200-Year-Old Polar Bear Gets Ready For Leeds Museum Opening

By 24 Hour Museum Staff | 11 January 2008
a photograph of a stuffed polar bear being given a hosing by a man in white coat and wellies

© Leeds City Council

One of Leeds City Museum’s most popular exhibits saw the light of day for the first time in over a decade yesterday, when a 200-year-old stuffed polar bear was brought out for a cold shower clean-up at the city’s Millennium Square.

Locked away in the Leeds Discovery Centre since the city’s old temporary museum closed its doors a decade ago, the old bear will be one of the key attractions in the brand new Leeds City Museum opening in Millennium Square later in 2008.

But before then he is in dire need of a clean, with the two-metre-long bear acquiring deep layers of dirt and dust over the years which had to be carefully removed by hand, a hosepipe, water and conservation-grade detergent.

He was then dried as fast but gently as possible- to avoid damaging his elderly fur and bones- with a series of carefully-placed fan heaters.

“The polar bear was a major acquisition for the city back in 1828 and is still one of our most prized exhibits,” explained Cllr John Procter, executive member for Leisure at Leeds City Council. “He is clearly an item of great historical interest and will no doubt provide a talking point among museum visitors about his background and his descendants’ future.”

The bear was first brought to Leeds in 1828 by the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society, who eventually gave it to the city.

a photograph of a stuffed polar bear being given a hosing by a man in white coat and wellies

© Leeds City Council

Now he will now have his face touched up and a few other bare patches repaired by conservator James Dickinson before being remounted on his original wooden base, ready for display in the new museum’s “Endangered” section in the Life on Earth gallery.

The new Leeds City Museum is set to open in the former Civic Institute, a Grade II listed building, in August 2008. The city’s original museum on Park Lane was bombed in 1941 and it had to be re-housed within Leeds Central Library on The Headrow.

However, the available floor space at the Central Library could only accommodate a tiny fraction (around 5%) of the city’s collections and the temporary museum closed in 1998.

The new museum will feature four floors of exhibitions and a large central arena. The project is costing £20 million overall, with 75% of the funding coming from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Leeds City Council and Yorkshire Forward are also contributing.

The £6m Discovery Centre, which opened in July last year, is a purpose-built storage facility for all the city’s vast museums service collections. Items can be viewed by appointment.

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