Victorian graffiti found on Natural History Museum

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Victorian graffiti has been found in the roof of Oxford University Museum of Natural History during renovation work.

Painted high in the rafters is the message: “This roof was painted by G. Thicke and J Randall, April 1864.” Although it is a tradition for craftsmen to leave their marks in places that cannot be seen, it is not known whether the message was sanctioned.

The graffiti is dated six years after the Museum opened in 1860, suggesting that decoration was still going on when the building was being used by academic staff.

Bloggers on the Museum’s website have now taken up the story, suggesting that the two craftsmen were Oxford locals. Using the census, Debbie Moorwood argues that the G. Thicke may have been George Thicke, a painter from St Clements and her husband’s great great great grandfather. Similarly, J Randall is perhaps John James Randall, a resident of St Ebbes. If such claims can be confirmed, the graffiti marks an interesting piece of social history as well as possible 150-year old bad behaviour. 

However, Rachel Parle, the museum’s education officer, was keen to emphasise that the museum’s decision not to paint over the graffiti meant that any contemporary scrawls would be allowed: “old masons’ marks are found in cathedrals and heritage sites across the country and the purpose is very different to someone just scrawling their name.” The sentiment was echoed by Ms Parle’s colleague Scott Billings, who said, “any modern graffiti applied to a visible area of the Museum would obviously be a different matter.”

The Museum, which holds some of the first dinosaur’s discovered as well as a preserved dodo, has been closed for 2013 to allow renovations to its Grade-1 listed building. The repairs to the neo-Gothic architecture are expected to conclude in early 2014.

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