Q&A with Jon Murden

Simon Stephens, 09.01.2017
Dorset County Museum to go deeply Dippy
Jon Murden is the director of Dorset County Museum, which has been chosen as the first stop on the UK tour of Dippy, the Natural History Museum’s (NHM) famous Diplodocus.

Dippy first arrived in London in 1905 but is leaving the NHM to make way for a 25.2-metre diving Blue Whale skeleton, which will form the centrepiece of a redeveloped Hintze Hall that reopens this summer.

Dippy, which has never been displayed outside London before and left the Hintze Hall last week, will be unveiled at Dorset County Museum in early 2018.

It will then travel from Dorchester to Birmingham Museum; Ulster Museum, Belfast; Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow; Great North Museum, Newcastle; National Assembly of Wales, Cardiff; Number One Riverside, Rochdale; and Norwich Cathedral.

Murden, who became the director of Dorset County Museum in 2009, has also worked at National Museums Liverpool, where he was a gallery coordinator on the Museum of Liverpool project.

Why has Dorset County Museum been chosen as the first stop on the Dippy tour?

Dorset is the heart of the Jurassic Coast Unesco World Heritage Site – 95 miles of coastline that showcase 185 million years of natural history.

As the place where pioneering scientists such as Mary Anning and Osmond Fisher carried out their fieldwork, Dorset is arguably the birthplace of palaeontology and, as a result, there is nowhere in the UK more appropriate for Dippy to start his national tour than Dorset.

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How will the display of Dippy be linked to your collections?

Dorset County Museum is home to an internationally significant collection of geology and palaeontology from the Jurassic Coast and Dippy’s display here will be closely linked to the stories about the evolution of life that these reveal.

For example, Dorset County Museum has the remains of sauropods similar to Dippy that lived in Dorset at a slightly later period. And we will also be able to compare Dippy with the huge marine reptiles that patrolled the seas that covered Dorset at the same time.

Dippy roamed the land that now forms Wyoming – most notably the Weymouth Bay Pliosaur, the largest prehistoric marine reptile over discovered, which is the star of our Jurassic Coast gallery.

What kind of reaction do you expect from visitors?

The arrival of Dippy could literally be the biggest thing to ever happen to Dorset, certainly to Dorset County Museum. We are expecting an unprecedented level of interest and visits, all with the goal of using Dippy and our collections to inspire future generations of scientists. We are also delighted to be working in partnership with the Jurassic Coast Trust to bring Dippy to Dorset.

Through this collaboration, we will be working with schools, community groups, local charities, children’s centres, and other museums and visitor centres along the length of the World Heritage Site to help people across the region take full advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

What else has the museum got to look forward to over the next few years?

In May 2015 we were awarded a first stage pass by the Heritage Lottery Fund towards a £13.4m transformative project for Dorset County Museum.

Dippy therefore comes at probably the most exciting time in the museum’s 175 year history as, after he leaves in May 2018, we will start to deliver these capital works.

As a result, by 2020, we will have opened five new galleries that use the diversity of our collections to create the only museum in which the full richness of the story of Dorset can be discovered.

These will be combined with state-of-the-art collections storage and conservation facilities, the restoration of our 19th-century museum building, and the development of new learning opportunities that engage a larger and more diverse range of audiences – all of which will empower us to make much better use of the 4,000,000 scientific specimens and cultural artefacts in our care.

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