Celebrating Bristol Museum’s 200th anniversary

Deputy Mayor Craig Cheney stands, smiling, with the trees of College Green behind him.
Today’s blog is from Councillor Craig Cheney,
Deputy Mayor for Finance, Governance, Performance,
and Culture, and Labour Councillor for Hillfields ward

The story begins 200 years ago today with the opening of The Bristol Institution for the Advancement of Science, Literature, and the Arts in 1823. Based at the bottom of Park Street (in the Province of Bristol Masonic Hall) the Bristol Institution had a lecture theatre, laboratory, reading rooms, exhibition rooms, and a museum.

An important role of the Institution was to actively build up a museum collection which included geology, natural history, archaeology, and ethnography. The Institution also put on exhibitions of fine art. Many objects and works of art from this foundation collection survive today and form the core of the collections in the care of Bristol Museums. 

A drawing, attributed to Alfred Montague, shows the Bristol Institution (centre) on Park Street in 1825. Horse drawn carriages and pedestrians can be seen in front of the building.
Bristol Museum’s predecessor, the Bristol Institution

The museum moved to the top of Park Street in 1872 (now Browns restaurant) and then into Bristol City Art Gallery (now known as Bristol Museum & Art Gallery) after World War II.

Bristol Museums  has been collecting, exhibiting, educating, and delighting Bristol and beyond ever since. I have fond memories of visiting myself as a child, especially loving the dinosaurs, and it is a favourite rainy-day haunt for my own children now!

A black and white photograph shows a marine reptile fossil (Rhomaleosaurus megacephalus) displayed on the wall at Bristol Museum, before it was lost to bombing in 1940.
A photograph shows a marine reptile fossil displayed on the wall at
Bristol Museum, before it was lost to bombing in 1940.

The bicentenary of Bristol Museums origins will be an opportunity to learn, create, and experience. Through displays and activities, we will look back at the beginnings of one of Bristol’s most cherished and important cultural institutions and look forward to people of all ages from near and far getting involved and visiting Bristol Museums.

An educational programme for children will run alongside the public programme, so young people from all parts of our city can benefit from new and exciting learning opportunities.

More information is available on Bristol Museum & Art Gallery’s website. Details of events around their 200th anniversary will be shared on there next month.

The jaw of a walrus is shown, with an inscription on it's left hand side.
The upper jaw of a walrus with original inscription, donated to the Bristol Institution in 1823