photo of Inside the Pitt Rivers museum

Inside the Pitt Rivers museum

This is my second blog on the Oxford museums and I expect there will be more. As discussed in my previous blog on the Ashmolean museum, one of the greatest facts about Oxford museums, is they are all free. As always, I recommend that you book yourself on one of my free Oxford walking tours to familiarise yourself with the city first and I will be delighted to point you in the direction of the Pitt Rivers or any other Oxford museum. You really can fill a number of days in Oxford with a free tour, free museums, free colleges and more.

Back, to the Pitt Rivers museum, it’s a great place to spend some time on any visit to Oxford. You will see curiosities and artefacts from around the world including items used in Harry Potter films and a totem pole standing at over 11 metres tall. The museum both internally and externally has been the backdrop in episodes of Inspector Morse and indeed some movies.


History of the Pitt River Museum

Image f Lt. General Pitt Rivers

Lt. General Pitt Rivers

The museum was founded in 1884 by – Augustus Henry Lane-Fox Pitt Rivers (14 April 1827 – 4 May 1900). Pitt Rivers was a Lieutenant General in the British Army and an archaeologist. For most of his life he used the name Lane Fox, until in 1880 he inherited 32,00 acres in Cranbrook Chase from his cousin Lord River, when he adopted the name Pitt Rivers.


Over his lifetime of collecting artefacts from around the world he amassed over 22,000 items. Pitt River donated this collection to the university of Oxford but with two conditions. Firstly, that a permanent lecturer in anthropology was appointed and secondly, that a building was provided in which to house the donated artefacts. A building was constructed at the rear of the Oxford’s Natural History museum and even to this day you enter Pitt Rivers museum through the Natural History Museum on Parks Road. The original collection has swelled somewhat to over half a million artefacts, predominantly through the donations of other likeminded scholars and travellers. It’s the only museum I know of that you get to through another museum, but I like this fact, it somehow fits the quirky nature of some the artefacts themselves. The Pitts River Museum, really is the definition of a global collection. Displaying objects and artefacts from every corner of the globe.


Harry Potter Shrunken Head

Photo of Shrunken head

Shrunken Head

I love the way the museum is presented, with lots of glass cases to peer in to and walk around. There is so much to see you could be forgiven for missing things. I doubt however that any die-hard Harry Potter fans will miss the shrunken heads – after all one of these was seen talking whilst hanging inside a magical double-decker bus.


I’d recommend this museum to any Oxford visitor, it will keep you entertained and interested for hours. Where else can you view a cabinet of handmade model boats from around the world? Or, view an 11-metre-high Canadian totem pole? I really don’t want to give any more away, I want you to add a visit to Pitt Rivers to your list of ‘What to do in Oxford?’ and of course I want you to book on one of our free walking tours of Oxford.

We hope to see you soon.