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Freeze Frame Scott Polar Research Institute



The Scott Polar Research Institute


Founded in Cambridge in 1920 as a memorial to Captain Robert Falcon Scott, RN, and his four companions, who died returning from the South Pole in 1912. Scott himself had emphasised the importance of science, and from this plea the Institute was born.


The Institute is the oldest international centre for Polar research within a university. During the early years it occupied one room in the Sedgwick Museum of Geology in Cambridge. Its aim was to provide a place where polar travellers and explorers could meet, and where material of polar interest might be collected and made accessible for future research.


In 1934 it moved to a purpose built building in Lensfield Road, designed by Sir Herbert Baker, with funding from the Mansion House Fund and the Pilgrim Trust. In the 1930s it became a base for a number of valuable scientific expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctic. During World War II the Institute served the Government as a centre for research into cold weather warfare, clothing, and equipment. Since the War it has developed further to become an international centre for research and reference in a variety of fields related to polar environments, historical, scientific, and social.


In 1960, the Ford Foundation enabled the Institute to meet the challenge of an explosion in polar information and research an extension containing offices, laboratories, cold rooms and a lecture theatre were added, as well as much needed space for the library.


In 1998 the Shackleton Memorial Library, named in honour of the contributions made to polar research by Sir Ernest Shackleton and his son Lord Shackleton, was opened by the Honourable Alexandra Shackleton, Lord Shackleton’s daughter. The sucessful appeal allowed the Institute to embark on a major expansion of the library, and the Thomas H. Manning Polar Archives. It also provided a new Picture Library and working spaces for postgraduate students and administrative staff. In 1999 it won one of four awards for the Eastern Region by the Royal Institute of British Architecture.


In 2010 the museum was refurbished with the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund, the existing gallery space was increased by 20%, with more objects being displayed. A new temporary exhibition area was also provided, and the original entrance on Lensfield Road was re-opened. The museum was opened on 8 June 2010 by TRH The Earl and Countess of Wessex, marking the centenary of Scott’s 1910-13 British Antarctic (Terra Nova) Expedition.

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