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The Old Museum Building
The Old Museum Building
The Old Museum Building
The Old Museum Building


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UAH and BNHPS Complete Phase One of the Old Museum: Back to Life Project
Ulster Architectural Heritage and Belfast Natural History and Philosophical Society are pleased to announce that the first phase of the Old Museum: Back to Life Project is nearing completion. The project saw the two societies join forces to examine options for the sustainable long-term use of the Grade-A listed Old Museum Building, which is currently on the Heritage at Risk Register. The first phase, funded by National Lottery Heritage Fund, allowed the two societies to explore new uses for the building which would complement the aims of both organisations. This involved consulting with stakeholders, undertaking surveys of the building and exploring options for making the building more accessible and commercially viable; whilst retaining its character and architectural integrity. The outcome from the first phase of the project has been the decision to move forward with plans to make the Old Museum Building into a centre for built heritage and history. The next phase of the project will see these plans progress with testing of programmed events, further research into the history of the building, and the finalising of plans for the building’s restoration. UAH and BNHPS aim to commence the second phase in 2020, subject to funding. You can keep up to date with the latest news by following us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, or by signing up to our email updates.
The Old Museum Building


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The Old Museum Building

About The Old Museum Project

The former Belfast Museum was built on College Square in 1830-31. The building was erected by Belfast Natural History and Philosophical Society (BNHPS), and was intended to be both a meeting place for the society and a home for the members’ varied collections from across the world. The building was designed by architects Thomas Duff and Thomas Jackson in the Greek Revival style; and features a portico which is an exact copy of the octagon tower of Adronicus in Athens. The architectural features such as the cornices and capitals continue the Greek theme, with Greek fret patterns and acanthus motifs. The collections housed in the Museum included Takabuti the mummy, (now residing in the Ulster Museum), who was presented in 1834 and unrolled in 1835 with scientific precision in the upper room. Following the removal of the collections in 1910, after they were gifted to the Belfast Corporation, the Old Museum remained in the ownership of BNHPS who continue to use the building for meetings and lectures today. Alongside the BNHPS and scientific groups, previous users of the building included the Society of Architects (now RSUA), and the building became the Old Museum Arts Centre (OMAC) during the 1990s. Following the relocation of the OMAC, the building has lain dormant, in meanwhile use. Ulster Architectural Heritage (UAH) relocated their offices into the Grade A listed building in 2017, sharing the space with BNHPS and another tenant. The building is in need of a new sustainable use, and requires restoration and modernisation to make it safer, more accessible and return it to its former splendour. It was through this need that the partnership project, Old Museum Building: Back to Life, was born.
Back To Life
In 2018 UAH & BNHPS embarked on the first phase of a project to bring the museum back to life. Following a period of meanwhile use, the building was at risk, having been added onto the Heritage At Risk Register in 2017. The first phase of the Old Museum Building: Back to Life project, funded by National Lottery Heritage Fund, has seen UAH and BNHPS come together to explore potential long-term uses for the building which will complement the aims of both organisations. During this phase, a structural assessment of the building was also undertaken in order to better understand opportunities for making the building more accessible and commercially viable, whilst retaining its character and architectural integrity. During the project so far, consultation with stakeholders and members of the public have offered a clear path ahead; allowing the partnership to move forward with plans to open the building up to the general public through programmed events, as a centre for built heritage and history. The second phase of the project will commence in 2020 (subject to funding). This will see further research into the architectural and social history of the museum, the trialling of new events and the formalisation of the partnership between the two societies. Plans will also be finalised for the restoration of the building, which will include a sympathetic extension incorporating a lift and ramp for disabled access to the rear, subject to approval. The third phase will see the physical transformation of the Old Museum Building take place, and will allow us to open the doors to a wider audience.
Belfast Natural History and Philosophical Society was founded in 1821 as a society dedicated to the study of natural sciences. Shortly after its inception, its members began to amass a collection of specimens including fossils and shells, birds and insects; in order to study them and prepare papers. Gifts of specimens were encouraged from Ulstermen living across the world, and by 1827, the collections and membership of the society had grown to such an extent that the need for a purpose built meeting place and museum had to be acknowledged. In 1829, a site in College Square North was leased and in 1830 the foundation stone of the Belfast Museum was laid. The efforts of the society at that time were directed to increasing the quality of the collections held in the museum, increasing the knowledge of the natural sciences and extending the museum’s public reach. The annual Easter Monday opening of the museum with reduced ticket prices proved extremely popular amongst the general public, with almost one thousand visitors on its first opening in 1845. The latter half of the nineteenth century saw the focus shift from exotic collections to native natural history specimens; however, lack of space and resources saw the museum fall into a slow decline. Facing increasing competition from the Belfast Municipal Museum, in 1910, a decision was taken by the BNHPS committee to gift their collections to the Belfast Corporation, and they now lie within the Ulster Museum’s collections. Whilst the Museum had been a large part of BNHPS’ activities, they still supported learning through conferences, talks, publications, research and fieldtrips. BNHPS continue to do a regular lecture series, and look forward to celebrating their 200 year anniversary in 2021 with a series of special events. You can find out more about BNHPS through their website:
About UAH
Ulster Architectural Heritage is a membership organisation, founded in 1967 in order to work to promote and protect built heritage across the nine counties of Ulster. UAH has established itself as the lead independent voice in the built heritage sector, campaigning for the protection, conservation and heritage-led regeneration of historic buildings and places. Since its formation, UAH has had much success in influencing public opinion in favour of conservation. It campaigned successfully for the establishment of statutory listing, historic building grants and conservation areas. It makes frequent representations to government about planning legislation and policy, and acts as a watchdog to ensure that the available tools are used. It inspects planning applications relating to listed buildings and conservation areas, and aims to make its view known at important stages of the planning process. It also offers advice and guidance on architectural heritage matters to the general public. Alongside promotion, advocacy and guidance, UAH also offers opportunities for learning through a busy events programme; featuring visits to buildings and places of historical and architectural merit, workshops, summer schools, and lectures on architectural history, research and practical conservation. UAH also publishes regular articles and publications. UAH has many exciting ongoing projects, alongside their ongoing work with the Old Museum Building. A long-standing project is the Heritage at Risk Register Northern Ireland, a partnership between UAH and Department for Communities, Historic Environment Division. This project records ‘at risk’ buildings, which are in danger of being lost and acts as a catalyst for their conservation and reuse. You can find out more about UAH and all their current projects on their website:

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We are always happy to hear from people who have stories, photographs, leaflets or artefacts relating to the Old Museum Building, so if you would like to share those with us, please don’t hesitate to get in touch at [email protected]


Membership fees and donations provide our core income and are vital in helping us to work to promote the conservation and restoration of the best of Ulster’s built environment and raise awareness of the importance of our built heritage. We welcome your support to keep the independent voice for built heritage alive.


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