remains of elephants, cave bears and hyena from Kirkdale Cave.[14] In 1866-7, the museum was one of the three recipients of Dodo bones discovered by Harry Higginson.[15]


The geology collection contains over 112,500 specimens of rocks, minerals and fossils. Fossils make up the majority of the collection numbering over 100,000 samples, and include important specimens from the Carboniferous, Mesozoic and Tertiary periods.


York Observatory

The astronomy collection is mainly kept in the observatory in the museum gardens with some telescopes kept at the Castle Museum in York.[16] The observatory is staffed by volunteers.[17]


The last known inscription of the Roman Ninth Legion, whose ultimate fate is unknown

The archaeology collection has close to a million objects that date from around 500,000 BC to the 20th century. Most of the objects from the Roman, Anglo Scandinavian and Mediæval periods are from the York and Yorkshire area. Following the 2010 refit of the museum, the first gallery displayed parts of the Roman collection, focusing on objects from Eboracum (Roman York). A statue of the Roman God Mars is prominently displayed, and there is an interactive display describing the lives of some of the Romans whose remains have been found in York.[18] The final record of the famous lost Roman legion, the Ninth Legion, is on display as part of the Roman gallery. The stone inscription, which has been dated to Trajan's twelfth year as emperor, between 10 December 107 and 9 December 108, commemorates the legion's rebuilding in stone of the south-eastern wall of Eboracum's legionary fortress.[19] The BBC reports that "Experts have described it the finest example of Romano British inscription in existence".[19]

The museum houses some collections of forged prehistoric tools by the Yorkshire forger, Flint Jack.

Notable collections


  • The Middlesbrough meteorite.
  • Alan the Dinosaur.


  • The Star Carr Pendant, the oldest Mesolithic art in Britain.[20]
  • The York Hoard of Neolithic flint tools.
  • The Towton torcs, a pair of gold Iron Age torcs.


  • The Wold Newton hoard, a hoard of 1,857 coins dating from the early 4th century AD.
  • The Head of Constantine the Great, a fragment of a marble statue of the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great.
  • The Statue of Mars, from the 4th-century
  • The Heslington Hoard, a hoard of 2,800 coins dating from the mid 4th century AD.
  • The Ivory Bangle Lady, a 4th-century skeleton of a woman.
  • The Overton Hoard of silver denarii from the early 3rd century.
  • The Knaresborough hoard of copper alloy vessels from the 4th century.
  • The Ryedale Hoard, roman copper artefacts from the 2nd century.[21]

Early Mediæval

  • The Coppergate Helmet, an 8th-century helmet found in York.
  • The Ormside Bowl, a silver-gilt bowl from @Cumbria.
  • A portion of the St Leonard's Place hoard of ninth-century Northumbrian pennies.[22]
  • The Bedale Hoard, a hoard of Viking silver jewellery and an Anglo-Saxon sword.[23]
  • The Escrick ring, an Anglo-Saxon gold and sapphire finger ring.
  • The Gilling sword, a late Anglo-Saxon sword found in a river.
  • The Vale of York hoard, a 10th-century niello silver-gilt vessel containing coins and jewellery.[24][25][26]


  • The Middleham Jewel, a gold, diamond-shaped pendant set with a sapphire and engraved with a picture of the Christian Trinity on the front, and one of the Nativity of Jesus on the back.[27][28][29]
  • The Cawood sword.[30]
  • The Ryther Hoard.
  • The Bootham Hoard.
  • The Mediæval shrines of Saint William of York.[31]
  • A gilt-enamel figurine depicting Christ, produced in Limoges enamel, which was discovered in 1826 and subsequently lost, was purchased by the Museum in 2019. It first went on public display on 20 September 2019.[32]


The museum has 'Finds Days' in the main Yorkshire Museum building where members of the national British Portable Antiquities Scheme and museum staff will identify objects brought to them by members of the public. The information is also recorded to help build up a more complete archaeological picture of the past.[33]

A monthly lecture series by the Yorkshire Philosophical Society is held in the Museum's lecture theatre.[34]

Roman Festival

The Museum and the Museum Gardens first hosted the Eboracum Roman Festival in 2016.[35] It has since become an annual event.[36][37][38]

