Ice Age Ilford is a temporary exhibition currently running at Redbridge Museum in east London, featuring loans from the British Geological Survey (BGS). Redbridge Museum Manager, Gerard Greene, talks about the partnership between the Museum and the BGS:
Over 200,000 years ago, Ilford was home to mammoths, elephants, rhinoceros, giant deer, wild cattle and even lions. Hundreds of their fossilised bones were unearthed in Ilford 150 years ago, making it one of the most important Pleistocene sites in the UK. Many of the fossils are now in the collections of the BGS and in this special exhibition, the BGS worked with Redbridge Museum to enable some of these fossils to return home for a brief visit.
I found the staff at the BGS were incredibly helpful. We visited the stores and were overwhelmed at the richness of the collections but also at how much the BGS were enthused by our project. They understood immediately what we wanted to do and made the loans process very simple for us, particularly as we are a small museum. After discussions, the BGS team made a selection of loans and then visited the Museum. They had taken life-sized images of the bones which made the display preparation so much easier for us and was great to have. Even more amazing was a 3D scan of a mammoth tooth which they printed out for us – this was quite unexpected and very high-tech!
The fossils formed the centrepiece of the exhibition which was designed by Redbridge Museum. The displays explain what the Ice Age was, what creatures lived in Ilford during that time, why the area has preserved so many fossils and showed how workmen digging in brickfields during the mid-nineteenth century started to uncover them. In this way, the displays not only show life 200,000 years ago but what Ilford was like before being swallowed up as a suburb of London.
We also worked with a local community group, the East Ilford Betterment Partnership, and the Natural History Museum, London, to display a cast of the skull of the ‘Ilford mammoth’, one of the most complete examples ever found in the UK.
The response to the exhibition has been really positive. Visitors are delighted and surprised to find out how important Ilford is in the scientific world and I think this helps to boost civic pride, one of the key local political agendas. So far, the exhibition has had over 3000 visits with February half-term’s family mammoth trail resulting in the most visitors the Museum has ever had for that time of the year. It has also been a hit with local schools and the Museum has taught the topic to over 1000 pupils so far in newly designed education sessions which will become a core part of our programme after the exhibition finishes. Over the next few years we hope to comprehensively redevelop the main Museum and the topic of ‘Ice Age Ilford’ will be a key part of this and we look forward to continuing our partnership with the BGS.
Ice Age Ilford runs until 4 June 2016
Redbridge Museum, Central Library, Clements Road, Ilford, Essex IG1 1EA