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Whitby Museum and Art Gallery
Pannett Park, Whitby, North Yorkshire, YO21 1RE.
Tel: 01947 602908
Small Art Gallery and Museum where you can explore a collection of local fossils, natural history, model ships, carved jet, toys, costumes and social history.
In 1823 various Whitby notables, who were concerned that Whitby was losing some of the prime fossil reptiles and other fossils being found locally at that time to museums elsewhere in the country, got together to form the Whitby Literary and Philosophical Society. The Society was started with the express purpose of setting up and running a museum. Both the Society (currently over 700 members) and Whitby Museum which it still runs have flourished ever since. Originally a private museum, only open to members of the Society and friends who had to be signed in, it is now open 6 days a week (mondays excepted) to the public. It is an independent museum run solely by volunteers. It originally started out life above a shop in Baxtergate, moved to a building, which still exists, on Pier Road within a few years of its conception. The ground floor was the public baths, the first floor a lending library and the top floor the Society‘s museum. It outgrew these premises by the end of the 19th century and eventually moved to custom built premises located behind the Art Gallery in Pannett Park in 1932 where it remains, though extensions have subsequently been added, the latest opening in 2005. The latest extension incorporates a lecture and meeting room (the Normanby Room) where regular lectures are held on the fourth wednesday in the month and which is available for hire, a special exhibition hall, a costume gallery and a small café as well as additional space for storage of artifacts.
Whitby Museum contains the most varied and eclectic set of collections of any Museum in NE Yorkshire and the main hall in particular is a Museum within a Museum‘ with its distinctive Edwardian / Victorian ambiance. Collections include spectacular wall-mounted jurassic fossil marine reptiles, one of the most extensive jet jewellery and object collections anywhere, a fine ethnographic collection which owes much to returning Whitby sea captains as well as substantial collections relating to Capt. James Cook and the William Scoresbys (whaling & scientific instruments), many model ships, natural history, archaeology, bygones, costumes, toys and dolls, ethnography, samplers, ceramics, militaria and coins and medals. It‘s hidden collections (access available to the public by prior application) include herbaria, maps and photographs. The Society also has a library containing books of local (Whitby and area) interest and extensive archives.
Perhaps the most esoteric, and certainly well-known exhibits, are the famed Hand of Glory‘ and a replica leech driven Tempest Prognosticator‘ developed in 1850 by one of the museum‘s curators. The ‘Hand of Glory‘ is one of the Museum's most popular and gruesome exhibits! According to various European legends the 'Hand of Glory' is the severed hand of a hanged felon, cut off while the body was still hanging from the gibbet, and pickled in a special way to preserve it. When used as a holder for a lighted candle, also specially prepared with fat rendered from the dead man's body, it was supposed to put sleepers into a trance from which they could not be awakened while the candle was still alight. It was thus a useful piece of equipment for burglars. The tempest prognosticator, was invented by Dr George Merryweather, who was a curator of Whitby Museum, in 1850 and who described it as an 'atmospheric electromagnetic telegraph, conducted by animal instinct'. The apparatus consists of 12 glass bottles set round the perimeter of a circular stand above which is a bell surrounded by 12 hammers. Each hammer is attached, by a gilt cord and a piece of wire, to a piece of whalebone set loosely in the lower end of a tube in the neck of one of the bottles. Each bottle contained a leech which when a storm was due climbed into the neck of the bottle and disturbed the whalebone causing the bell to ring. Dr Merryweather tested his invention over 12 months predicting storms to Henry Belcher, the President of the Whitby Literary & Philosophical Society. The library possesses a booklet written by Dr Merryweather describing the invention and giving the results of 28 of these predictions. The prognosticator on show is a model constructed for the centennial Festival of Britain in 1951. Regrettably Dr Merryweather's original no longer exists.
The museum is also home to the Abbot's book or Chartulary. Penned 800 years ago the Chartulary, with its 149 parchment pages, is Whitby Abbey's record of its endowment, a register of its possessions, of its donors, schedule of grants, lands and pasturage rights, tithes, chapels, hermitages etc. The first entries date from ca. 1160 and there are additions up to the time of the Dissolution in 1539. All the entries are in Latin with the exception of a copy charter.
Although the museum was intended to have a separate entrance of its own it has long been convenient to enter it through the Pannett Art Gallery. The Pannett Art Gallery is run by Whitby Town Council (not the Society) and has free admission. During the summer months in the main hall there are temporary exhibitions of work from local artists and in winter an exhibition based on the permanent collection. A side gallery houses a large collection of George Weatherill watercolours and another side gallery shows paintings by the Staithes Group of Artists.
Both Whitby Museum and the Pannett Art Gallery are located in the recently refurbished Pannett Park financed by the Heritage Lottery Fund and Big Lottery Fund Parks for People Programme. The Park offers a haven of peace and quiet with an exciting new play park for children and beautifully kept gardens, lawns and wooded areas for the whole family to enjoy.
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