Outside links


  1. National Heritage List 1257100: Museum, Tempest Anderson Hall and abbey remains (Grade I listing)
  2. Willis, Ronald (1988). The illustrated portrait of York (4th ed.). Robert Hale Limited. p. 176. ISBN 0-7090-3468-7. 
  3. Annual Report of the Council of the Yorkshire Philosophical Society for 1934 (pub. 1935), page 7
  4. Pyrah, B. J. (1988). "A Modern Museum (1970–1988)". The history of the Yorkshire Museum and its geological collections. North Yorkshire County Council. pp. 134–148. ISBN 1850720428. 
  5. "Yorkshire Museum and Gardens". York Civic Trust. https://yorkcivictrust.co.uk/heritage/civic-trust-plaques/yorkshire-museum-and-gardens/. 
  6. "Yorkshire Philosophical Society history". Yorkshire Philosophical Society. http://www.ypsyork.org/about-yps/yps-history/. 
  7. "York Museum Gardens". York Museums Trust. http://www.yorkmuseumstrust.org.uk/about-us/our-venues/york-museum-gardens/. 
  8. Miller, B. (30 July 2010). "Face to face with the new-look Yorkshire Museum". Culture24. https://www.culture24.org.uk/history-and-heritage/art81689. 
  9. "Exhibitions". Yorkshire Museum website. York Museums Trust. https://www.yorkshiremuseum.org.uk/your-visit/exhibitions/. 
  10. "MLA Programmes designation". The Museums, Libraries and Archives Council. 2007. http://www.mla.gov.uk/website/programmes/designation. 
  11. Pearce, Susan M. (1996). Exploring science in museums. Continuum International Publishing Group. pp. 35–39. ISBN 978-0-485-90006-4. https://books.google.com/books?id=eYDoq5FKMSYC&q=geology+%22Yorkshire+Museum%22&pg=PA38. 
  12. "EXTINCT AUKS". Yorkshire Museum. https://www.yorkshiremuseum.org.uk/collections/collections-highlights/extinct-auks/. Retrieved 10 March 2021. 
  13. "Take a peek behind the scenes of the Yorkshire Museum's renowned taxidermy collection". Yorkshire Post. 8 March 2021. https://www.yorkshirepost.co.uk/arts-and-culture/art/take-a-peek-behind-the-scenes-of-the-yorkshire-museums-renowned-taxidermy-collection-3157522. 
  14. "How the hyena cave in Yorkshire changed history". Yorkshire Post. 15 February 2019. https://www.yorkshirepost.co.uk/whats-on/arts-and-entertainment/how-hyena-cave-yorkshire-changed-history-113555. 
  15. Brown, Clare M. (2020). "Harry Pasley Higginson and his role in the re-discovery of the dodo (Raphus cucullatus)". Archives of Natural History 47 (2): 381–391. doi:10.3366/anh.2020.0662. 
  16. "Biology". http://www.yorkshiremuseum.org.uk/Page/ViewCollection.aspx?CollectionId=7.  "Geology". http://www.yorkshiremuseum.org.uk/Page/ViewCollection.aspx?CollectionId=8.  and "Astronomy". York Museums Trust. 2006. http://www.yorkshiremuseum.org.uk/Page/ViewCollection.aspx?CollectionId=6. 
  17. Ashworth, Ian. "Observatory volunteers". http://www.jorvik.co.uk/observatory/. 
  18. Morrison, Andrew (25 October 2010). "The Yorkshire Museum Refit: Did it "Let the Light In"?". The University of York. http://www.york.ac.uk/ipup/events/seminars/morrison.html. 
  19. 19.0 19.1 "Yorkshire Museum marks 'lost' Roman legion". BBC. 29 March 2011. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-york-north-yorkshire-12862028. 
  20. "Yorkshire Stone Age pendant goes on display". BBC News Online. 26 February 2016. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-york-north-yorkshire-35669267. 
  21. "The Ryedale Hoard: A Roman Mystery | Yorkshire Museum". https://www.yorkshiremuseum.org.uk/exhibition/the-ryedale-hoard-a-roman-mystery/. 
  22. Pirie, Elizabeth (1996). Coins of the Kingdom of Northumbria, c.700 - 867 in the Yorkshire Collections. Llanfyllin: Galata Print Ltd. pp. 16–17. ISBN 0951667149. 
  23. Laycock, Mike (13 December 2014). "Bedale Hoard back on display at Yorkshire Museum". York Press. http://www.yorkpress.co.uk/news/11665280.Bedale_Hoard_back_on_display_at_Yorkshire_Museum/. 
  24. Timpson, Trevor (17 September 2009). "BBC News Channel". Getting the most out of treasure. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/8254865.stm. 
  25. "Viking Hoard". Yorkshire Museum. 1 September 2009. http://www.yorkshiremuseum.org.uk/Page/ViewNewsArticle.aspx?ArticleId=22. 
  26. Pantry, Lyndsey (2 July 2015). "'Once in a lifetime' Viking hoard back on display". Yorkshire Post (Leeds). http://www.yorkshirepost.co.uk/news/once-in-a-lifetime-viking-hoard-back-on-display-1-7339135. 
  27. "The Middleham Jewel". The Art Fund. http://www.artfund.org/search/gallery/2770/yorkshire-museum-and-gardens. 
  28. "Archaeology". York Museums Trust. 2006. http://www.yorkshiremuseum.org.uk/Page/ViewCollection.aspx?CollectionId=1. 
  29. Cherry, John (1994). The Middleham Jewel and Ring. The Yorkshire Museum. pp. 4 and 24–26. ISBN 0-905807-12-X. 
  30. Lewis, Haydn (18 December 2007). "Return of the Viking sword". York Press. http://www.yorkpress.co.uk/news/1912380.return_of_the_viking_sword/. 
  31. Harris, Richard (8 June 2010). "St William of York shrines on display for first time in 400 years". York Press. http://www.yorkpress.co.uk/news/8206652.Shrines_on_display_for_first_time_in_400_years/?ref=rss. 
  32. "Rare 800-year-old figure of Christ returned to York". BBC News. 20 September 2019. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-york-north-yorkshire-49756235. 
  33. "YMT: Portable Antiquities Scheme". York Museums Trust. https://www.yorkshiremuseum.org.uk/portable-antiquities-scheme/. 
  34. "YPS Lectures". Yorkshire Philosophical Society. https://www.ypsyork.org/events/categories/lectures/. 
  35. "Romans return to streets of York in city festival". York Press. 5 June 2016. https://www.yorkpress.co.uk/news/14537453.romans-return-to-streets-of-york-in-city-festival/. 
  36. Alex Ross (5 June 2017). "Romans conquer at York festival". York Press. https://www.yorkpress.co.uk/news/15327301.romans-conquer-at-york-festival/. 
  37. Chloe Laversuch (23 May 2018). "Eboracum Roman Festival to bring city's history to life". York Press. https://www.yorkpress.co.uk/news/16241811.eboracum-roman-festival-to-bring-citys-history-to-life/. 
  38. Vicky Thompson (30 May 2019). "Legions to invade as Eboracum Roman Festival returns to York". York Press. https://www.yorkpress.co.uk/news/17671999.legions-to-invade-as-eboracum-roman-festival-returns-to-york/.