pitt river

I am taking you into the heart of Oxford with this month’s ‘building of the month’ blog and to a building that was a regular haunt for me during my Architectural training.

These two museums, which adjoin each other, are housed in a beautiful Grade I listed building which looks as though it has been plucked straight out of the pages from the Lord of the Rings.

In fact, J. R. R. Tolkien wrote his Lord of the Rings trilogy and the hobbit during his time as a professor in Oxford and is known to have frequented a pub not far from the museum with fellow writer C. S. Lewis, so it is plausible that the building helped to shape the worlds within the book.

The Oxford University Museum of Natural History is of a Victorian neo-gothic style and was built by Sir Thomas Deane (1792-1871) and Benjamin Woodward in 1855-60. It contains 126 columns within the central room and each column is constructed from a different British rock.

The Pitt Rivers Museum was built in 1885-6 by T. N. Deane, the son of the Architect for the University Museum of Natural History.

The Pitt Rivers underwent an extension by PRS Architects, with the help of lottery funding, in 2009. This extension has made it much more accessible and included the installation of a lift giving access to all floors. Prams are ok, although I wouldn’t say the display cases are easily navigated with a larger pram. There is a family trail for children to get involved in (you might want to censor the shrunken heads?!)

Both museums are a treasure trove of quirky artefacts and curiosities and the Pitt Rivers even hosts a pufferfish lantern (circa 18th century) in its display!

But for me it is the building itself which is the main pull for a visit, it’s skeletal form and delicate vaulted glass roof makes you take a deep breath as you enter and it’s only when you finally look down from the ceiling that you notice the dinosaur in the centre of the room!

Entry is free (always a winner!) and if you are looking for lunch head into the Natural History’s café for sandwiches and cakes or take a walk into the city itself, there’s always plenty of food options in and around the covered market.



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I returned to work as an Architect exactly 15 months after having my daughter. She was early (not excessively, but enough to make me re-evaluate how precarious having a baby can be) and because of this, I wanted to extend the time I had fully with her beyond the one year (3months of which is unpaid) that is lawfully given to parents taking maternity/shared paternity.

Obviously after 12 months I was expected back at my then job working in the building conservation sector, and this 12-month deadline is what pushed me I suppose to revert back into the world of architecture, although in all honesty I had trouble getting information from my then employer about returning and I had been missing the ‘Architect’s life’ for a while!

Around about 2 months into my maternity leave I began panicking that I did not want to return to work on my daughter’s first birthday! I didn’t want to go back full time, I didn’t want to return to the London commute that had been the absolute bane of my working life for three years (I don’t know how people do it day in day out for years and years, my husband included), I didn’t want to go back to a job that I didn’t feel absolutely 100% passionate about; because, after all, if I was giving up time with my precious child it had to be worth it both professionally and mentally.

I didn’t feel that my current job could or would accommodate any of these criteria. Not to mention the fact that no one in my department or the HR department returned my emails/phone calls/cries for advice on returning to work. Could they offer anything on flexible working/change of location etc? I will never know!

In fact, I’m pretty sure that I had grounds under the 2010 equality act to claim unfair treatment on returning to work post maternity. But luckily for them and for me, I had found something else and I was happy to cut and run.

As my daughter turned 4 months I found myself doing the all so familiar searches for new companies feeling a tad dejected, most people I knew who had continued to work post motherhood had done so in the job that they had pre-baby.

How easy would it be to get a part-time, well-paid job in an industry I had been away from 2 years prior to my mat leave?! Let alone a job in a company that met my architectural aspirations? I didn’t want to fall back into the London trap, where I had spent a few stressful years working on large-scale residential projects that sat a little uncomfortably on my conscience.

And then fate played its hand: sat in my Linkedin inbox was a message from the director of a company I had worked for during the summers of my architectural training. “do you know anyone looking for a job, with the intention that they are trained up to become a director in the business one day?” (do I? I thought!!) my reply was something along the lines “I don’t know many Architects in your area unless you fancy re-hiring me?!” I then went on to list all the reasons why they wouldn’t want to hire me; I didn’t want to start for another 13 months, I didn’t want to work full time, I didn’t live that near to the company anymore…… the list went on. “Why don’t you keep in touch and let us see where we are nearer the time” came the reply.

