The History of World Museum

World Museum is the oldest of the museums and galleries operated by National Museums Liverpool. It first opened on 8 March 1853 in the Ropeworks district of Liverpool, and it moved to its present site on William Brown Street in 1860.

It has expanded to become one of the great museums of the British regions, with collections and displays of life sciences, earth sciences and human cultures around the world.

You can read and download a complete history of the museum, 'Liverpool's museum: the first 150 years' here:

Derby Museum of the Borough of Liverpool

When the 13th Earl of Derby died in 1851, he left his natural history collection to the town of Liverpool. The town council arranged for the collection to be moved to a hastily built museum on the corner of Slater Street and Parr Street, not far from the docks. The mayor of Liverpool declared the new Derby Museum of the Borough of Liverpool open on 18 March 1853.

Illustration of the outside of the building

The New Central Technical Schools and Museums Extension Buildings. [larger image]

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William Brown Street

When it first opened, the museum showed a tiny part of the Earl of Derby's collection, some paintings, models of Liverpool, and samples of imports that had been shown at the Great Exhibition of 1851 in London.

In 1857 the curator installed aquarium tanks in the museum - the second public aquarium in the world.

The museum was popular attracting 157,861 visits in its first seven months, and the building was too small to accommodate the crowds.

The council found a site close to St George's Hall for a new larger museum and public library. William Brown (1784-1864), a wealthy Liverpool merchant, banker and politician, offered to finance the building. The design of this new building on what would become William Brown Street, reflected that of the hall across the road - fashionably neo-classical.

Black and white photo of inside of an old museum

Liverpool Museum’s entrance hall. [larger image]

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William Brown originally offered £6,000 for the building, but actually spent more than £20,000 on it. He handed over the new museum and library building to the Mayor of Liverpool on 18 October 1860. The museum was renamed the Liverpool Free Public Museum, and it opened to the public exactly a year later on 18 October 1861.

In 1884 a schools-loan service started up in the museum - the first in any museum - and it circulated 16 boxes of exhibits to 64 schools in its first year.

On 19 October 1906 the museum was extended with a new building shared with the Liverpool Central Technical School. The museum had two floors with large galleries now occupied by Bug House and World Cultures. Today's ground floor museum cafe was the examination hall of the old Technical School.

During the World War II

As war threatened in the 1930s many of the rarest and most valuable objects were moved away from the museum for safety. Liverpool was bombed intensively and on 3 May 1941 the museum was burned down after a 500 pound high-explosive bomb fell on the library next door. Fire raged through the building, leaving large areas just a burnt out shell. It was 15 years before even part of the museum could be reopened.

On 26 January 1956 the least damaged bit of the museum reopened after the war damage. A temporary concrete staircase up the front of the building gave access to a single large gallery. The rebuilding of burnt-out parts of the building took longer, and Prime Minister Harold Wilson opened first phase of the rebuilt museum on 25 March 1966.

black and white photo of the inside of a bomb damaged museum

The Natural History gallery in the Upper Horseshoe gallery following the bombing. [larger image]

Black and white photo of bomb-damaged museum with its roof missing

The damage suffered by the Egyptian gallery during the May Blitz of 1941

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World Museum

The museum's planetarium, said to be the first in the UK outside London, opened in to the public on 22 May 1970.

The museum was one of a group of museums and galleries that were 'nationalised' on 1 April 1986 under the new organisation, National Museums and Galleries on Merseyside, now called National Museums Liverpool.

The museum's ground-breaking Natural History Centre opened on 1 August 1987. It was the first hands-on centre in a museum and has been imitated across the globe.

The museum was renamed World Museum on 29 April 2005 when a new aquarium, refurbished galleries and a new entrance were opened.

Today the museum is famous for its great collections, its history of innovation and the family-friendly experience that it offers. In 2010 visits to the museum totalled 748,065 making it one of the most popular and respected museums in the UK.

Photo of outside of a museum on a sunny day

How World Museum looks today [larger image]