The Science Museum Group has re-affirmed its commitment to ambitious plans for the National Media Museum and announced that internationally significant objects made by Marconi and Herschel will be brought to Bradford’s leading cultural attraction.

The Board of the Science Museum Group (SMG) have approved the transfer of world-changing collection items from the Science Museum to the National Media Museum (NMeM). These include unique and culturally important objects relating to the work of pioneers such as Sir William Herschel, Sir Charles Wheatstone, Guglielmo Marconi and Sir John Fleming.

Marconi-Fleming valve radio receiver, c 1908.
Marconi-Fleming valve radio receiver, c 1908.

The Board discussion was held in response to concerns raised by people in and around Bradford, the region’s MPs and councillors following January’s announcement of NMeM’s intention to transfer its art of photography collections to the V&A – part of ambitious plans to change the Museum’s focus to the science and technology of light and sound, while retaining other collections, notably the Daily Herald archive of more than three million images.

At the meeting, Trustees confirmed that the transfer of 270,000 images, 26,000 books and periodicals, 10,000 items of archival materials and 6,000 pieces of camera equipment in the Royal Photographic Society Collection will go ahead but that the transfer of another 85,000 objects will be reviewed and that the NMeM should retain some key items (on long-term or permanent loan from the V&A) from the RPS Collection that support its new vision.

SMG Chairman, Dame Mary Archer, said: “My fellow Trustees and I were struck by the depth of feeling that has been expressed about the future of the National Media Museum. We want to assure the people of Bradford that the aim of the Science Museum Group, like that of the Council, is to improve the Museum, put it on a sound footing, and to shift its emphasis towards inspiring the next generation of scientists and engineers, while still celebrating the city’s key role in film, photography and television.”

In advance of the meeting a series of discussions were held between City of Bradford Metropolitan District Council, NMeM Director Jo Quinton-Tulloch and SMG Director Ian Blatchford to re-affirm the commitment to plans that will see £7.5 million of investment to the NMeM over the next 5 years. This investment will support a mission to inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers by giving an unrivalled insight into the science, technology and culture of light and sound.

The Trustees’ strong commitment to the future of Bradford’s premier visitor attraction has also been welcomed by the council – which has invested £1m in the Museum’s education programme for Bradford schools between 2014/17.

Councillor David Green, Leader of Bradford Council, said:  “We have worked closely with the National Media Museum over the development of new galleries and have given financial support of a million pounds over three years to improve visitor numbers and experience.

“The National Media Museum is really important to our city both culturally and economically and we will continue to support its development, working with partner organisations and citizens.

“It’s great news the national Science Museum Group has confirmed ongoing commitment to the National Media Museum and to Bradford, and is planning to raise £7.5 million of investment over the next 5 years. Also that there will be a transfer of unique and important exhibits from the Science Museum in London to Bradford and discussions about retaining key items from the Royal Photographic Society collection in Bradford.

“I look forward to the opening of the new £1.5 million interactive gallery next year and the development of a £5m ‘Treasures’ Gallery.”

At the meeting, Trustees discussed two petitions and a proposal by local MP Naz Shah, that SMG should retain and digitize the RPS Collection itself. However, Trustees decided that – given the strong commitment given by the V&A to digitising the transferred objects so they reach a global audience – it would be better to focus SMG resources on the NMeM’s ambitious future plans.

V&A Director Martin Roth said: “We are fully committed to increasing access both to the physical objects and the digitisation of the collection. We also believe that the National Media Museum’s future plans are exciting and will actively support programming there in future.”

The change in focus in Bradford under Jo Quinton-Tulloch is already beginning to have an impact. She said: “Our 11 per cent growth in visitor numbers compared to last year is the strongest performance across our museum group this year and our science-focused half term activities were the most popular for several years. I’m confident that our plans will enable the National Media Museum to continue to grow its visitors and confirm its position is a key cultural institution – the ‘jewel in the crown’ for Bradford.”

Naz Shah, Local MP, said: “Whilst I am supportive of the wider direction of travel in so far as the investment and development of the museum, I am disappointed that the Trustees felt unable to retain and digitise the RPS collection. I’m not convinced the board understood the passionate concern of local people. I agree that keeping key objects from the RPS on display in the museum and bringing more significant objects from the Science Museum Group’s collection to Bradford will ensure that our city’s cultural life is not downgraded. I will be having further discussions to ensure that Bradford’s voice remains at the heart of all future discussions and actions.”

SMG Trustees have also confirmed the intention to rename the Museum in 2017, with a title that reflects its new focus and its status as a nationally important museum.

Featured image : Guests listening to a performance during the evening reception for the launch of   “The Exponential Horn: In Search of Perfect Sound ” an art installation by Aleksander Kolkowski featuring a reconstruction of the giant 27ft long Denman horn. Aleksander Kolkowski was the Sound Artist in Residence in 2012, he is a composer and researcher who uses historical sound recording and reproduction apparatus and obsolete media to make new music.