“ The Oxford University Museum of Natural History houses the University's scientific collections of zoological, entomological, palaeontological and mineral specimens, accumulated in the course of the last three centuries. „
My daughters are 6 and 4 and so I decided we would visit Oxford and head for the museum a place I haven't visited since my own childhood but which I had fond memories of.
WE travelled in by car and then got the park and ride and then walked: There is some parking near the museum to take advantage of this best to be early but for full location details check the website www.oum.ox.ac.uk which also has printable maps I do recommend walking as there are some spectacular sights along the route and it makes for an extra adventure.
Please don't touch:
How many museums do you visit where this is the case well as we entered the museum great hall we encountered a Shetland pony and a cheetah both available to touch immediately my children were hooked and the next generation began their love affair with this museum which has many exhibits available to touch and things for the children to do there are boxes to touch and see if you can match what's inside to the photo museum trails and paper to take and draw your favourite things.
What to see:
For me the Dinosaurs still wow me and the fossils are still so awe-inspiring for my eldest she loved the Dodo and she loved the bird exhibition and was truly fascinated by the swifts in the tower and spent a good 10 minutes watching the webcam! My youngest was fascinated by all the animal skeletons and loved the dinosaurs she also found the bees fascinating.
This is a great free museum where you can get up close to a dinosaur, see a Dodo discover all about geology watch nesting swifts, touch fossils see bugs , birds and all sorts of skeletons and every time you go something different will entrance you.
The architecture should also wow you as well as it is a wonderful example of neo gothic architecture personally I recommend entering and looking straight up the ceiling will take your breath away.
I cannot fail to recommend this museum as a child I loved it and as an adult I still love it my daughters enjoyed themselves and couldn't stop talking about all the things they had seen we went on a spur of the moment and spent over a hour which only felt like 10 minutes and we are going to go back with Daddy as well and since our visit they have done nothing but pester Daddy on when we can go again! This in my mind is a successful trip! I also am very impressed by the free family fun which is on such as the Olympic adventure trail running from 21st July until beginning of September which involves competing in the museums Olympic games to gain points something mine will find a lot of fun .
My eldest wrote about the museum for weekend news and advised me it was three pages! and everyone she has seen has been told all about it and we all can't wait to visit again
The Oxford University Natural History Museum is one of my favourite buildings in the UK and certainly one of the museums I visit most often. It fits an architectural style that I've long admired and is similar to Northampton Guildhall and Manchester City Hall, two of my other favourite buildings. All three of them were built in the second half of the 19th Century in Victorian Neo-Gothic style which tends to be shorthand for lots of elegant arches and pillars.
When a friend decided to come and visit recently, I couldn't think of much to do with her in Northampton so I suggested we drive over to Oxford and 'do' some of the museums. Our main intention was to see the newly re-opened Ashmolean but there was time for a side-visit to the Pitt Rivers which is located at the back of the OUNHM. However, the act of getting to the Pitt Rivers entails walking through the natural history museum and she was easily side-tracked and we spent similar amounts of time in each museum.
For three years I studied in the Department of Earth Sciences next door to the museum and regularly had lectures in the museum's lecture rooms. I always loved going into the museum and I never failed to make a small detour to mooch around. Often when we were studying particular rock types or looking at fossils, we'd be advised to pop round the museum and check out one of the rock pillars or during palaeontology lectures we'd get a tip off to go and look at stuffed animals or dinosaur bones that would help us to understand what we'd been studying. One of our lecturers was the curator of the museum and I never tired of checking out the dodo or opening the drawers to look at the fossils.
The museum is quirky and very old fashioned. You won't find loads of gimmicky audio-visual stuff to appeal to the kind of kids who can't leave home without a computer game in their pocket. It doesn't need any of that because the stuff inside is just so great. The museum's idea of interactivity is much more old fashioned. For example there are two tables of items with a big sign asking people to touch them (carefully of course) and there's even a stuffed Shetland pony to stroke. The touching exhibits are also fully labelled with Braille explanations so that blind visitors can stroke fossils, stuffed animals such as a fox, rabbit and an Eagle Owl, rocks and minerals and so on.
Most of the exhibits are the different animal groups living, recently extinct and ancient fossils. There are more skeletons than you could shake a stick at, from tiny little lemurs up to giant Moa birds, elephants and crocodiles. The dinosaur fossils are spectacular great monsters that excite the imagination of every visitor young and old. In addition to what you can see, there are many hundreds of pull-out drawers containing additional specimins and it's alwasy interesting to ferret around and see what's hidden away.
What many people miss are the geological samples. Every stone pillar is different and each is labelled with its origin and rock type. The top of every stone pillar is carved into the form of a different plant. There are statues of major thinkers and scientists from Euclid to Newton and dozens of busts of great Oxford scientists who are less well known and these sit quietly around the room, watching over the procedings.
The star of the museum for me is the building itself. With a high glass and ironwork ceiling that lets the light flood in, with beautifully balanced arches and pillars, it's a spectacular building to visit. Many of the the displays look quite old-fashioned, but even the cases have been designed with pointed roofs to mimic the shapes in the glass roof. It's a bit like a cathedral to natural history.
