The Museum of Oxford, located on St Aldate’s, reopened on Monday 11 October following a multi-million renovation funded by national and local donors.
There’s one museum in Oxford that you’ve likely never heard of. Nestled in the town hall, the Museum of Oxford is a small treasure trove of history, unknown to many students. However, the museum is integral in allowing both town and gown to connect to Oxford’s regional past, rendering historical views of the city in the image of a well-rounded individual, rather than the snooty scholars of the past that so many visitors seem to envisage.
Following a £2.8 million investment from multiple investors, including Arts Council England and the National Lottery Heritage Fund, the Museum of Oxford has been renovated, revamped and recreated in the image of a modern Oxford. Gone are the tight spaces and claustrophobia-inducing ceilings of many a regional museum – the exhibition spaces are light, airy, and respect the original Victorian design of the town hall, something neglected when the Museum first opened in 1975.
Nonetheless, the Museum retains some of the exhibits from the original opening, even if not in the same layout. The exhibition space – tripled in size during the renovation – has been converted from chronological order to themed displays, so that people can seek out the areas of history that interest them the most, allowing the pieces of Oxford on display to enmesh into a contrastive yet cohesive display of the city’s stories.
Our favourite exhibit was perhaps the interactive table: take a display object from the shelf, place it on the table, and watch as local historians and experts narrate the story connected to that object. You can then choose to ‘dig deeper’ into the object’s history, or explore other items. This feature was only one of many interactive exhibits in the new Museum, with an interactive scaled architectural dig welcoming visitors by the entrance, Georgian dress-up, an Alice in Wonderland zoetrope, and much more on offer to make the Museum accessible to a variety of individuals.
This is not a student view of Oxford – but it does not necessarily exclude students. The exhibits display the wonderful industrial history of the town, including Frank’s marmalade, and its cultural identity, with fantastic exhibits on Oxford’s Windrush generation and their descendants, and Queering Spires, which will explore the history of LGBTQIA+ spaces in the city. The Museum has confirmed its intention to become a new community hub, with new spaces for schools, interactive displays, family activities, and reminiscence workshops. And frankly, with free entry, who can deny them a visit?
Looking forward, the Museum looks forward to becoming more accessible: whilst the Museum is wheelchair-friendly, staff lamented that there weren’t enough adaptations for accessibility, and that they were looking forward to creating non-English resources so that everyone could appreciate the exhibits.
How to keep this hidden gem alive? Donations are always welcome to keep the museum alive, with the pandemic introducing contactless donation points within the museum, or you could even indulge in visiting the well-stocked gift shop. In addition, the museum is always looking for volunteers, be it to lead tour groups, lead object-handling sessions, or simply be a helping hand amid a wonderful community championing the diverse stories of Oxford.
Find out more about the Museum of Oxford, including opening times and visitor guidelines, here.