The origins of Manchester Museum

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The origins of Manchester Museum lie with the collection of John Leigh Phillips. He was a local collector and manufacturer. After his passing, a small number of wealthy people came together to buy his ‘cabinet’. During 1821, they set up the Manchester Natural History Society.

From 1835, the museum was in grand premises on Peter Street. The collections carried on increasing, with Members as well as separate bodies donating more and more items. These came from all over the world. In 1850, the Manchester Geological Society’s collections were procured.

Changes during the late 1800s

The 1860s was a very hard period for the Natural History Society. There were issues at the time, including the fact that there was very little money left. In addition, the building had no space left to display new items.

In 1868, the museum made the move to Owens College. Later on, this became the University of Manchester. The college sought the aid of famous architect Alfred Waterhouse to design the structure. It opened in 1890.

In time the establishment got the name Manchester Museum. By then, many people were using the collections. They were vital for educating schoolchildren and advancing the research of Owens College professors.


At the same time, the number of donations was continuing. As a result the museum had to extend again, firstly between 1912 and 1913, and then in 1927. Waterhouse’s son and grandson designed these new parts of the museum. The extensions were for the display of new Egyptology and ethnographic collections.