Secret museum of weird and wonderful natural history set to open by popular demand

Professor Tim Birkhead in the Alfred Denny MuseumThe University of Sheffield’s ‘secret’ natural history museum is set to open on a regular basis, following the huge success of granting public access for the first time during Festival of the Mind last year (20-30 September 2012).

TV bird expert and animal behaviour specialist Professor Tim Birkhead opened the doors of the little-known Alfred Denny Museum to the public for the first time in over a century for a series of guided tours during the festival.

This teaching museum was created by the University’s first Professor of Biology, Alfred Denny in 1905. Last year, visitors to the museum flocked in their hundreds to see some of the museum’s weird and wonderful artefacts, including the enormous skull of an extinct man-sized eagle – known as the ‘Terror Bird’.

Following massive public interest, Professor Birkhead has secured funding to open the museum to the public on the first Saturday of every month from this weekend (Saturday 2 February) between 9.30 – 1pm.

Alongside the Terror Bird, exhibits also on display include a half porpoise, fossilised tiny flying dinosaurs, and Sun Spiders with their ferocious, poisonous jaws.

The intriguing collection, which is a working study museum for students in the Department of Animal and Plant Sciences, will be manned by volunteers during public access.

One such volunteer, Duncan Jackson, 19, said: "Having the museum in the department really helped with my course work. I would like a career working with zoology collections in museums so having the opportunity to get some experience as a volunteer in the Alfred Denny Museum will really help."

A visitor during Festival of the Mind signed the visitor book saying: “What a hidden treasure. It has been a real privilege to be allowed to see it. It was a surprise how extensive the collection is, and how instructive. What an amazing collection. Reminds me of Pitt-Rivers Museum in Oxford.”

Professor Birkhead said: “The public’s enthusiasm for the museum has been inspirational. We’re thrilled to be able to open up the museum for everyone. We’re so pleased that the public are eager to learn more about the amazing world of nature and there’s no better place to start than here at the Alfred Denny Museum.”

Professor Vanessa Toulmin, who curated and directed Festival of the Mind, said: "The fact that the Alfred Denny Museum, or the 'Cabinet of Curiosities' as it was known during Festival of the Mind, will now be regularly open to the public is fantastic. This has come about due to the overwhelming public demand during the festival. It shows just how much of an appetite the people of Sheffield have to learn about the fascinating work that goes on at the University."

Additional information

The Alfred Denny Museum is located at the Department of Animal and Plant Sciences at the University of Sheffield.

You can book your place for the first Saturday of any month until December

2013 by emailing (if you experience any difficulty please ring 0114 222 9308 during office hours.)

Festival of the Mind
Festival of the Mind is a collaboration between the city and the University of Sheffield which showcases the University’s cultural strengths by bringing together research staff from the University and the cultural and creative industries in the city, through a series of high impact knowledge exchange partnerships. The Festival of the Mind is for everyone - the general public, academic colleagues and the professional and cultural quarter. Festival of the Mind will return to Sheffield this Autumn for a mini-festival in September 2013 before returning as a full festival in September 2014.

The University of Sheffield

With nearly 25,000 of the brightest students from 125 countries coming to learn alongside 1,181 of the world’s best academics, it is clear why the University of Sheffield is one of the UK’s leading universities. Staff and students at Sheffield are committed to helping discover and understand the causes of things - and propose solutions that have the power to transform the world we live in.

A member of the Russell Group, the University of Sheffield has a reputation for world-class teaching and research excellence across a wide range of disciplines. The University of Sheffield has been named University of the Year in the Times Higher Education Awards 2011 for its exceptional performance in research, teaching, access and business performance. In addition, the University has won four Queen’s Anniversary Prizes (1998, 2000, 2002, 2007), recognising the outstanding contribution by universities and colleges to the United Kingdom’s intellectual, economic, cultural and social life.

One of the markers of a leading university is the quality of its alumni and Sheffield boasts five Nobel Prize winners among former staff and students. Its alumni have gone on to hold positions of great responsibility and influence all over the world, making significant contributions in their chosen fields.

Research partners and clients include Boeing, Rolls-Royce, Unilever, Boots, AstraZeneca, GSK, ICI, Slazenger, and many more household names, as well as UK and overseas government agencies and charitable foundations.

The University has well-established partnerships with a number of universities and major corporations, both in the UK and abroad. Its partnership with Leeds and York Universities in the White Rose Consortium has a combined research power greater than that of either Oxford or Cambridge.


For further information please contact:

Amy Stone
Media Relations Officer
The University of Sheffield
0114 222 1046