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Science Museum opens new gallery exploring how London revolutionised science between 1550 and 1800

  • Science City 1550–1800: The Linbury Gallery explores how London’s scientists and artisans transformed our understanding of the world over 250 years
  • Free gallery spanning over 650m square takes visitors on a journey through the metropolis during a time of momentous change
  • The gallery features iconic objects like Sir Isaac Newton’s famous work, Principia Mathematica, Robert Hooke’s microscope, that revealed the secrets of the natural world, and spectacular objects commissioned by King George III as the monarch investigated scientific principles
Visitors with the Philosophical Table © Science Museum Group
Visitors with the ‘Philosophical Table’ in Science City 1550 - 1800: The Linbury Gallery, Jody Kingzett

Science City 1550–1800: The Linbury Gallery takes visitors on a 250-year journey through London as the city became a globally-important hub of trade, exploration and scientific enquiry. Open from 12 September 2019, the gallery explores how London’s evolution into a world city during this time facilitated the ground-breaking work of artisans designing precise scientific instruments and scholars placing empirical evidence at the heart of discovery.

The changing face of the city is echoed through the gallery’s design by artist Gitta Gschwendtner, an intriguing cityscape that immerses visitors in historic London as they meet the innovative artisans and thinkers of the time. On entering the gallery visitors are greeted by a pair of beautiful celestial globes from 1599, designed by Willem Janszoon Blaeu, a cartographer for the Dutch East India Trading Company. The globes were created at a time when Amsterdam eclipsed London on the world stage and the gallery will chart the changes that repositioned the city as a world power.

The gallery features seminal text Principia Mathematica, by arguably the most famous figure in British science Isaac Newton, that lays out the laws of universal motion. Also on display is Newton’s text Opticks, which alongside his own reflecting telescope of 1671 was used to illustrate the principles of light and reflection.

Visitors will also see a microscope designed by Robert Hooke, the Royal Society’s Curator of Experiments and a copy of the ground-breaking Micrographia. Hooke’s exquisite drawings of insects and plants captivated the scientific community when they were published in Micrographia in 1665, the book marked the first use of the term “cell” and became the first scientific best-seller. As well as reflecting Hooke’s curiosity and ingenuity, his microscope also reveals the close relationships he cultivated with London’s talented artisans in order to realise his designs. 

Recently acquired for the nation via the Acceptance in Lieu scheme, and permanently allocated to the Science Museum Group is the ornate Barnard Tompion clock, resplendent in its surviving, original oak carry case. The clock is thought to have been designed for Queen Anne by esteemed clock-makers Thomas Tompion and Edward Banger in 1708 and was given by King George II to Andrew Stone, tutor to the future George III.

The relationship between science and the monarchy are explored through a range of spectacular objects commissioned by King George III upon his coronation in 1761. An air pump and ‘Philosophical Table’, made by leading London instrument-maker George Adams, enabled the monarch to carry out a wide range of pneumatic and mechanical experiments for the education and entertainment of himself and his family. These instruments, along with the many others in the Royal Collection reveal the King’s enthusiasm for science.

In the gallery there is a range of models of machinery used by lecturer Stephen Demainbray, including a model of the pile driving machine used in the construction of Westminster Bridge during the 1740s, that revealed to Demainbray’s spectators the engineering feats that were transforming the city around them.

Science City 1550–1800: The Linbury Gallery draws on three iconic scientific collections: the Science Museum Group Collection; the King George III collection owned by King’s College London; and the collection of the Royal Society. Together they represent the evolution of London as a centre for scientific endeavour, when artisans and scientists worked together to reveal the hidden workings of their world.

Alexandra Rose, lead curator of Science City 1550–1800: The Linbury Gallery, said: ‘Between 1550 and 1800, London transformed from modest commercial centre to major world city. Science was integral to this transformation, both shaping and shaped by the capital’s ambitions and preoccupations. Science City 1550–1800: The Linbury Gallery unites objects from three extraordinary collections: the Science Museum Group Collection; King’s College London’s King George III collection; and objects and artworks lent by the Royal Society. Together these collections chart the birth of experiment and the growing desire for precision measurement that became the basis of modern science, and show how London fostered its own particular brand of scientific enquiry.’

