If you head to Scarborough this summer for a day by the coast and you perhaps find yourself tiring of the candy floss, donkey rides, and penny arcades, or if the rain begins to fall and a wet day on the beach suddenly loses it’s appeal, you may be relieved to know that there is more to Scarborough than the usual seaside town clichés.
In this series we have already covered the wonderful pre-Raphaelite church in Scarborough, and today’s Day Trip recommendation is a little architectural gem, a Tardis of a museum, that opens it’s self up as you explore the spiral interior. The Rotunda Museum is full of historical and geological wonders but it’s the building itself that, for me, is worth the visit.
The museum opened on Monday 31 August 1829 with the presentation of half a brick to the Archbishop of York to mark the occasion, and became on of the first purpose built museums in the world. It now houses one of the foremost collections of Jurassic geology on the Yorkshire Coast contained within the design suggested by William Smith the ’Father of English Geology’. The design itself is part of the geological exhibition as the architecture becomes exhibit. The fossils and rocks within the museum are arranged in the order in which they chronilogically occurred, with the youngest in the cases at the top and the oldest at the bottom. The spiral design within the Rotunda echoes the ammonite fossils so common to this region, giving the feeling that you are not just seeing the geological artefacts on show, but are within them.
The museum is crowned with a dome containing a beautiful frieze painted with examples of the local geological strata running round the circumference below the cornice, coffered dome with its glazed oculus.
The Rotunda was reopened in May 2008 following refurbishment works undertaken with a £1.8 million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, and the artefacts on display are for those interested in geology and history a wonderful, if slightly disorganised treat. The museum contains over 5,500 fossils and 3,000 minerals, and one of the finest collections of Middle Jurassic fossil plants anywhere in the country. With the fossils on show found along Yorkshire’s Dinosaur Coast it is a reflection on the geological importance of the Yorkshire coast.
My favourite in the museums collection is the dark brown skeleton, now known as the Gristhorpe Man. On 10 July 1834 a discovery was made in Gristhorpe near Scarborough. The discovery was made under the watchful eye of members of the Scarborough Philosophical Society, as workmen dug down into a tumulus to discover a large oak coffin. The coffin was opened and inside lay the skeleton of a man along with a quantity of grave goods. The remarkable preservation of the coffin and its contents was ascribed to the water retaining properties of the boulder clay of Gristhorpe cliff. The bones were blackened by a reaction of the iron in the water with the tannin in the bark of the coffin. The bones were very well persevered but very delicate, and were simmered in a thin solution of glue made from horse bones to help strengthen and preserve them. The Gristhorpe Man is thought to be the best preserved example of an oak tree trunk burial in the country.
The Rotunda is open from Tuesday to Sunday 10am – 5pm (including bank holidays), and is situated near Woodend Creative Workspace on the Crescent, to the rear of the Brunswick Centre. The Rotunda overlooks South Bay close to the sea front and is a short walk from the town centre.