Oxford Natural History Museum and the Pitt Rivers Museum
On a cold but sunny January morning we left Marlow promptly as scheduled at 10am. to travel by coach the short distance to Oxford. On arrival we were split into two groups, one to visit the Museum of Natural History first and the other to visit the adjoining Pitt Rivers Museum, however most headed for the cafe for a coffee break.
The Museum of Natural History is a truly magnificent Victorian building built in the 1850s and designed by the Irish architects Thomas Newenham Deane and Benjamin Woodward. With towering iron columns and vaulted glass roof it is light and airy. The Ground floor of the Museum is dominated by a collection of dinosaur fossils including a T Rex called Stan. The world famous ‘Oxford Dodo’ is also found there representing the only soft tissue remains of the extinct dodo.
Originally known simply as The University Museum it focussed on drawing together scientific studies from across the University and continues to be a place of active scientific research today. An example of which we saw during the afternoon when a young woman from the university talked at the ‘Spotlight on Species’ stand about limpets and barnacles, showing us samples and describing their lifestyle. The Upper Galleries have a collection of insects along with amazing larger than life models of beetles, praying mantis and numerous other bugs and insects, a fascinating collection of gemstones and a quite beautiful display of British birds, ducks and geese, ranging from the all too common pigeon to the very rare Dartford Warbler. It was interesting to see which birds are threatened with extinction due to changes in climate and habitat but also the success of the reintroduction of the Red Kite!
The adjoining Pitt Rivers Museum was founded in 1884 when an influential figure in archaeology and anthropology, Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt-Rivers gave his collection of more that 20,000 objects to the University of Oxford. With its dim lighting and maze of display cases housing 40,000 artefacts (there are 500,000 in storage!) it is a stark contrast to the Museum of Natural History. The objects are grouped according to how they were made or used rather than by cultural origin or age thereby showing how ordinary people lived, thought and communicated. Each object has a tiny handwritten label; magnifying glasses and torches may be borrowed to read these more clearly! Objects include musical instruments, weapons, textiles, model ships and some rather gruesome shrunken heads. Ann was particularly interested in some of the textiles especially a man’s waterproof parka from Alaska which was made from seal intestine. A very utilitarian garment but made extra special with borders embroidered with 20,000 stitches!
For most of us there was enough to keep us interested for a week, however some of the party also managed a visit to the Ashmolean Museum close by. Lunch was available in the first floor cafe, however, they did eventually run out of sandwiches and some members resorted to buying children’s packed meals. We boarded our coach outside at 3.30pm and had a pleasant drive home arriving in Marlow at 4.20pm.
Thanks to Sue G-W for running such a great day out.
 Ann & Tim Dennis