The Leeds museum which vanished from history

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Victorian Leeds was a place of where scientific and technological advancements were encouraged.

As a forward-thinking industrial city, it was a hotbed of new ideas, and members of the growing middle class were also keen to educate themselves in both traditional and modern subjects.

In 1819, the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society was founded to provide opportunities for the city's most learned men to discuss and debate intellectual topics.

Its members also supported scientific exploration and discovery, and two years later opened a museum in their neo-classical premises, the Philosophical Hall, which showcased many fascinating artifacts.

The building, on Park Row, was home to an Egyptian mummy which arrived in England in 1823. The remains of the ancient priest Nesyamun were excavated from Thebes, and were displayed in a glass case in the Phil Hall, which also had lecture theatres and a library.

By 1862, the museum had proved so popular with the public that it was expanded. By this time, it was home to 6,000 zoological specimens and thousands of other exhibits in its geology and mineralogy sections.

There was an elephant skeleton and the stuffed bodies of a lion, an armadillo and a boa constrictor. The bones of an ancient hippo discovered on a building site in Wortley were added to the collection, and there was also a Roman pavement.

It was a major visitor attraction in Leeds well into the 20th century, but suffered significant damage in a World War Two air raid in 1941. The facade of the Phil Hall was destroyed and three floors collapsed, while the explosion shattered many of the glass cases.

Damage to both the building and the exhibits was repaired, and a year later the museum was re-opened.

Yet the post-war years and the city's redevelopment would sound the death knell for the Phil Hall. It was closed in 1965 and demolished a year later, and the site is now occupied by HSBC.

Leeds Corporation had already taken over the running of the museum from the Society back in 1921, and the collection was preserved in storage until it was transferred to the former Mechanics Institute building in 2008 and re-opened as the Leeds City Museum.

Many of the original exhibits remain out of public view, although the mummy is still on display.

The Society still exists today, meeting under the presidency of A C T North, who has held the role since 2010. Its papers are kept in the University of Leeds libraries.

Picture: A Leeds City Museum curator with the stuffed body of a hippo which lived in London Zoo until the 1930s. After it died, it was displayed in the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society's collections.

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