Construction of the East Block, Science Museum, London, 9 May 1919

Museum History

It was, however, the Art Collections which were looked after first. Queen Victoria laid the foundation stone of a new range of buildings in 1899. She also directed that in future the Museum should be renamed 'The Victoria and Albert Museum' and this title, somewhat confusingly to us now, also applied to the Science Collections. In 1909, when the new buildings were opened, the title was confined to the Art Collections. The Science and Engineering Collections were finally separated administratively and the name 'Science Museum', in informal use since 1885, was officially adopted.

It was on June 26th that year that the institutional reorganisation into two independent institutions was ratified and the title "Science Museum" was officially bestowed. This nomenclature was largely down to the brilliance of Norman Lockyer, the founder-editor of the journal Nature and to senior civil servant Robert Morant. Lockyer's association with the collections since the 1876 Loan exhibition and persistent lobbying on the museum's behalf qualifies him to be described as the founder of the museum while Morant engineered the separation from the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Throughout the late 1800s and first decade of the 1900s Lockyer argued for the importance of a museum distinctively dedicated to Science. As early as 1876 he had ploughed ahead with assembling thousands of scientific instruments, objects and articles in South Kensington and these were subsequently incorporated in The South Kensington Museum, which had originally been founded to promote industry but whose art collections were in their turn increasingly oriented towards art rather than industry.

The pressure from outside government by men such as Lockyer and from within by Morant seemed to work; by mid-1908 questions were being asked in the House of Commons for the establishment of a "science museum properly housed in immediate proximity to the Imperial College of Science and Technology".

 

By June 1909 Morant saw the chance for a separate museum for science when ministers voted to rename The Kensington Museum; once they had approved the new name 'Victoria and Albert Museum' he reminded them the late Queen Victoria had intended the title (first mooted in 1899) only to apply to an art museum. There had to be a Science Museum for the scientific collections accumulated at The Kensington Museum, as the 'V&A' title could not possibly apply to anything but the art collections. The ministers acquiesced.

The intellectual and institutional objective of a separate museum had been achieved. Now it was time to focus on building the physical museum.

In order to plan these effectively a Departmental Committee was appointed in 1910 with Sir Hugh Bell as Chairman. The Bell Committee made recommendations as to the design and content of the buildings which have influenced the development of the Science Museum ever since. It envisaged a range of buildings all the way from Exhibition Road to Queensgate. A start was to be made at the eastern end of the site, with extensions following once experience had been gained with the building and use of the East Block.