Monday, 11 January 2016

Let's hear it for regional museums

One of my favourite museums is the Oxford University Museum of Natural History. I've been there a few times now and it never bores or disappoints. For all sorts of reasons:

Image courtesy of Jorge Royan - Wikimedia Commons
  • Unlike the Natural History Museum in London, you don't have to queue for ages to get in, nor fight the crowds once you're in there.
  • The Victorian neo-Gothic architecture is amazing - it's light, airy and immediately uplifting. 
  • You can call me an old fart, but I like the fact that the artefacts are left to speak for themselves without too much fancy schmancy interactive kit getting in the way. Even Son, who loves anything techy, spent hours poring over cabinets of insects. 
  • Although it's not as big as the NHM in London, there's plenty of geological and zoological stuff to see. On our recent visit, admiring the birds, the bugs and a geology exhibition in the upstairs gallery occupied our whole time.
  • The collections are excellent, as you'd expect - it being Oxford and all. Grandad says the bird collection is better than London's. (Naturally in this day and age, we don't approve of killing animals for collections, but most of the exhibits we saw looked genuinely historical).
  • We especially enjoyed the current special exhibition about William Smith, the father of modern geology. The geological maps he produced of the UK are fascinating, as is his story (he started life as a humble surveyor and worked his way up). We were surprised by the fact that although he was successful in his field he ended up spending time in a debtor's prison due to his lack of business acumen. ("This would make a great book!" we exclaimed, little realising that there already is one.)
And all this for free. (Although donations were made, of course). Aren't we lucky?

As if that's not enough, the Pitt Rivers Museum, which houses the University's archeological and ethnographic collections, lies directly behind the Oxford Natural History Museum. Trouble is, it's hard not to get sidetracked by the Natural History Museum on your way there. One day I'm going to 'do' the Pitt Rivers Museum in its own right. 

Have you got a favourite local museum I should check out one day?

17 comments:

  1. We visited that musuem last time I was down south we loved both, although like you we whizzed round the Pitt Rivers Museum.

    We spend a lot of time in museums. Ones I love are the smaller ones in towns/cites. I have yet to take my children to any of the London musuems I visited them loads as a child but the thought of them now is just too much! I could give you a list but I will probably just bore you as there are so many that are good!

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    1. Good to see some fellow museum lovers here. From yours and the comments below I can see I need to explore some of the smaller museums round here.

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  2. Don't think I'll be Oxford anytime soon, but as a geologist, I'd like to see William Smith'a maps. I've made geologic maps without any fancy equipment and they're not that easy to do.

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    1. I'm guessing you can probably find Smith's maps online. I'd have no idea how you'd go about making a geological map so kudos to you!

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  3. I found that book about Smith at a local second hand shop here in the US. I loved the way they folded the cover in an unusual way and that it unfolds to make a map. It is a great story and an amazing map!

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    1. The book's definitely going on my reading list for this year!

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  4. Oxford is our local city, so they are our regional museums. I love both of them, and the Ashmolean (also free) is also amazing and more child friendly than might be imagined. About 18 months ago my youngest two and I whizzed round all 3 in a day, plus the History of Science museum, conveniently situated between the two sites. That was quite dry- pretty much just cases of old scientific instruments- and was our least favourite although I was interested that it was the original site of the Ashmolean. Anyway, all 3 museums in a day is not really to be recommended, but they are all fascinating and it was a full day out!!
    I'd also like to put in a vote for County museums, at least in Oxfordshire. My experience is mostly Banbury and Woodstock, but they've been great over the years- interesting, interactive and well worth a visit. My children liked that there was the familiar ('We have to go and see the fox next') plus a changing exhibition. And they're free :)

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    1. We went to the Ashmolean a few years ago, but with some extra nieces in tow, I was more focused on making sure I didn't lose anybody rather than the exhibits. Will have to go back one day. I know Woodstock very well, but haven't been inside the museum for several years. Must rectify that this year!

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  5. Thanks for the tip. I've walked past with my son, who is studying at Oxford, a few times and wondered about it. It will definitely be on the agenda for my next visit!

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  6. As a student studying Archaeology & History, I have a real passion for museums.

    There are a few I can recommend...two are in Reading...http://www.readingmuseum.org.uk/ and https://www.reading.ac.uk/merl/visitus/merl-visitus.aspx (small museum but well worth a visit).

    I am local to Chippenham, I can recommend http://www.chippenham.gov.uk/chippenham-museum-heritage-centre/ (free and has a lot of children's activities). Also, although not a museum, this is a fantastic resource http://www.wshc.eu/

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    1. Thanks for those tips. Embarrassed to admit that I have never been inside Chippenham museum. I'm going to rectify that this year, definitely!

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  7. We discovered the Pitt Rivers a couple of years ago - fascinating museum! I can highly recommend the Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery on Park St. It's run by the council, has free entry and is an eclectic mix of Egyptian artifacts, dinosaurs, stuffed animals and art. It's housed in a great Victorian building and has a real 'Night at the Museum' feel about it. I also really like the M-Shed, Bristol's new(ish) museum of the city, positioned on the harbourside and - once more - free entry.

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    1. Thanks for highlighting those Kathryn - I love them both too.

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  8. I love the P-R Museum, but there is never enough time! I am so glad he never read Marie Kondo's Tidying Books, or he would have decluttered the lot!

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  9. Abbey Pumping Station in Leicester is quite small but opposite the Space Centre so could be a combined day out. Haven't been for years but it was free, though the space centre isn't. The kids loved the exhibit for Thomas Crapper who invented the flushing toilet. They had a cut-away working toilet with see through pipes running along the wall. My kids just kept taking turns to flush the plastic 'poo' and race it along the pipes to the other end! Not quite up there with Oxford though. Sounds like somewhere we will enjoy now they are older and more mature ;-)

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  10. Just came across this. I agree, the Pitt Rivers is a wonderful eclectic place. My first experience of visiting was nearly 40 years ago when I was a student and a group of us visited with a boisterous group of children from the local travellers' site. It was their first time ever in a museum, we all had a great time, and the museum took us all in their stride.
    If you're ever in South London, I'd really recommend the Hornimans Museum at Forest Hill. The museum is interesting, the surrounding gardens are great and link brilliantly to the exhibits, and the cafe's good too.

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