Projects, events and news from the University of Cambridge Museums
I don’t think many people expect that one day they will get to wheel a metal dinosaur skeleton through the historic streets of a famous University town – however, on the morning of Tuesday 18 June, some of the team at the Sedgwick Museum did just that.
It was way back in February when I first heard about Clare College’s ‘Primordial’ themed May Ball. The Ball committee had arranged to hold their launch event at the Sedgwick Museum and I had been asked to help staff the evening. During the launch I ended up talking to Eloise, who was in charge of looking after the design of the Ball. I loved the concept and offered my assistance with design ideas and sourcing palaeontological props. I also mentioned in passing that the museum might be prepared to lend some them some specimens.
Later in the month Eloise was in touch to follow up on the offer. We agreed to lend material from our handling collections, including a shark coprolite and casts of two ichthyosaur specimens, along with two wooden cases to display them in. The idea was for the College buildings to have a ‘traditional’ or ‘old-fashioned’ museum feel, echoing the aesthetics many of our visitors embrace at the Sedgwick. As part of the deal I was lucky enough to get a ticket for the Ball, although I would be there to keep a watchful eye on the objects rather than to eat, drink and be merry.
Fast forward to the start of June, when I received an email mentioning that one of our curators was in negotiations to acquire a Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton Clare had purchased for the Ball. Wow. I had so many questions; what did it look like? How big is it? Where would it go? How would we get it to the museum? Over the next few weeks we began to address these, liaising with University of Cambridge Estate Management, the Department of Earth Sciences and the Ball design team at Clare to organise routes, timings, storage and planning permission.
Finding out about the sculpture itself was the most interesting part of the process. The 6m long, 2m tall skeleton, which is roughly half the size of a fully grown Tyrannosaurus rex, was made in the garden shed of Doncaster-based blacksmith Ian Curran. A keen sculptor, he works mostly with sheet metal and his No. 4 fly press. A fly press is a metalworking machine tools used to almost silently shape and cut metal. Ian uses this quiet process so as not to disturb his neighbours whilst he is expressing his creative side! More of his work can be seen online.
So just a few weeks after the news broke, 10am on the moving day had arrived. A 6 person strong team of staff and volunteers from the museum, plus Adam, who had been chief ‘dino-carer’ at Clare, assembled to transport the beast through Cambridge – by foot. I was still a little blurry-eyed from the Ball, which I had only left at 3am that morning, but I managed to battle the tiredness and found the strength to help. We carefully navigated the cobbles, cyclists, cars, tourists and roadworks between Clare and the Downing Site, attracting a considerable amount of attention as we rolled down King’s Parade. The camera snaps of photographers Sir Cam, A Cambridge Diary, and the University’s Communications office, alongside those of wide-mouthed onlookers, followed us on our 30 minute journey.
Clare College and the Sedgwick Museum share some strong historical links. Former Woodwardian Professor Thomas McKenny Hughes was a Fellow in the late 1800s, and former curator Dr Colin Forbes was at Clare during both his undergraduate degree and PhD, later becoming a generous benefactor to both the Museum and the College. Colin’s initials have recently been carved into his favourite cobble in Clare’s Old Court in his memory, after his sad passing this year. Our current Woodwardian Professor, Professor David Hodell, is also a Fellow. We have decided to name the sculpture ‘Clare’, after the College. It will act as a permanent reminder of the Ball for the College and as a light-hearted addition to the Clare-Sedgwick connection.
‘Clare’ will be installed outside the museum for public display in a few months’ time, where we hope she will become a popular addition to the palaeo-themed exterior decor. An announcement on an official unveiling will be made later in the year.
Rob Theodore, Collections Assistant (Documentation and Display), Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences