Makeover for quirky exhibit at Whitby Museum

Mark Edwards, keeper of Whitby Museum, with the newly refurbished Tempest Prognasticator ''w130305a
Mark Edwards, keeper of Whitby Museum, with the newly refurbished Tempest Prognasticator ''w130305a

ONE of Whitby Museum’s most bizarre exhibits has been restored to its former glory.

The Tempest Prognosticator was designed in 1850 as an instrument for predicting stormy weather.

Its creator, Dr George Merryweather, was a local doctor, and curator of the museum for 17 years between 1840 and 1861.He built a device powered by the medicinal leech, which are particularly affected by changes in atmospheric conditions just before a storm.

A leech was placed, in water, in each of the twelve glass jars and the jars are connected to a bell at the top of the centre stem by chains.

The leech would become excited by the oncoming storm, dislodge the chain and the bell would ring.

Mark Edwards, curator of Whitby Museum said: “It sounds highly improbable - but it was proven to work; recently an American university built a similar machine, which also worked.”

The original instrument was shown at the Great Exhibition in The Crystal Palace, in London in May 1851, but sadly none were sold and no original survives.

In 1951 a copy was made for the Dome of Discovery at the Festival of Britain in London, based on the three hour lecture he gave to Whitby Literary and Philosophical Society, and later printed.

This model was presented to Whitby Museum by gift of Parliament.In the weeks before Christmas, the Prognosticator was cleaned and restored to its original glory by Alan Dickinson, of Nexus Sculpture.

Mr Edwards added: “While washing out the jars he discovered that the leeches, which Museum staff had assumed were lead or plaster models, were actual leeches, but sadly long-dead.

“In the interests of animal welfare, Alan made replica leeches in modelling clay. He has also installed LED lighting to highlight the model.”

The work was funded by the Thomas William Varley Roe deceased Fund, who recently funded the complete re-lighting of rooms and cases in the older parts of the museum with object-friendly, energy-efficient LED lights.Whitby Museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 9.30am to 4.30pm.

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