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Page last updated at 13:07 GMT, Friday, 23 July 2010 14:07 UK
Transforming Peterborough Museum for 21st Century
Artist's impression of new geology gallery, Peterborough Museum
Jurassic period marine reptiles will be the stars of a new geology gallery

Peterborough's Museum and Art Gallery is to be redeveloped, thanks to a £3.2m investment.

The Grade II listed Georgian building has been the city's museum since 1931.

It has internationally important collections, including prehistoric sea monsters and Napoleonic prisoner of war craftwork.

The money comes from Peterborough City Council and a Heritage Lottery grant, and will result in Peterborough having a museum fit for the 21st Century.

Big changes

As well as helping to preserve the building for many years to come, the redevelopment will allow more of the museum's collection to be put on display.

Exterior of Peterborough Museum & Art Gallery
The 3.2m investment will transform galleries at Peterborough's museum

Currently it only has room for 10 per cent.

There will be new galleries for wildlife and geology, for the Napoleonic prisoner of war craftwork, to explain the history of the building and to explore social history.

"Peterborough has a wealth of heritage that deserves to be celebrated," said Inga Grimsey, Chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund Committee for East of England. "This project will transform Peterborough Museum, creating new opportunities for visitors from near and far to explore and enjoy the museum's fantastic collections."

Operating theatre

The Museum and Art Gallery is one of Peterborough's oldest buildings. Parts of it date back to 1536, while the current structure was built as a private house in 1816.

In the 1850s it became the city's hospital, and it still houses a very rare example of a Victorian operating theatre, which is currently hidden away in an inaccessible corner. Once the redevelopment is complete, it will be fully restored and open to the public.

Artist's impression of new Norman Cross gallery, Peterborough Museum
Napoleonic crafts will be displayed in the new Norman Cross gallery

In 2010 the Museum and Art Gallery was transferred to Vivacity. This is a not-for-profit organisation which now manages many of the cultural and leisure facilities previously operated by Peterborough City Council.

"This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to bring our museum up to date, and put Peterborough on the map as a heritage destination," said Kevin Tighe, Chief Executive of Vivacity. "And we're grabbing it with both hands."

Visitor numbers at the museum have increased significantly in the past few years. It received 77,000 visitors in 2009 to 2010, an increase of 10 per cent on the previous year.

"You can see from the success of the recent Heritage Festival that the people of Peterborough love seeing our history brought to life," explained Mr Tighe.

Ghostly approval?

The museum houses the world's best collection of crafts made by Napoleonic prisoners of war. They were held at Norman Cross, just outside Peterborough, and made exquisite objects in bone and straw to sell at a market at the prison's gates.

Artist's impression of new reception, Peterborough Museum
The museum's reception and shop will be changed completely

It also has a fine collection of prehistoric marine reptiles, excavated from local brick pits. The Jurassic-period sea monsters are 150,000 years old.

The museum is claimed to be one of Peterborough's most haunted buildings. A Roman soldier, a white lady, a First World War soldier and a hooded figure are all rumoured to haunt the building.

And those involved in transforming the geology gallery had better beware. The ghost of a little girl is reported to like leaving messages on tape recordings there, and once popped up to terrify a workman.

The Museum and Art Gallery will close on 24 December 2010 and it is hoped it will re-open at the end of 2011.

In the meantime, a mobile museum and other community events are planned during the redevelopment.

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