Eton College Museum Opens Its Doors For Family Friendly Initiative

By Nicola Tann | 05 June 2006
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Two boys in smart frock coats walk through the village

Two current Etonians wander round the beautiful town of Windsor. Photo by Nicola Tann

Eton College, one of the most privileged institutions in the UK, is to invite families into one of its museums as a direct result of the Thames Valley Family Friendly pilot.

Having attended a training day, Wendy Basey, deputy curator at Eton’s Natural History Museum, has taken inspiration to develop Eton’s excellent but underused resource into a Family Friendly venue, with the first family friendly event taking place on Sunday June 11 2006.

A man and a woman stand in front of a bench in a museum

George Fussey and Wendy Basey, curators of the Natural History Museum at Eton. Photo by Nicola Tann

Opened in 1875 to house the Thackeray Collection of British Birds and other collections, the museum houses a rich collection.

These include a page from Darwin’s original manuscript of The Origin of Species from the college library and displays of the Endeavour voyage made by old Etonian Joseph Banks, the botanist who accompanied Captain Cook. The display includes a replica of his old cabin.

A specimen of a duck with four legs

Two little ducks...? A freaky creature on display. Photo by Nicola Tann

There are many specimens, including the ancient flightless parrot, the kakapo, native to New Zealand. “This is my favourite specimen of all - there are only 83 kakapo left in the world,” George Fussey, the museum’s curator, tells me.

“We are very keen to talk about endangered species and conservation here at the museum - and talking to children and their families about these issues is something we are really looking forward to.”

A specimen case of eight butterflies

A few of the hundreds of moth and butterfly specimens on display. Photo by Nicola Tann

The museum building dates back to 1895 and some of the specimens date back as far as 1850. Other exhibits include an extensive collection of butterflies, moths and birds’ eggs, along with the bizarre examples of a four-legged duck and a cat with two faces – always favourites with children.

Yet despite the extensive collection it holds, the museum has been obscenely underused since it reopened to the public after renovation six years ago.

A beautiful stained glass window of birds

A stained glass window designed by an old Etonian art master may be used as a colouring exercise for youngsters at the museum. Photo by Nicola Tann

By hosting Family Friendly events George and Wendy hope to share the museum’s collection with more people and, by making the events free, to bring more members of the public through Eton’s privileged doors.

Family Friendly afternoons will include sorting boxes of fossils and other items from the collections, trails around the museum, and colouring and story-telling exercises.

The museum is open every Sunday afternoon from 2pm until 5pm and admission is free. For information on further family friendly events contact George or Wendy on 01753 671288 or check the website at www.etoncollege.com.

Family Friendly logo

Nicola Tann is the 24 Hour Museum Renaissance Student Writer for Buckinghamshire, Berkshire and Oxfordshire. Renaissance is the groundbreaking initiative to transform England's regional museums, led by MLA, the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council.

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