Unique worldwide collection of measurement items to be housed in Ripon
Last updated Apr 16, 2024

A remarkable and extensive international collection containing items of worldwide importance has been delivered to its new home in Ripon following 38 years of planning.

The collection, now in secure storage at the Old Wesleyan Chapel on Coltsgate Hill, was  gathered over decades by husband and wife Alex and Gwen Renton, two mathematics teachers who lived in the Ripon area.

It includes more than 2,000  scientific and technological instruments gathered from across the globe, which have been used in every form of measurement and weighing employed by mankind since 600 BC.

The delivery was made last week.

In 1986,  Mr and Mrs Renton made their phenomenal offer to the Ripon City Festival Trust, when it was making preparations for celebration of Ripon’s 1100th anniversary.

Trustee Barrie Price told the Stray Ferret:

“They said that to mark the anniversary year they wanted to donate their collection to the city, on the proviso that it must stay in Ripon and be made available to children as an educational resource.”

He added:

“Their home was like an Aladdin’s cave, with a vast variety of valuable items, many of which had been sought by the major museums in London.

“It was agreed that they should stay in their possession until after their deaths. Gwen died in May 2005 and Alex in February 2008 and then the search began to find a suitable, safe and secure place for both the storage and subsequent display of items dating from the Babylonian period to the present day.”

 ‘No similar collection anywhere in the world’

In 1997, Professor Norman Biggs, an internationally-recognised expert on weights and measures, based at the Centre for Discrete and Applicable Mathematics at London School of Economics and Political Science, said:

“The Renton Collection of weights and measures is unique, there is no similar collection anywhere in the world and it reflects a broader range of weighing and measuring activity than a ‘normal’ museum collection.”

The collection includes many rare documents, books and catalogues

The collection, which includes a library of books documents and catalogues on matters related to weights and measures, was left in trust  and is under the guardianship of the Knoll Charitable Trust, whose chairman is Mr Price.

A building saved from dereliction

The trust also owns the former Wesleyan Methodist Chapel built in 1861, which ceased being a place if worship in 1963 when it merged with Allhallowgate Methodist Church.

This imposing building was home in the 1960s to U-Save, Ripon’s first supermarket, but fell into dereliction after the store closed.

Following major refurbishment in 1997 it became the office of a regional accountancy practice where Mr Price was a senior partner.

The former chapel was awarded a green plaque by Ripon Civic Society in recognition of its heritage status.

Nexus Dental Laboratory

As well as providing a new long-term location for the Renton Collection, the ground floor of the building has been the base for Nexus Dental Laboratory, following its relocation last year from smaller city centre premises.

Steve Campbell, the company’s chief executive and his colleagues are enthusiastic about sharing the building with a collection of outstanding educational and cultural importance. He said:

“I am filled with a profound sense of privilege and excitement. This collection, arguably the most significant assembly of measurement devices in British history, showcases the pinnacle of ingenuity and precision from past eras and profoundly connects with the rich tapestry of Ripon’s history and beyond.

“This collection is not merely an exhibition of historical artefacts. It represents a celebration of humanity’s relentless quest for knowledge and precision. It brings to the region scientific significance and the compelling stories to inspire curiosity and admiration.”

He added:

“We are incredibly fortunate to be part of this journey. The opportunity to share in the eventual display of these items is a privilege that fills me with gratitude.

“The Renton Collection at The Old Chapel is more than an exhibition; it is a testament to the enduring human spirit of exploration, accuracy, and belief. It invites us to reflect on our past, appreciate the present, and anticipate the future of scientific discovery and understanding.”

The sculpture of Blind Jack with his trundle wheel in Knaresborough Market Place.

Nexus director Iain Baldwin, a former pupil of King James’s School, Knaresborough, said:

“Among the items that we now have in our care is a trundle wheel that is similar to the one featured in the sculpture of 18th century engineer and legendary road builder Blind Jack in Knaresborough Market Place.

“It is incredible  to have, here in Ripon, a real-life exhibit of a measuring device that gives us this local link to a collection of such international significance.”

Before items can go on display the search is on for a person with the necessary skills and knowledge to undertake the mammoth task of working through the extensive collection and getting it into shape.

Mr Price said:

“We will also be looking to appoint a caretaker and enlist the help of volunteers. The plan is to move forward in a measured manner and in the longer term, what we are able to do with this magnificent gift to Ripon will be dictated by the funding that we can obtain.”

He added:

“It is, however, a fantastic gift for the city to receive, working on many levels, as an educational resource to inspire young minds and a visitor attraction that will add to Ripon’s standing as a place that is firmly on the map of  national and international heritage tourists.”

Main image: Barrie Price (right), Steve Campbell (centre) and Iain Baldwin, are pictured with some of the many items from the Renton Collection. 

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