Yorkshire Museum

History of the Yorkshire Museum

The Yorkshire Museum was one of the earliest purpose-built museums in the country.

It opened in 1830 as the new home for the collections of the Yorkshire Philosophical Society.  The first keeper was the famous geologist John Phillips.
The museum is built in the grounds of York’s Abbey, St Mary’s, on land given by royal grant in 1828.
It probably wouldn’t be allowed today, but the museum was constructed over the remains of some of the Abbey buildings.  These can still be seen in the basement of the museum.
The Yorkshire Museum collections have remained true to the original interests of the founders – archaeology and science.  Indeed, when the museum was founded archaeology was considered a branch of science.  In 1831 the first ever meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science was held at the Museum.

The archaeology collection relates largely to York and North Yorkshire.  Since 1830 most of the significant objects found within the city become part of the museum’s collection.

Today the museum houses galleries showcasing some of Britain’s finest archaeological treasures from the city’s Roman, Viking and medieval past as well as a nationally significant natural science collection, some of which is on show in Yorkshire’s Jurassic World.

Highlights of the archaeological collections include the Roman statue of Mars, the best example of 3D Roman sculpture ever found in Britain, the York Helmet and the stunning Middleham Jewel.

The York Observatory in the Museum Gardens is the major part of our Astronomy Collection. The 4 inch refractor telescope was built by York man Thomas Cooke in 1850, who went on to make the then-largest telescope in the world.

It was installed in 1981 when the observatory was restored.