Sparking imagination. The Pitt Rivers, Oxford

oxford-natural-history-and-pitt-riversImagine walking into a museum. It is light and airy. Looking up, you can see the ceiling towering above. Display cabinets form rows in the middle, on the ground. By sheer osmosis, you seem to absorb information as you walk in. At the back, you come across a door way. It opens up into another room of similar size. This time darker. Like a twin to the first. This is the Natural History museum and the Pitt Rivers museum in Oxford.

Sparking curiosity. It made the perfect atmospheric outing, this weekend, especially running up to Halloween. If you are a fan of Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials, you will find it strangely familiar.

oxford-natural-historyThe first part of the building is the Natural History museum. It’s housed in the most beautiful, victorian building. It is light and airy, and set up to educate. Even the columns are made from different stone, with the type and location chiselled in at the base. Intricate iron work all the way to the roof.

beetle-display-at-oxford-natural-historyThere is nothing fusty about the exhibits. There is a lot. I’m not sure at what point during our visit, the Boy stopped saying “Look at this”, every few seconds. Or when he conceded that he couldn’t possibly see everything in a day.

I love beetles. Thrilled to find this display. Regular readers may notice that I have the same quote in my sidebar. Each beetle has a series of tiny squares of paper behind it, with tiny printed words, skewered by the same pin as the beetle. Intricate and precise. Keeping important information with each beetle.

natural-history-museum-in-oxfordNot into beetles? No worries. There was something to interest everyone. We haven’t visited for a few years (here), so it felt new and fresh to the children. They’ve reached the stage where they spend more time reading the displays and sharing interesting facts. Walking each other back to view something of great interest.

Each had their favourite. For Eldest, she spent time examining all the bird displays. We were all shown the origins of bird nest soup.

For Middle one, she loved the elephant skeletons and the size of them.

And the Boy. Well, his favourite was through the door, in the Pitt Rivers part of the museum.

toys-in-pitt-riversStrangely enough, I don’t seem to have a photo of the shrunken heads that he found fascinating, so instead I’m showing you an entirely separate display of toys that I liked.

The Pitt Rivers museum has the most amazing collection. If you are interested in anthropology then this is the museum for you. They have cabinets full of musical instruments, weaving, masks, votive offerings and witchcraft, fire starting implements, native canoes, samurai armour and swords, ceremonial paraphernalia, tally sticks…. and so much more. It is like wandering into the most amazing, old curiosity shop. Each item labelled to enlighten you. Often handwritten in the most precise, tiny writing, which makes you question the size of the writer.

(images of spectacled, learned mice writing labels by candle light)

Under some of the display cabinets are more exhibits in drawers which you can pull out to view. There is so much to see. Something for everyone. A dream of a place for anyone that has ever wondered about something from the past. Just about anything.

This is the part of the museum that I would not like to be alone in. Kept darker to delay fading of the exhibits. It has a more eerie feel to it, but maybe that’s just me.

oxford-natural-history-skeletonsBack in the Natural History museum, among the animal skeletons. I think it was Eldest that suggested how interesting it would be if everything in the museum came alive again. I’m not sure I share the same understanding and appreciation of the word “interesting” as she obviously does, but I do admire her curiosity and imagination. The perfect place to spark both.

beetlesI’ll stick with the beetles.

Please, don’t come back to life!


There are lifts between floors, giving access to wheelchairs and prams.  There is nearby on-street parking, as well as a park and ride. Not the cheapest options, so if you are prepared to walk and make a day of it, then there are alternatives.

The museum is free to visit, with donation boxes around. There is a cafe on the second floor with cakes, sandwiches, children’s box and drinks, giving excellent view of the ground floor of the Natural History museum and the building as a whole.



  1. Pitt Rivers is my favourite ever museum. It’s funny that my kids always preferred the Natural History museum, but I definitely prefer heading to the dark section out back! I agree there is so much to see, I’m sure that I haven’t seen half of ot still.

    1. It is my favourite too. I love the Natural History, but there is no denying that you are bound to spot something in Pitts that just makes you want to stop and wonder why. Or how. Listening to other people’s reactions is good too. 😀

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