BUILDING OF THE MONTH – OXFORD UNIVERSITY MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY & THE PITT RIVERS MUSEUM

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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