Ipswich Museum opened in Museum Street in 1847, and museum lectures were inaugurated in 1848 by Professor Henslow, mentor to Charles Darwin. The museum ran out of funds in 1853, but the people of Ipswich voted to save the museum and it passed into the ownership of Ipswich Corporation, becoming one of the first museums in the country to be supported by a borough rate. After this time it became, and continues to be, free to all visitors.
In 1873 the museum committee assumed responsibility the nearby School of Art, and a School of Science was added in 1875. The Museum and the Schools of Art and Science were relocated to a purpose-built building in the High Street, opening in 1881. The Museum still occupies this building, with terracotta panels announcing Art and Science on either side of the main door, and sculptured reliefs of William Hogarth and Isaac Newton on the gables. The art school moved to a new building adjacent to the museum: no longer an art school, this is now a contemporary arts gallery.
The museum, alongside the splendid natural history collection, contains extensive examples of ethnography and social history, as well as geology and archaeology that covers the whole of Suffolk from the Palaeolithic period onwards, and which includes Egyptian, Anglo-Saxon and Roman finds. There are objects from everyday domestic and social life from 1600 right up to the present day, including objects from Africa, Asia, North and South America, and Oceania. The Egyptology gallery houses an Egyptian mummy, on loan from Colchester Castle museum. The specially created room in which it resides includes a number of artefacts, and a CT scan of the mummy, Lady Tahathor.
The museum continues to provide inspiration and collaborative practice opportunities for artists.
Victorian Natural History Gallery
The Victorian cabinets are lined with exotic foreign animals arranged in their zoological classification. They are watched over by hunting trophies and the only complete mounted specimen of a rare sub-species of giraffe. Alongside are the first gorillas ever seen in Britain, an Indian rhinoceros and a large diorama of African animals built in 1906.
The Ogilvie British Bird Gallery
Our vast collection of British birds on display is considered to be one of the most important and complete in the country. Fergus Menteith Ogilvie (1861-1918) was a 'sportsman-naturalist' with a great enthusiasm for the study of birds and orchids which he carried out with thoroughness and scientific insight.
Suffolk Wildlife Gallery
Come and see our life-sized model of a woolly mammoth who will guide the visitor through what happened after the Ice Age. What animals lived here then? When did humans and our familiar British animals come to live here? Are they British species or invaders? See the bear, wolf and boar of wild Britain before the land was farmed.
British Mammal Gallery
This gallery hosts a display of beautifully set Victorian dioramas of British mammals in their natural habitats. Also find out about the distribution of mammals throughout Suffolk.
Suffolk Geology Gallery
The geology of Suffolk from 70 million years until 10,000 years ago is displayed in the geology gallery. Chalk fossils sit alongside East Anglia's famous crag deposits, phosphatic nodules, glacial erratics and boxstones. Come and see the teeth of the extinct giant shark Megalodon from the Eocene period. Also displayed are the rich Pliocene and Pleistocene marine fauna for which East Anglia is known, some of which occur nowhere else in the world.
Events and exhibitions
Ipswich Museum has a lively and engaging year-round events programme - check out our Events Calendar for more information - as well as a number of temporary exhibitions.
Ipswich Museum houses extensive collections behind the scenes which are available for study, research and inspiration. These include extensive and fascinating archaeology, social history and natural history collections.
Visits are welcomed and available by appointment.