The Manchester Museum, established in 1867 and owned by the University of Manchester, is the UK’s largest university museum, containing about 4.5 million items from around the world. Situated on Oxford Road (A34), at the heart of the university’s group of neo-Gothic buildings, it is a major visitor attraction and academic resource, and received about 430,000 visitors a year until its temporary closure for renovation and reconstruction in August 2021. It is anticipated that the museum will reopen in February 2023.
The museum’s first collections were assembled by the Manchester Society of Natural History, formed in 1821 with the purchase of the collection of the cotton manufacturer John Leigh Philips. The society established a museum in Peter Street, Manchester, and in 1850 the collections of the Manchester Geological Society, founded in 1838, were added. By the 1860s both societies encountered financial difficulties and, on the advice of the evolutionary biologist Thomas Huxley, Owens College (now the University of Manchester) accepted responsibility for the collections in 1867. The museum in Peter Street was sold in 1875 after Owens College moved to new buildings in Oxford Street.
The college commissioned Alfred Waterhouse, the architect of London’s Natural History Museum, to design a museum to house the collections for the benefit of students and the public on a site in Oxford Road (then Oxford Street); the Manchester Museum was opened to the public in 1888. At the time, the scientific departments of the college were immediately adjacent, and students entered the galleries from their teaching rooms in the Beyer Building.
Two later extensions mirror the development of the museum’s collections. The 1912 pavilion was largely funded by Jesse Haworth, a textile merchant, to house the archaeological and Egyptological collections acquired through excavations he had supported; the 1927 extension was built to house the ethnographic collections. The Gothic Revival street frontage, which continues to the Whitworth Hall, has been ingeniously integrated by three generations of the Waterhouse family. When the adjacent University Dental Hospital of Manchester moved to a new site, its old building was used for teaching and subsequently occupied by the museum.