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Science Museum’s new gallery will explore how London revolutionised science between 1550 and 1800

  • Science City 1550–1800: The Linbury Gallery will explore how London’s scientists and artisans transformed our understanding of the world over 250 years
  • Free gallery spanning over 650 m² will take visitors on a journey through the metropolis during a time of momentous change 
  • The gallery will feature 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
Three objects from Science City gallery

Images L-R: Dutch terrestrial globe, 1599, made by Willem Janszoon Blaeu © Science Museum Group; Plate from book Micrographia, by Robert Hooke, 1665 © Science Museum Group; Newton's reflecting telescope, 1671 © courtesy of the Royal Society collections, 2019.

The gallery will take visitors on a 250-year journey through London as the city became a globally-important hub of trade, exploration and scientific enquiry. Opening on 12 September 2019, Science City 1550–1800: The Linbury Gallery will explore 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 will be echoed through the gallery’s design by artist Gitta Gschwendtner, an intriguing cityscape that will immerse visitors in historic London as they meet the innovative artisans and thinkers of the time. On entering the gallery visitors will be greeted by a beautiful celestial globe from 1599, designed by Willem Janszoon Blaeu, a cartographer for the Dutch East India Trading Company. The globe was 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 will feature copies of Principia Mathematica, by arguably the most famous figure in British science, Isaac Newton. The work lays out the laws of universal motion and Opticks, alongside his own reflecting telescope of 1671 used to illustrate the principles of light and reflection. 

Visitors will also get to see a microscope designed by Robert Hooke, the Royal Society’s Curator of Experiments. Hooke used the microscope to create exquisite drawings of insects and plants that captivated the scientific community when they were published in Micrographia in 1665, making it the first scientific best-seller and leading him to coin the term “cell”. 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.

The relationship between science and the monarchy will be 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 will be 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 will 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 m² of new galleries open to the public, with Science City 1550–1800: The Linbury Gallery being followed closely by the Medicine 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.’

Beyond the gallery, 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 will accompany 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.

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 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. Visit the National Lottery Heritage Fund website, 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 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. Visit the website, follow the Royal Society on Twitter or on Facebook.

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.