Within the next few years the Museum hopes to make major improvements in the facilities it offers to visitors, readers and students. A planning application has been submitted to the Oxford City Council for approval, detailing a scheme which has been developed with the support of the Renaissance Trust and in association with the specialists in museum and exhibition design, TBV Dangerfield.
While the development would take place outside the walls of the historic building, it would be accommodated on the Museum’s central site and incorporate a new special exhibition gallery, new workshop and studio facilities, a new library and a new education room.
At present the Museum lacks an adequate workshop and photographic studio, has no space for lectures or other group events for visitors, has no climate-controlled store for sensitive material, has only two offices for its three curators and has no public lavatories. In addition, half of the historic chemical laboratory is inaccessible to general visitors, as it is occupied by the library, and the recent expansion of the special exhibition space has been made possible only by the removal of important instruments from permanent display. The whole of the Museum is also inaccessible to many people with disabilities.
At the front of the building, while preserving most of the lightwell between the railings and the building itself, excavation beneath the cobbled pavement would provide space for a reading room and librarian’s office, an education room, and a store suitable for rare books, manuscripts, historic photographs, and other sensitive material.
The new exhibition space would be a walk-through gallery with access via the Beeson Room and the door at the bottom of the stairwell. With the relocation of the library, the great vault of the ‘Officina Chimica’ – the first laboratory in a public building in England – would be able to span a single dramatic gallery in the Museum’s basement.
The scheme needs planning permission and listed building consent if it is to proceed further. Then would begin the effort to raise funds for its implementation. Were the Museum able to find the £1 million required, not only could the project be completed, but the displays in the existing galleries could be dramatically upgraded.
Since the Museum of the History of Science occupies what is understood to be the world’s first public museum building and displays an unrivalled collection of medieval, Renaissance and early-modern scientific instruments, it should, it is hoped, not be impossible to attract sufficient interest to bring such a scheme to fruition.