Sir Ian Blatchford, Director of the Science Museum Group, said: ‘I am delighted that we now have a permanent space in the museum to display some of the most beautiful and historically significant objects in our collection, and tell this fascinating story of how London helped shape science and, in turn, how science helped shape the city during this period. By the end of 2019 the Science Museum will have over 3,500 of new galleries open to the public, with Science City 1550–1800: The Linbury Gallery being followed closely by Medicine: The Wellcome Galleries which open in November. Creating spaces for visitors to enjoy our collection of iconic objects and stories is incredibly important and I’m thrilled to give people greater access to the Science Museum Group Collection.’

Edward Harley OBE, Chairman, Acceptance in Lieu Panel, Arts Council England said: ‘I am delighted to announce the allocation of this Tompion clock, number 460, to the Science Museum. Thomas Tompion combined an eye for elegant design with a deep understanding of the intricacies of clock making, producing watches and clocks of great complexity and beauty. I hope that this example will encourage others to use the Acceptance in Lieu scheme to continue to enrich public collections here in the UK.’

Supported by a National Lottery Heritage Grant and made possible by funding raised by National Lottery Players, the Science Museum is collaborating with youth groups in local boroughs to develop creative responses to key themes in Science City 1550–1800: The Linbury Gallery. The initiative is designed to inspire young Londoners with the city’s history of combining scientific thought and artistic endeavour. Working with partners including EPIC in Kensington and Chelsea, The Lyric Hammersmith, and Caxton Youth Organisation in Westminster, young people aged 15-25 are creating films, artwork, craft and performance pieces that will be showcased early next year.

A new book, Science City: Craft, Commerce and Curiosity in London, 1550–1800 edited by curators Alexandra Rose and Jane Desborough accompanies the gallery. Published by Scala, the book delves further into the stories behind these fascinating objects.

Science City 1550–1800: The Linbury Gallery is funded by The Linbury Trust, the National Lottery Heritage Fund, DCMS/Wolfson Museums and Galleries Improvement Fund and The John S Cohen Foundation. The gallery is free to visit and will open to the public on Thursday 12 September 2019.

For further information or to arrange interviews please contact Senior Press Officer Freya Barry on freya.barry@sciencemuseum.ac.uk or 020 7942 4327.

Please find images available to download here: https://we.tl/t-WyJ37zORry.

Notes to Editors

About the Science Museum

As the home of human ingenuity, the Science Museum’s world-class collection forms an enduring record of scientific, technological and medical achievements from across the globe. Welcoming over 3 million visitors a year, the Museum aims to make sense of the science that shapes our lives, inspiring visitors with iconic objects, award-winning exhibitions and incredible stories of scientific achievement. More information can be found at sciencemuseum.org.uk.

About the Science Museum Group Collection

The Science Museum Group cares for an astonishingly diverse and internationally significant collection of 7.3 million items from science, technology, engineering, medicine, transport and media. Together these objects tell the story of our world—from the rise of the Indus Valley civilisation over 3,000 years ago to the microchips powering our connected planet today.

Many of the items now on display in Science City 1550–1800: The Linbury Gallery can also be seen online

About The Linbury Trust

One of the group of grant-making foundations that are collectively known as The Sainsbury Family Charitable Trusts (SFCT), The Linbury Trust was founded in 1973 by Lord Sainsbury of Preston Candover KG and his wife, Anya, Lady Sainsbury, CBE, the former ballerina, Anya Linden. The Trust supports organisations and causes across a broad range of categories, including the Arts; Education; Museums and Heritage; Environment; Medical; Social Welfare and Developing Countries.

