Keith Thomson’s Week

Back from the USA May 6th. The swifts have made their annual return to the Museum tower; exactly on schedule. But safety regulations now prevent anyone except researchers from scaling the ladders to see the nesting boxes from inside. An article appears Private Eye trashing our plans repairs to the Museum roof, one the glories of our fabulous Grade One listed building. Unfortunately leaks, due apparently to an inherently inadequate design (1855). Expert consultants to the University Surveyors recommend installing a high-tech false roof over the top: invisible from the street and a completely reversible, non-invasive solution. The Victorian Society prefers a more risky approach of removing and re-sealing all the existing 140 year-old glass tiles. As we have been trying to have an informed dialogue with the Society and English Heritage to find the best solution, it is rather disappointing to find this silly, abusive article in the Eye. The University Gazette announces the transfer of space from Inorganic Chemistry to the Museum when the new Chemistry Research Building is completed. After five years of campaigning, we can build a proper shop and café to serve both the University Museum and the Pitt Rivers Museum next door. Bad news is that installation of a lift to the first floor is now delayed until spring. Explain the roof situation to meeting of Museum Visitors. There is also concern about the appointment of two new curators when I retire in September and Professor Jim Kennedy takes over; Professor John Woodhouse reassures everyone. Interviewed on Radio Oxford about the roof May 8th, try to downplay any controversy. May 9th, letter arrives from English Heritage saying that they disapprove our solution to the roof problem. But we hadn’t formally asked them for approval yet. As the Private Eye correspondent ‘Piloti’ is evidently Gavin Stamp, a member of the EH Historic Buildings Committee, at least the timing of the article is clear. Our ‘please touch me’ stuffed cheetah (Mike O’Hanlon at Pitt Rivers calls him ‘Baldy’ although he isn’t yet) is sporting a bandage on his foot the next day; overly attentive visitors have dislodged a claw. Remind Education Officer Janet Stott to call the vet; no, the taxidermist. May 12th, Radio 4 calls to arrange a programme about the Wilberforce- Huxley ‘Monkey’ Debate (held at the Museum in 1860). Oxford Times leaves message about the roof. May 13th, have to stand in as chair of Pitt Rivers Museum Visitors meeting. Keen discussion of Dr O’Hanlon’s plan for a new building to house the parts of the Museum currently dispersed up the Banbury Road. New site is the old ‘Green Shed’ behind PRM. This to be the exciting £5 millions first stage of a whole new addition to that Museum. Renewed rumours of draconian budget cuts for the University’s libraries and museums. Professor Keith Thomson is Director of the University Museum of Natural History.
ARCHIVE: 3rd Week TT 2003