Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Oxford University Museum of Natural History

One of my priorities on my trip to Oxford earlier in the year was visiting the Oxford University Museum of Natural History. I am generally a fan of Natural History, and I'd seen snippets of the place on social media and was intrigued. I actually got lost on the way to the Museum and almost gave up, but I'm so glad I didn't! 

On entering the Museum I was completely awestruck. The first thing I saw was the huge jawbone of a sperm whale, pointing towards the iron arches supporting the sparkling glass roof, and looking for all the world like part of the architecture.

There was something extremely pleasing about the displays of bones and skeletons against the almost skeletal ironwork of the building. 

And what a building it is. It was built in 1860 and, perhaps ironically for a building devoted to science, was funded by the sale of Bibles. At the time, nature, science and religion were often seen as parts of a whole rather than in conflict with each other, so this wouldn't have seemed odd. I quite like that way of looking at things.

I have no hesitation in saying that it's one of the most beautiful buildings (in my opinion) that I have ever stepped into. Everywhere I looked there were details which delighted me, from the carved pillar finials with motifs from nature-the fern fiddleheads were a particular favourite of mine-to the metal leaves creeping up the roof arches.

Then there is the wonderful arched shape of the building, almost cathedral like in style. Only I haven't seen any cathedrals with a massive dinosaur skeleton at the centre. But the building certainly inspires a feeling of reverence.

The glass roof allows the building to be flooded with light, illuminating all the neat lines of display cases, providing the perfect environment for viewing and learning. The building is neo-Gothic in architecture, and the interior decoration was influenced by the Pre-Raphaelites and Arts and Crafts movements, so it is really no wonder I love it so. I especially love this combination of the Gothic style with materials which allow the building to be light and airy, and strangely delicate.

The displays are not only very informative, but beautifully arranged. 

A wonderful marriage of science and creativity.

There is a somewhat magical feeling to the Museum, a sense of wonder, which was enhanced by my discovery of this scale model of the sun, which looked like it had come straight from an alchemist's workshop. 

The most magical thing of all was waiting for me in a room on the upper floor. 

A working beehive, thick with busy bees.

The bees can travel through a glass channel which goes through a window and into the outside world.

I spent quite a while watching the bees fly in and out, buzzing away in the sunshine to find flowers to pollinate and then returning with their spoils.

Back on the ground floor I found another little hint of magic, an Alice in Wonderland themed display with flamingo, hedgehog, turtle and dodo.

The OUMNH is home to the head and foot of a dodo, the most complete remains of a dodo anywhere in the world, along with a painting of a dodo dating from 1651. Lewis Carroll regularly visited the museum, and it is believed that the dodo painting was inspiration for the Dodo in Alice in Wonderland. I can easily see how he could have been inspire by this amazing place!

Although I got very distracted by the architecture, the OUMNH is more than a beautiful building. It houses great collections of paleontology, including four species of dinosaur from Oxfordshire, geology, zoology and entomology-a stunning and extensive butterfly display in particular caught my eye. So whether your interest lies with the scientific or creative, or both (especially both), this is a wonderful, illuminating place to visit.

You can find out more on the OUMNH website- http://www.oum.ox.ac.uk/index.htm


  1. Oh my gosh, I'm so jealous! :) I've wanted to visit this museum for the longest time. It's so beautiful and I love the way you described it in your post. I just really enjoy your writing style, you paint such a lovely picture of everywhere you visit.

    I have always been so fascinated by dinosaurs so I would be amazing to see all of the dinosaur skeletons! I have been to the Natural History Museum in London and I was in awe with all of the skeletons there. I'm so very happy to learn that they have the most complete skeleton of the Dodo anywhere in the World! It's also awesome to learn that the live bees on display have access to the outside, that's lovely and makes me so happy that they are not trapped inside the hive display. I just want to visit the OUMNH even more now. Great post x

    Sarah | Raiin Monkey

    1. Ahhh thank you, that's exactly what I aim for with my writing so that's relly lovely to hear :) You should definitely visit, it's an amazing place and there's so much to do in Oxford. There's also a little cafe on the balcony in the museum, so you can eat while looking down on all the dinosaurs!