The museum has a shop that sells lots of interesting and unusual gifts. They put on special story-time sessions for children and during our visit a 20 minute play about Charles Darwin was being performed rather loudly by a local theatre group. It's a museum that really likes to get visitors of all ages involved and especially the children. As we went round the museum we found envelopes tied to pillars containing letters from Santa. Each was setting the children a challenge to find something in the museum for Santa and his helpers.
A new addition outside the museum is a set of dinosaur footprints set into the lawns outside the front of the museum. During our visit they just looked a bit like big muddy pools. During the summer months, the grass out front is one of the best free picnic spots in Oxford.
Entrance to the museum is free of charge but of course they'd be very happy if you make a donation and the collection box inside the door suggests a gift of £2 per visitor. Personally I think it's well worth the money. Parking near-by is a total gamble and most likely a nightmare - definitely better to go by public transport or take advantage of the cheap Park and Ride facilities around the city.
The Oxford University Museum of Natural History. It's a grand-sounding name, and with good reason: this is a grand museum. It occupies a fairly small space, but has so many treasures in you could easily spend an entire afternoon there. By the University Parks, (on the aptly named Parks Road, near Keble College; walking from St Giles, head east down Museum Road), this would be an excellent place to take the children on a summer's afternoon after lunch, or equally, on a rainy winter's day. Perhaps what captures the attention most straight away are the dinosaur skeletons, which certainly take pride of place. However, the exhibits range from the evolution of the horse, and of man, to the skeletons of marine creatures, to birds of prey, birds of paradise, fluorescent rocks and even a strokeable leopard (stuffed, for health and safety reasons)!
Upstairs, there is a section on the birds of Britain and even displays showing live insects, including cockroaches, and at the back of the museum is the Pitt Rivers anthropological Museum, which you should also take a look at.
There is no café attached, but there are toilets. Also, there is no public parking, but there is limited disabled parking.
I write this review having only just visited the museum over the weekend as I decided to take my dinosaur-obsessed four-year-old nephew to see them. I also want to point out that we did not visit the entire building (which is attached to the Pitt Rivers Museum), just one of the main halls.
Building and exhibitions:
The museum is housed in a beautiful architectural building and the main hall contains a variety of material: dinosaur bones and skeletons; other skeletons including elephants, crocodiles, and deer; stuffed animals; and rock minerals. Within the main area there is also a shop and reception desk.
As for the items, they are fascinating delights for children. My nephew was absorbed and very excited to see a full-sized Tyrannosaurus Rex. What I think also made it good for him was that some of the displays were set out specifically for children to touch; other items were clearly identified as 'Do Not Touch'. This allowed children to gain a tangible impression of what these animals and minerals were like. This was an excellent thing that the museum did.
Also, we did spend less than an hour in the main hall before leaving. Now, you may think, well that's hardly any time at all. For a four-year-old, it was just right. My nephew wasn't overwhelmed with masses of exhibitions or information, which could have bored him, and because of the size of the collection in the main hall, we didn't spend too long in there that his attention span waived. In fact, he talked about nothing else for the rest of the weekend.
The building is no doubt beautiful but it is perhaps not entirely accessibility-friendly, or at least from what I could see. The main entrance is by several steps and no ramp is provided. Obviously, they would have to make provision somehow for wheelchairs but I could not immediately see any facilities. What's more, many people had left prams and pushchairs in the foyer so children were being carried around the exhibits.
If you manage to get a pram or wheelchair into the hall, most of the aisles are wide enough, but there were tight corners.
In comparison to many of the tourist attractions in Oxford, entrance to the museum is free, which is ideal for those who may not have a big budget. They do request donations but obviously the choice is yours.
When you go to these places, the shop always seems to be a place you need to go and visit. This shop was relatively small and contains many soft toys, post cards, book marks, and other similar gifts. Costs of these item were quite diverse. Some seemed really reasonable, but others a little expensive for what they were. For example, a teaspoon costs £17.00 and a bookmark £1.50.
Queues are likely in the shop. However, they have not placed any sort of queue control into the area so you cannot really see who is in the queue and who is browsing - beside the fact that there is not really anywhere to queue.
The shop appears to take the usual cash, cheque and credit cards (so long as total is above £5.00)
Overall, I thought the Natural History Museum was a wonderful place to go. It kept my nephew interested and delighted by what was going on. If people had a hour to spare in Oxford, or wanted something fairly reasonably priced, I would recommend a visit.
