Two Hundred Years at the Museum


Property of the Fitzwilliam Museum

I once got told off for trying to take a photograph of my two-year old son in the Fitzwilliam Museum – apparently they claim image right for him, or something – so I was not surprised to read that in 1869 nursemaids and toddlers were banned wholesale from the Museum. The truth is, I was nursemaiding my son that day, wasting a bit of time looking at priceless antiquities in between rides up and down in the glass lift and trips to the cafe for a bit of cake; so perhaps they were just enforcing ancient statues.

1869 is relatively recent history for the Fitzwilliam, which this year is celebrating the two hundredth anniversary of its foundation  by Viscount Fitzwilliam, who had studied at Trinity Hall and amassed quite a lot of interesting objects during his travels. His initial bequest included Titians and Veroneses, and a great deal of autograph music, by Handel and Purcell, among others, not usually on display.

The current edifice on Trumpington Road with its magical lions and  efficient attendants opened to the public in 1848 (when, prior to the nursemaid/toddler ban, it was stipulated that only respectably dressed individuals would gain admittance). Under its thirteen directors (one of whom was the ghost writer, M.R. James, a fellow of King’s College), the museum has sucked in vast collections of antiquities from around the globe, Classical to Renaissance to Japanese to Chinese to Egyptian.

I do not know what the dress code is now, but children are in fact for the most part welcome.

A rolling exhibition on the history of the museum will begin in February and continue throughout the year. Details here