As my daughter turned 11 months, I had met with the directors and the rest of the staff and had been offered a job, 2.5 days a week with the proviso that this was reviewed over time.


And then…….

What do I do with the little one?! Will she hate me forever for leaving her? Will it stunt her growth/ my relationship with her? Can I remember how to use the computer programs? Have all the regulations changed while I’ve been conserving roman walls and teaching my child how to walk?! Can I remember how to do private small-scale historic projects or did I spend too long in the cutthroat corporate environment prior to leaving architecture completely?!

The questions and obstacles were endless and (as a CBT therapist once warned me I was prone to do) before long I was spiralling into a chasm of self-doubt.

My ever-patient husband declared, he would support me whatever I decided and pointed out that if it was something I wanted to do, the obstacles I was throwing in the way could be overcome.

My parents gave me the old trusty ‘pufferfish’ and ‘architect of distinction’ pep talk (will save the explanation for another day) and then, as they have always done, bent over backwards to ensure that I could follow my dreams; They would look after my daughter, until we felt comfortable putting her into nursery.

And after many a cup of tea (all spirals are resolved, in part, with a cup of tea) and endless discussions on every possible outcome of me working, it was decided, I would start in March on a 6-month trial basis and see how it was going.

So then came another guilt, is it acceptable for my parents to do the childcare and not offer it to the in-laws!?!

We settled on my parents having her while I was working in the office (they are close to my office) and my in-laws having her when I worked from home (they are close to my home). I then had a few glorious months of maternity leave knowing that I had a job to go to but that it was a way off.

I believe I stuck my head in the sand during these months not really wanting to face the idea of leaving my tiny toddler and before I knew it, it was the week before I was due to start…and here is where we hit our first snag in the perfect returning to work, not paying for a nursery scenario. My in-laws had booked to go away for the first month that I returned to work, great! Well my parents stepped in, my nan who is 99 and is visited by my mum once a week was rearranged (another guilt) and we were on; the day came.

At this point, I was living over an hour away from my new ‘perfect’ job and so decided that I would stay at my parents on the middle night. The morning of my first day arrived and I was up at 5.30 packing the car with our overnight stuff. We set off and I dropped my daughter with my parents, made sure she was settled and left, without saying goodbye (I agonised for hours over whether it was better to slip away or say a proper goodbye) on the day she was happily reading a book with my mum so I decided to just scarper.

I got to work and realised that I hadn’t forgotten everything that I knew, but that I was a little out of date on some new planning policies, “I’ll research those at home” I thought (PAH!).

I arrived back from a pretty good, pretty uneventful first day to a beautiful wide smile from my girl and the report that she had been happy all day. Lovely.

As planned we stayed over that night and I got little to zero sleep, with a very clingy toddler who not only was at a loss as to why I had disappeared all day but was also confused not to see her daddy.

The next day went ok, again little one was happy as I headed off and I got reports throughout the day that she was doing well. I arrived home to pick her up; pretty exhausted now with all the emotion of going back to work and having done two full days, an up all-nighter and two very early starts. I opened the door and my daughter took one look at me and burst into tears. It was heart-breaking.

Was she crying because she was relieved? Had she thought she had been abandoned? Was she cross with me for disappearing? Did she hate this new routine? Did she want to see her Daddy? I cuddled her and tried not to cry myself!

Having managed to calm her down, we did bath time at nanna’s and got into the car to go home, I couldn’t wait to see my husband. The car journey went ok until; about two minutes in she started crying. 5 minutes in and she had been sick everywhere.

I turned the car around and headed back to my parent’s house to try and clean her up and console her. We decided to stay another night.

Great, I thought. The end of my first week and I had made my daughter miserable to the point that she had made herself sick. I was completely exhausted and depressed, I missed my husband, I had missed being with my baby and I was missing the comfort of my own house.

How on earth was this going to work?