Many Oxford museums don’t charge an entry fee, but don’t let the absence of a charge put you off. Within the free Oxford museums you can view many fantastic artefacts including; Albert Einstein’s blackboard (donated following a lecture he gave at Oxford University), Guy Fawkes lantern, sketches by Michelangelo, first drafts by J.R.R. Tolkien and thats just your starter for ten. Oxford’s free museums easily satisfy a wide variety of interests, but this blog is going to focus on the Ashmolean Museum, I’m going to cover, a brief history of the museum, some items that grabbed my attention during my last visit and hope to whet your appetite enough to include the Ashmolean on your Oxford ‘must do list’.
As always, I would recommend you book yourself on one of my free Oxford walking tours as your first activity, it will help orientate you to the City and of course I’d be delighted to show your exactly where the Ashmolean is located.
‘To travel through the galleries is to be handed a round-the-world ticket on a tour of history’ – The Times
Brief History of the Ashmolean Museum
Oxford’s Ashmolean, named after Elias Ashmole 1617-1692, opened as Britain’s first ever public museum in 1682. Elias Ashmole was a Royalist, but no real surprise there, what with Oxford being the Royalist seat of power during the English Civil War – he was also….a solicitor, a freemason, an antiquarian, an officer of arms, an astrologer and a student of alchemy. But this long list of occupations, studies and past times did not prevent him from also being an avid collector of all things old, weird or curious, or best of all ‘all three’.
Prior to the Ashmolean opening its’s doors at their original location, artefacts and curiosities were typically held in the private collections of the wealthy and eccentric. One such collection, Elias inherited from John Tradescant the Younger. John and his father (also called John) were gardeners for the Earl of Salisbury and had travelled the world shipping back exotic plants for the Earl’s gardens. During these travels they also built up an incredible collection of varied items. Elias Ashmole combined this collection with his own and donated them to the University of Oxford to create the original Ashmolean Museum in Broad Street. Since then, the Ashmolean’s collections have grown substantially, outgrowing the original building and relocating to their current Beaumont Street site in 1894. You can still visit the original site and it still serves as a museum today, housing the collection of Oxford’s History of Science. It is here you can view Albert Einstein’s blackboard… and yes admission is free.
Wonderful things, exquisitely displayed’ – Bill Bryson
Guy Fawkes Lantern
Don’t miss this. Guy Fawkes was allegedly carrying this fantastic leather and iron lantern, when he was captured beneath the Houses of Parliament on the 5th November 1605. It really does conjure up images of the night itself. I can see this in Guy’s hand as he assisted with the bungled plot to blow up the King along with the rest of the Houses of Lords and Commons, during the state opening of parliament.
Thankfully, someone made an anonymous tip off and the plot was foiled.
Rude Renaissance Dish
This dish always make me titter. Made as a ‘Renaissance Joke’ this earthenware dish at first glance looks like a Roman but look closer and you will notice this composition is actually made up of penises. It also includes the words on the scroll ‘OGNI HOMO ME GUARDA COME FOSSE UNA TESTA DE CAZI’ (‘every man looks at me as I were a head of dicks’). I will leave you to discover the other hidden message.
I hope I can encourage you to visit the Ashmolean Museum during your trip to Oxford and I would love to show you around the rest of Oxford on one of my tours. If you are wondering why my tours are also free then check out my blog on the subject here.