For a child the University Museum of Natural Science can be a source of fascination or of nightmares. Initially for me it was the latter. I much preferred to visit the University Parks which are adjacent to the museum and run up and down Rainbow Bridge or feed the ducks rather than enter the tomb like building housing "skellingtons". As I grew older the fascinating contents of the Pitt rivers museum which is accessed through the University Museum persuaded me that I would risk the passage through the scary monster bit to discover the millions of more interesting exhibits in the Pitt Rivers collection. On reflection it seems strange to think that I was scared of dinosaur skeletons but not worried in the slightest of the far more frightening "shrunken heads" and other equally barbaric exhibits in the Pitt Rivers collection. My own children, however, are of a new generation and preferred dinosaurs to ducks any day. The University museum is a truly fascinating place for adults and kids, scholars, scientists and historians. As I have grown older I have learned to appreciate not only its contents but also the building itself and its history. The collections contained within the museum are second only to London's but unlike the museum in the capitol Oxford's remains the archetypal museum. There are no interactive exhibits but simply an awful lot of dead animals and fossils. The building has been described as the "Temple" of the new age - but not in the sense we now understand it. It was the new age in which science began to take precedence over its contemporary rival religion. This first temple of science in turn spawned the extensive University science area. It seems quite incredible that until that time 'science' as a subject had been largely ignored. It all began when progressive science professors, headed by John Acland, campaigned for a central home for
the study of the natural sciences. Almost as soon as it was opened in 1860 it became the scene of the famous debate between bishop Wilberforce and Huxley over Darwin's 'Origin of Species' and has existed in controversy of some sort or another ever since if only with regard to its 'beauty' or 'ugliness'. John Ruskin, the champion of art and the working man, was also inextricably connected with the museum project although quite how he became involved is not certain. Ruskin was into Gothic craftsmanship and fought for the "recognition of the labourer as a creative member of society". So Ruskin had a great influence in the design and decoration of the building. The museum building is a tribute to the subtle marriage of art and architecture, fabric and fantasy and ethos and engineering. It epitomises Ruskin's ideals of 'useful' art executed by the craftsman. A stunning example of this are the 126 columns in the museum - each of a different British decorative rock and with their capitals covered in carvings of plants which represent different botanical species. Many of these were carved by the O'Shea brothers, the Irish masons specially brought in from Dublin, copying from specimens from the local botanical gardens. Although there are many superb carvings to be found both inside and outside the museum they were never fully completed. The volatile O'Sheas downed tools after some unwanted interference from dons but not before they had managed to incorporate carved insults to those who had upset them into the very fabric of the building. Approaching the museum you will find yourself faced with the Venetian gothic front façade of the museum and on the lawn in front of the museum children will be thrilled to follow the tracks of the giant carnivorous dinosaur, Megalosaurus, which stretch from the ancient conifer tree to the right hand corner of the museum. The strange lo
oking annexe to the right of the museum with its four tall chimneys at each corner was originally the chemistry laboratory which was modelled on the abbot's kitchen at Glastonbury. It was set apart from the main building to avoid the problem of noxious smells, As you enter the museum you are immediately faced with its most impressive features -the large central court, with its elegant cast iron columns supporting the great glass roof, which contains the enormous casts of two dinosaur skeletons, an impressive 45 foot long Tyrannosaurus rex and an iguanodon - other dinosaurs are also on display. On either side of the main court are glass exhibition cases containing interesting displays some of which have local interest while others cover a wider spectrum. When I last visited there was a case with all the animals and birds mentioned in Alice in wonderland with explanations - it obviously contains the white rabbit clutching his pocket watch. The University museum is of course the home of the famous Dodo which Lewis Carrol immortalised in the book. The remains of the Dodo, the extinct flightless bird, together with Jan Savery's painting of it are on the left as you enter. On the right hand side a spectacular collage display of butterflies and insects demanded attention while behind this are case after case containing the most beautiful minerals. Tucked further back not demanding much attention are endless displays of fossils. On the left hand side of the main area are the animal exhibits - a mixture of skeletons, elephants, giraffes and stuffed animals such as giant turtles, ostriches and a huge crocodile. Upstairs are more exhibits including displays such as the making of honey and all the species of British birds. Although the museum is interesting unfortunately its seems to lack any facilities at all. There are no refreshments available at all and this is made doubly worse by the fact there are none within
easy reach either. There are a couple of pubs and a café in St. Giles otherwise the city centre, about 10 minutes walk, is nearest. So if you plan to visit, especially with children it is best to take some refreshments with you and enjoy a picnic in the adjacent quite beautiful parks. It does, however, have a small shop. This sells an assortment of museum mementoes starting at very reasonable prices. Small minerals and semi precious stones are available from only 30p and there are other small things available for children. The dodo is very well represented but considering children's interest in all things dinosaur this area was very poor. They have very few dinosaur models and only two rather useless postcards. The shop was also very busy when we visited and to add to the frustration of waiting to be served was the problem that when we finally were served they did not have enough change. There is apparently a tape guide to the museum available for hire but there is no other guide available. There are a couple of books on the museum one on its contents and one on the building but no plan of the building or suggestions guide to where certain important exhibits are. The Museum is open every day from 12 noon to 5pm throughout the year, except for short breaks over Easter and Christmas. If you wish to combine a visit with Pitt Rivers museum the latter is only open 1.00-4.30 pm Mon - Sat, Sunday 2.00 - 4.30 pm. Admission to both Museums is free but donations of £2 are requested. For further information see http://www.oum.ox.ac.uk/