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Quirky Museums in Oxford

Top of the list must be the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford beloved by generations of visitors. Take a torch to see the dense displays of everyday objects from around the world and across time. Exhibits include a tiny Chinese embroidered shoe for a bound foot, shrivelled potatoes that were said to prevent rheumatism – and a witch trapped in a bottle ‘an they do say that if you let ‘un out there be a peck o’ trouble’. Boats hang from the ceiling, a chair set with baby teeth stands nearby and a totem pole lords over all. Free with many family-friendly events. www.prm.ox.ac.uk

Pitt Rivers Museum was founded in 1884 when General Pitt Rivers, an influential figure in the development of archaeology and evolutionary anthropology, gave his personal collection of 20,000 items to the University on the condition that a museum was built to house the material.

Pendon Indoor Model Village and Railways

This museum of the miniature – all exactly to scale – captures the delightful landscape of 1930’s Vale of White Horse – a land of thatched cottages, tiny bicycles and minuscule carrots in the gardens, all traversed by miniature trains. For those who love to look in detail. It is thought to be the first and oldest miniature landscape of its kind. Model-making courses by experts are very popular. Long Wittenham near Abingdon www.pendonmuseum.com

Oxford Castle Unlocked

Until recent years a real place of incarceration, Oxford Prison allows visitors to access to cells into which prisoners were squashed, try a treadmill, turn the screw and enjoy ‘hanging’ a criminal. Costumed guides, re-creating real people connected with the prison, lead tours and answer questions. Take photos from the top of St George’s Tower, Oxford’s most ancient building, and imagine the route across the snow by which Empress Matilda, dressed in white, fled the castle under siege. View the remarkable photos of convicted criminals, taken by the noted local photographer, Henry Taunt’s firm. And for the month of October there’s a huge Ghost Fest oooooooooooH…! A Valentine’s Day Lock-in (with your beloved) is another highlight. www.oxfordcastleunlocked.co.uk

River and Rowing Museum, Henley on Thames

With enchanting scenes from Wind in the Willows, a trireme to row and a café serving local food, this museum is worth the trip. Britain’s most famous river has shaped the landscape and shaped our history. Hear tales of watermen and boatmen, rowers and competitors and admire the sleek craft hung from the ceilings or displayed on the walls.

Ashmolean Museum, Oxford:Free tours anda mid-boggling programme of tours and events. Probably the oldest museum in the world, the Ashmolean has a magnificent collection of artefacts, from prehistoric times to the present. There is a rolling programme of free guided tours of the collection. It has perhaps Britain’s finest collection of Old Master drawings – with whom you can have a 121 experience on request (tel 01865 278 049). If you think museums are stuffy you should front up to the Live Friday events (mostly free) when the museum is packed with people enjoying music, dance, drama, and all manner of entertainments – such as how to tie your toga.

Oxford University Museum of Natural History houses the University’s collections of zoological, entomological and geological specimens. It’s also home to the most complete remains of the now-extinct dodo. Housed in a building no less wondrous than its collections, it has just re-opened after essential roof repairs. Catch it on an evening event, illuminated with multi-coloured lights and resounding to the ‘sounds and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not’ emanating from the Pitt Rivers’ gamelan orchestra.

Museum of Oxford Town Hall, Oxford A lot packed into a small space and possibly the most terrifying ‘bike ride’ you’ll ever take through the streets of Oxford.

Don’t miss the Museum of the History of Science, in the original Old Ashmolean building. With probably the finest collection of historic scientific instruments in the world, it makes considerable efforts to enable visitors to understand and appreciate what they are looking at. And in the years when the boundaries between science and magic, chemistry and alchemy were blurred……..

Didcot Railway Centre, Didcot: you don’t have to be a ‘rail buff’ to come here – though any such would be delighted. On steaming days you can ride behind the engines, there are special ‘footplate days’ when you can learn to be a train driver/fireman and the Engine Shed houses a large collection of static locos. You can learn the fail-safe system of signalling, marvel at the vacuum pump system and gaze on the only remaining examples of Brunel’s 7ft broad gauge. The vital air-raid shelter has been restored – plus sound-effects.

The Oxfordshire County Museum is at Woodstock, opposite the Bear. Children love the dinosaur experience. The Soldiers of Oxfordshire Museum open in its grounds.

The Vale and Downland Museum at Wantage specialises in school visits and many of Oxfordshire’s village have their own quirky museum – each and every one of them a charm and delight.

William’s collection of F1 cars can hardly be called a museum and is not generally open to the public but is yet another aspect of Oxfordshire’s unique collections of artefacts.

Information courtesy of Visit Oxfordshire

Website – www.visitoxfordandoxfordshire.com

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