About the National Lottery Heritage Fund

Using money raised by the National Lottery, we Inspire, lead and resource the UK’s heritage to create positive and lasting change for people and communities, now and in the future. www.heritagefund.org.uk. Follow @HeritageFundUK on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and use #NationalLotteryHeritageFund 

About the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) / Wolfson Museums and Galleries Improvement Fund

This is the thirteenth round of a joint fund which DCMS runs in partnership with the Wolfson Foundation. The fund aims to provide capital funding for museums and galleries across England to deliver projects in one or a number of the following key areas:

  • Material improvements to the display and interpretation of collections, in both permanent galleries and exhibition spaces
  • Improvements to access and/or interpretation for visitors with disabilities
  • Physical improvements to public spaces to enhance visitor experience
  • Improvements to environmental controls, collections storage and conservation facilities to enhance the care of collections

The Wolfson Foundation (www.wolfson.org.uk) is an independent charity that supports and promotes excellence in the fields of science, health, education and the arts and humanities, including awarding the Wolfson History Prize, the UK’s foremost history prize. Since it was established in 1955, over £900 million (£1.9 billion in real terms) has been awarded to more than 11,000 projects throughout the UK, all on the basis of expert review.

About King’s College London Archives

King's College London Archives, and the associated Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives, preserve hundreds of valuable collections relating to the history of modern education, science, medicine, literature, conflict and culture, spanning more than two centuries. The collections include the research associated with the discovery of the DNA double helix in the 1950s, papers of hospice pioneer, Dame Cicely Saunders and those of the Army High Command in World War Two. The Archives has responsibility for the King George III Collection housed in the Science Museum, which was gifted to King's by Queen Victoria and which was originally housed in the Strand. The Archives fully support research, teaching and public engagement, including exhibitions and participation in projects such as the Georgian Papers Programme.

About the Royal Society

The Royal Society is a self-governing Fellowship of many of the world’s most distinguished scientists drawn from all areas of science, engineering, and medicine. The Society’s fundamental purpose, reflected in its founding Charters of the 1660s, is to recognise, promote, and support excellence in science and to encourage the development and use of science for the benefit of humanity. Website: http://royalsociety.org. Follow the Royal Society on Twitter (@royalsociety) or on Facebook (facebook.com/theroyalsociety).

About the Acceptance in Lieu (AIL) scheme

On display as part of the gallery is the Barnard Tompion clock. The silver-mounted ebony striking table clock of small size was made for Queen Anne by Thomas Tompion and Edward Banger, London, circa 1708, no. 460. The acceptance of the clock settled £1,500,000 of tax. As the tax settlement value generated by the offer exceeded the offerors’ tax liability, the Science Museum has paid the offerors the difference.

The AIL scheme is administered by the Arts Council. The AIL Panel, chaired by Edward Harley, advises on whether property offered in lieu is of suitable importance and offered at a value which is fair to both nation and taxpayer. AIL allows those who have a bill to Inheritance Tax to pay the tax by transferring important cultural, scientific or historic objects to the nation. Material accepted under the scheme is allocated to public collections and is available for all. In the last decade this important government initiative has brought nearly £380m worth of treasures into public ownership for the enjoyment of all - see more at: http://www.artscouncil.org.uk/what-we-do/supporting-museums/cultural-property/tax-incentives/acceptance-lieu/

The Arts Council is the national development body for arts and culture across England, working to enrich people’s lives. We support a range of activities across the arts, museums and libraries – from theatre to visual art, reading to dance, music to literature, and crafts to collections. Great art and culture inspires us, brings us together and teaches us about ourselves and the world around us. In short, it makes life better. Between 2018 and 2022, we will invest £1.45 billion of public money from government and an estimated £860 million from the National Lottery to help create these experiences for as many people as possible across the country. www.artscouncil.org.uk.

About Discover South Kensington

Discover South Kensington brings together the Science Museum and other leading cultural and educational organisations to promote innovation and learning. South Kensington is the home of science, arts and inspiration. Discovery is at the core of what happens here and there is so much to explore every day. discoversouthken.com.