MORE CANTERBURY CONNECTIONS
Geoffrey Chaucer’s granddaughter, Alice, married Wingfield man William de la Pole and became the Duchess of Suffolk. For centuries whole swathes of Suffolk were owned by the Dean and Chapter of Canterbury. St Edmundsbury Cathedral (formerly St James’ church) was rebuilt after the Reformation by John Wastell, architect of Canterbury Cathedral’s Bell Harry tower. Bury cathedral’s recent millennium tower has a striking resemblance. over a century. Founded just down the road in Museum Street in 1846, to “promote the study and extend the knowledge of natural history and its branches”, by 1850 it had gained a national reputation with its second president even mentoring Charles Darwin at Cambridge. By 1880 its current premises was in place, complete with carved façades full of fossils, fruits, founders and flowers. Here, in the hugely impressive Victorian exhibition hall with its high ceiling and balcony gallery, Watch with Mother nostalgia is replaced with Visit with Mother/Father/Grandparents experiences and massive memories that would last an ice age.
“I remember coming here as a child, “admits smiley new museum assistant and former museum trainee Tim Rousham, as he stands in the shade of a full-size woolly mammoth by the main entrance. “I’ve got my dad to thank for that. He had a real passion, and my granny who lived in Colchester would take us round the castle museum there.” He pauses, distracted by a crackle from his walkie-talkie. Or perhaps he had spotted the terrifying wild boar across the hall? It’s a jungle out there, more akin to the computer-animated Dreamworks world of Madagascar than the safe haven of Smallfilms sets next door. Lions grin and glare in the distance. A gigantic giraffe stretches its neck to read the display boards on the balcony and a Rhino called Rosie, seems all set to make a run for it
“Oh, I just love standing here and watching people’s faces as they come through the door,” beams Tim. “What a wow factor this place has.” He’s right.
FLIGHTS OF FANCY
There’s talk of the great Victorian hall being a rare specimen itself, of its moment, yet timeless in its potential. A portal to other worlds as well as all things Ipswich. The geology gallery includes more original exhibits from the Victorian collectors, including mammoth tusks and great molluscs, fantastic fossils and a magnificent whale jaw bone. Venture into the side rooms upstairs, past the sledge made by Ipswich firm Ransomes and Rapier for the great Edwardian explorer, Captain Oates, to take to the South Pole, and turtles lurk alongside tiny local mice, bats, hares and otters.
“I love the bird gallery up there,” shares Tim. “I don’t think I appreciated it as a young child, but the Victorian field observations are simply amazing.” And therein lies an understatement, for the Ogilvie taxidermy collection of British Birds, courtesy of Sizewell and Scotland, is as original and beautifully presented as it is vast. Considered one of the most important and complete in the country, it includes everything from dippers to ducks and divers, from golden eagles to goldfinches, all positioned in natural habitat settings, all capturing the moment as well as the Victorian fascination with nature. The impressive widescreen cliff scenes full of gulls and gannets even make for truly credible filmsets in their own right too.
MORE GOLDEN OLDIES
The discoveries just keep coming, snapshots of faraway places and history close to home. Here, the shimmer of Samurai swords,