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From Derby Museum to World Museum Liverpool

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What is now World Museum Liverpool opened as the Derby Museum of the Borough of Liverpool on March 18, 1853, Edward Smith-Stanley (1775-1851) 13th Earl of Derby having left his natural history collection to the Borough of Liverpool when he died. To house it, the city council had hastily built a museum building at the intersection of Slater Street and Parr Street, near the docks.

When the Derby Museum opened in 1853, it exhibited a small part of the Earl of Derby’s natural history collection, some paintings, a few models of Liverpool, and examples of exports that had been exhibited earlier in London at the first World’s Fair, The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nations (1851). The curator added aquarium tanks in 1857, making the Derby Museum the second public aquarium in the world.

Sir William Brown (1784-1864), 1st Baronet, a wealthy merchant, banker, and politician, offered to pay £6,000 to build a dual-use library-and-museum building if the city government would pay to furnish it. Ultimately, he contributed over £20,000 and Shaw’s Brow was renamed William Brown Street in his honor.

William Allom won the design competition but his design would have proved too expensive, so it was modified by a city employee, surveyor John Weightman. Architect Sherlock designed the three-floor Central Library’s domed Picton Reading Room, which was added in 1879.

On October 18, 1860, Brown formally transferred the building to the Mayor of Liverpool as the Free Public Library and Derby Museum. [This building became known as the William Brown Library and Museum.] The Liverpool Free Public Museum, as it was renamed, opened one year later.

On October 19, 1906, the Liverpool Free Public Museum physically expanded when it began to share space in a second building with the Liverpool Central Technical School. The Liverpool Free Public Museum occupied two floors of that building, which now house Bug House and World Cultures, while the former Liverpool Central Technical School examination hall on the ground floor is now the museum café.

On May 3, 1941, the Luftwaffe bombed Liverpool and a 500-pound bomb landed on the Central Library. Thankfully, many cultural treasures from the library and the adjacent museum had been moved for safekeeping in the 1930s.

It was one of the victorious powers, but England came out of the war the worse for wear. No part of the museum would re-open fifteen years.

That was an undamaged part of the museum. Prime Minister Harold Wilson opened the first rebuilt part of the museum on March 25, 1966.

The museum’s planetarium – England’s first outside of London – opened on May 22, 1970. The organization National Museums & Galleries on Merseyside – now called National Museums Liverpool – assumed control of the museum on April 1, 1986.

The Natural History Centre opened on August 1, 1987. When a new aquarium and refurbished galleries opened on April 29, 2005, the Liverpool Museum officially changed its name to World Museum.

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