Major restoration project at Scarborough’s Rotunda Museum includes public open day

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A major restoration project to the exterior of Scarborough’s world famous Rotunda Museum is under way – and the public are invited to find out more at an open day in September.

Scaffolding has gone up at the museum, and work on the fabric of the building is expected to start shortly and to be completed before Christmas.

The public will be able to find out more about the work at an open day on Friday, September 8, where they will be able to learn about the history of the building; hear from Adam Hickey from Pinnacle Conservation about the importance of heritage conservation and skills required to undertake the work on listed buildings; have a go at creating their own mason marks with help from a qualified stonemason, and see hot lime and decorative art demonstrations from a Heritage Conservation specialist and ICON Pathway Member.

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The open day will be part of the annual Heritage Open Days festival.

File pic showing the exterior of the Rotunda Museum in Scarborough . Image: ©Tony BartholomewFile pic showing the exterior of the Rotunda Museum in Scarborough . Image: ©Tony Bartholomew
File pic showing the exterior of the Rotunda Museum in Scarborough . Image: ©Tony Bartholomew

The circular museum was opened in 1829 after being built to a design suggested by William ‘Strata’ Smith, who believed that a circular space best showed off its geological exhibits.

It was constructed using Hackness Rock, a sandstone provided by Sir John Johnstone (1799-1869) of Hackness Hall on the outskirts of Scarborough.

Sir John was the great-great grandfather of the present Lord Derwent, founding chair of Scarborough Museums Trust (now Scarborough Museums and Galleries).

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It is listed as Grade II* by English Heritage, which describes it as ‘one of the oldest purpose built museums in Britain still fulfilling its original role.

Jon Cocker, Lead Stonemason for Pinnacle Conservation at work on the exterior of Scarborough's Rotunda Museum. Image: ©Tony BartholomewJon Cocker, Lead Stonemason for Pinnacle Conservation at work on the exterior of Scarborough's Rotunda Museum. Image: ©Tony Bartholomew
Jon Cocker, Lead Stonemason for Pinnacle Conservation at work on the exterior of Scarborough's Rotunda Museum. Image: ©Tony Bartholomew

‘As such it is an important part of Britain's scientific heritage.’

The current work is being funded by a grant of £256,054 from Arts Council England’s MEND (Museum Estate and Development).

Andrew Clay, Chief Executive of Scarborough Museums and Galleries, which runs the museum alongside Scarborough Art Gallery and Woodend, says: “We are undertaking some essential conservation work to the façade of the Rotunda.

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"It involves replacing some of the stonework where it has severely deteriorated.

Workers from Pinnacle Conservation at work on the exterior of Scarborough's Rotunda Museum. Image: ©Tony BartholomewWorkers from Pinnacle Conservation at work on the exterior of Scarborough's Rotunda Museum. Image: ©Tony Bartholomew
Workers from Pinnacle Conservation at work on the exterior of Scarborough's Rotunda Museum. Image: ©Tony Bartholomew

“The principal section is the ornamental cornice that supports the columns at the front of the building.

"Long ago this was replaced with a cement compound which has compromised the surrounding masonry.

"Cement isn’t porous so there has been significant water retention in the stone sections above.

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“The MEND project is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to replace the damaged areas with new sandstone that is commensurate with the age of the building.

File pic of the interior domed roof of The Rotunda Museum in Scarborough. Image: ©Tony BartholomewFile pic of the interior domed roof of The Rotunda Museum in Scarborough. Image: ©Tony Bartholomew
File pic of the interior domed roof of The Rotunda Museum in Scarborough. Image: ©Tony Bartholomew

"In other words, SMG is safeguarding the central section of the Rotunda for decades to come.”

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Pete Massey, Director North, Arts Council England: “Having grown up in Scarborough and enjoyed visiting the Rotunda Museum and its unique collections from childhood, I’m delighted that we have been able to support its repairs through our MEND programme so that future generations can continue to enjoy visiting.

"I’m sure William Smith would be delighted that the community to which he gave this brilliant museum is able to help conserve it for the future through open days.”

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Adam Hickey, Managing Director Pinnacle Conservation, says: “We are honoured to play a part in the conservation efforts of this iconic building in Scarborough.”

The free, hour-long public sessions will take place from 11am, noon and 2pm on Friday, September 8.