History of the Geology Museum


The Geology Collections are one of UCL's accredited museums and have a history stretching back to at least 1855. A Museum of Geology was founded then, some 14 years after the first Professor of Geology, Thomas Webster, had come to office.

The Collections have been housed in their present location, the Rock Room, since 1908.

The Early Years

The Museum of Geology at University College was founded around 1855, some 14 years after the first Professor of Geology Thomas Webster came to office. The early plans of the College show that a room had been designed for a museum of Botany, Geology and Mineralogy when the College opened in 1828. However, since the chair remained vacant, the room was not required.

A Museum of Geology and Mineralogy was not properly formed until John Morris became Professor in 1854. The real development of the study of geology and mineralogy belongs to this time. The original rock collection was enhanced by gifts from Greenough, one of the founding fathers of the College, and Murchinson an eminent geologist. Greenough died in 1855 and bequeathed his collection to the college. Morris also made valuable additions, and in 1883 donated his geological library.

1900 - 1931 The Garwood Years

Interior of Museum in 1908, Wall Cases and Microscope

Professor Edmund Garwood took Office in 1901, and appointed Edith Goodyear as his assistant in 1903. She spent many hours working with the museum. In 1907 the Museum moved into the South Wing First Floor, after the removal of University College School to Hampstead, and this gave an opportunity for the collections to be expanded and improved. The Museum occupied two rooms and the passage in between. A special room named the Rock Room was devoted to rocks and minerals, whilst a larger room was devoted to Physical, Stratigraphical, and Palaeontological collections.

The First World War led to a reduction of the activities in the Museum. However, a valuable collection of fossils chiefly from the Lower Palaeozoic was presented in 1916 by Bishop Mitchinson, Master of Pembroke College, Oxford.

Miss Edith Goodyear

Just prior to the War, a Trust deed was in preparation to arrange for the transfer of a valuable collection of volcanological material to the Department. This collection belonged to Dr Johnston-Lavis and consisted mainly of rocks and minerals, books and engravings, in their cases, illustrating the volcanology of the Mediterranean volcanoes. The collection was housed at Beaulieu, Alpes Maritimes, and delayed by the war, arrived in London in 1920. From July 1925 the collection opened to the public and was housed in temporary accommodation at 134 Gower Street.

1931-1943 W.B.R.King

Professor W.B.R. King (1931-1943) was appointed to succeed Garwood.

Early on in the Second World War, the department was moved to Aberystwyth, and Professor King arranged for the Greenough and other valuable collections to be moved to Surrey in 1940. The College was bombed in September, but Geology was luckily not affected except for broken windows and a fallen ceiling. The following April there was another heavy attack and one incendiary bomb, falling onto the floor above, eventually burned through and fell into the Geology Museum. No lasting damage was caused.

Post War


After the war, the collections were brought back to the Museum on the First Floor. However, the fortunes of the collections then took a downward turn. In the same year, it was agreed the north side of the first floor Museum should be vacated for the telephone exchange. The collections were ‘telescoped’ and the BMNH and Geological Survey were offered the type specimens so they could be incorporated into the National Collections.

Rock and Mineral Collections were kept in drawer units beneath display cases in the Rock Room, and there were further teaching collections in two laboratories on the Second floor. In the early 1980’s with the merger with Queen Mary College, a major reallocation of rooms took place, priorities changed, and several of the collections were moved into store.