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Rotunda Museum, Scarborough

Founded: 1829        Governance: Local authority      Scope: Geology & Palaeontology, plus some local history   Visited: Autumn 2015

It was a chill and foggy morning when I arrived in Scarborough and went looking for the Museum. 'Is there a local history museum in Scarborough?' I asked the young woman on duty at the front desk. 'No, this is it', she replied helpfully. I hesitated a bit as I am really, really interested in rocks only to a very limited extent, but decided to carry on beyond the shop, and was glad I did.

The Rotunda is a wonderful relic of a bygone age. A grandiose and breathtakingly ugly Classical drum of Harkness stone, it sits above the gardens and gazes out to the North Sea, when that's visible. The Museum owes its existence to William Smith, whose insight that the same rocks contained the same sorts of fossils and could thus be dated by stratification opened the way to the modern science of geology; released from debtor's prison, Smith came to Scarborough, where the local landscape provided him with ample scope to explore his ideas. Smith secured local patronage and set up the Scarborough Geological Society which gathered the collection and arranged the construction of the Museum to house it. 

But it's still just rocks. Or it would be without a massive restoration and refurbishment programme in 2006-8 which produced a museum full of delight and fascination, and striking beauty. An 'orientation' gallery with some animated films which are a bit disorientating for anyone over the age of 12 leads into a primeval realm of fibreglass dinosaurs and real specimens (including a relatively recently-discovered plesiosaur skeleton), and then you ascend to the great glory of the Rotunda - the dome gallery. Lined with its original restored Victorian display cabinets, the dome houses not just geological and palaeontological specimens but machine models, looted relics of Empire, portraits of Yorkshire scientific dignitaries, and a violin. Above the tiered cases is the dome itself, from which light gently filters like a fall of feathers past coloured glass. It's so beautiful it brings tears to the eyes, and I only regret I can't give you more than a hint of it here. 

This is more than just rocks. This is rocks made to sing like angels. 

Rotunda Museum, ScarboroughRotunda Museum, Scarborough
Rotunda Museum, Scarborough
Rotunda Museum, ScarboroughRotunda Museum, Scarborough
Rotunda Museum, ScarboroughRotunda Museum, Scarborough

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