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Culture and curiositiesThe Beaney Institute in Canterbury, founded over 110 years ago, has been closed for three years to allow for a £14m refurbishment. Simon Tait fi nds out about the exciting cultural centre that will emerge from beneath the hoardings THE BEANEY

Left: High street view of the Beaney Institute, 2012Below: Dr James Beaney,1828-1891 The Beaney Institute is a much-loved part of Canterbury's High Street that will return to the community later this year after a three-year absence behind hoardings. During that time, its size has been doubled, and it is being transformed at a cost of £14m from a Victorian amenity to a 21st-century social resource. Everyone in Canterbury knows about the Beaney, but hardly anything about the picaresque Dr James George Beaney - the man who gave his name and £10,000 to create Canterbury's combined central library and museum."He was a doctor in Australia," says Janice McGuinness, the city's Head of Culture and Enterprise, "but there was something shady about him, something 'back street'. He was known as Diamond Jim because of the amount of jewellery he liked to wear."Born in Canterbury in 1828, he got his medical degree in Edinburgh. He served in the Crimea, studied venereal diseases in Paris and worked as a ship's surgeon en route to the USA, and eventually settled in Melbourne where he set himself up as a surgeon. In 1866, he was charged with murder after an abortion on a barmaid went wrong, but was acquitted for lack of evidence.A fl amboyant self-publicist, Beaney was largely shunned by Melbourne's medical establishment and the course of his fortune is obscure, but he nevertheless gave popular lectures after which he served champagne to the attendees. He died in 1891 leaving money to establish scholarships in All images: Canterbury City Councilpaediatrics, as well as to create the museum and library in his birth city. It opened on the site of the George and Dragon pub in 1899.The museum was a new home for the collections developed from the 1820s by the local philosophical society, sharing with the new public library. Designed by the city architect, its mock Tudor frontage was devised to chime with some of the older surviving buildings in Canterbury."It was basically a 'cabinet of curiosities'," says Joanna Jones, the Canterbury City Council's Director of Museums and Galleries. "Lots of natural history and objects brought back by adventurers and explorers." At least half of what is going on display has not been seen for at least a generation, the decision having been taken in the 1950s to limit the exhibits to local material. Jones will take delivery of the museum in mid-March, at least six months later than she had hoped. Completion was delayed fi rst by the discovery of archaeological treasures beneath the foundations, some of which will have a special display in the museum's offer. They range from the complete and undamaged Roman gold bracelet of about AD150, which will take pride of place when the Beaney reopens in September, to 18th-century pewter tankards from various inns that ? Opposite: The George and Dragon pub which occupied the site before the Beaney was NADFAS REVIEW / SPRING 2012 33 THE BEANEY