North East ready for grand opening of "astounding" Great North Museum

By Ben Miller | 21 May 2009
A picture of a model dinosaur

(Above) Museum Manager Steve McLean helps construct the giant model T-Rex at the Great North Museum. Picture © Craig Connor / North News & Pictures Ltd

Opening: The Great North Museum – Hancock, Newcastle, May 23 2009

Three years is long enough to heighten any city's level of suspense for a new museum, so the opening of the £26 million Great North Museum, housing internationally-important collections from the Hancock Museum it replaced, Newcastle University's Museum of Antiquities and the Shefton Museum, has plenty of excitement to absorb when it opens on Saturday (May 23 2009.)

"People just want to get back into the building, it's been closed for so long," says Ivor Crowther, head of the North East Heritage Lottery Fund, which has provided more than £9 million in funding.

"It will be tremendous, I envisage them getting several thousand through the door. They're really keen to see what's inside because people have what was there previously in their minds and they've seen the works that have taken place to the listed building itself."

A picture of two men

Ivor Crowther (front), of the HLF, with Russ Hamilton, of architects Farrell's

Locals have been able to watch the exterior of the Hancock being transformed, largely to improve accessibility to the Grade II-listed building. The inside has undergone a similarly dramatic reimagining, with opening highlights including a planetarium, bio-wall, lifesize replica T-Rex skeleton, mummies from Ancient Egypt, a scale model of Hadrian's Wall and a collection of ancient Greek art and archaeology.

A picture of the outside of a brick museum

The development replaces the Hancock Museum after a three-year building scheme

"You've still got this imposing building and when you actually go into it it's so modern and hi-tech," explains Crowther, who has been heavily involved with the project.

A picture of various artefacts from the animal kingdom including a model elephant

Great North Museum Senior Manager Steve McLean with exotic animals. Picture © Craig Connor / North News & Pictures Ltd

"It's absolutely brilliant. As with any contract, there have been a few issues with plasterwork and things, but to be honest everything has come in on schedule. That's down to the project management of the team – the likes of [Senior Manager] Steve McLean have done an excellent job in managing the job and redisplaying and bringing out some of the stored collections into the public arena."

A picture looking across the inside floor of a museum

Organisers say the £26 million project has gone smoothly. Picture © Craig Connor / North News & Pictures Ltd

Some of these have never been seen before, especially the major collection exploring the diversity of the animal kingdom. "People will be able to explore 350 million years of natural history and see breathtaking displays of world-class treasures under one roof," says McLean.

A photo of the dimly-lit inside of a museum showing a model of a shark in the foreground

The animal kingdom and the evolutionary process are key highlights of the Museum. Picture © Craig Connor / North News & Pictures Ltd

Paul Younger, of Newcastle University and the GNM board, feels the "stunning redevelopment" is "nothing short of astounding." Of more than 500,000 artefacts, 3,500 come from the University. "Not only is the result jaw-droppingly impressive, it also unlocks the research potential of this world-class collection for generations to come," he adds.

Perhaps defined by its geographical position, Geordies often complain that their city is isolated and culturally overlooked in favour of the charms of the capital, a balance the GNM hopes to redress through expansive temporary space for touring exhibitions.

A picture of the inside of a museum with dozens of artefacts and cabinets

Newcastle University has contributed more than 3,500 artefacts. Picture © Craig Connor / North News & Pictures Ltd

"A lot of people don't travel to the national museums in London," says Crowther, who calls it "a sort of mini national museum." "We feel like this creates something here. We've worked very closely with the national museums to look at bringing national exhibitions in. One thing we are good at in the North East is very high-quality projects. It's got international priority."

Open 10am – 5pm (Sunday 2pm – 5pm, closed December 25 – 26 and January 1.) Admission free, call 0191 222 6765 or visit the museum online.

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