Oxford University Museum of Natural History
The University Museum was designed by an Irish firm, and built at a cost of £60,000 in around 1860. Ruskin was to some extent involved, but it is said that when he erected one of the gallery columns with his own hand, the workmen took it down and rebuilt it. These columns are all made of different kinds of stone found in the British Isles, and there are many carvings and wrought iron decorations of flora and fauna. The fantastic glass roof was cleaned during extensive refurbishment in recent years and began to let in so much light that all the exhibits were suffering, so it's now been toned down again.
Over the archway at the entrance a number of carvings are unfinished. Apparently an Irish workman was discovered interspersing parrots and owls with caricatures of contemporary dons – and was ordered to knock their heads off. Across the lawn in front you'll find a trail of dinosaur footprints. These belong to Megalosaurus bucklandii, the first ever scientifically described dinosaur, who was found near Oxford. The footprints are made with casts taken from the site.
The building has, we think, great charm, though it is often denigrated. The collection is rather in the nature of the museum itself – a Victorian style treasure chest of odd bits of natural history. At the back of the museum is a portal into an even stranger world - The Pitt Rivers Museum of anthropological extraordinariness.
Among the Natural History treasures are the last remains (feet and a few feathers) of the Dodo, together with a copy of a fine painting dating from 1851. The original stuffed bird, which had been housed in the Tradescant Collection at the Ashmolean since 1683 was found to be infested with moths when the time came to move it, and had to be burnt. Sadly the pattable cheetah has also been loved almost hairless, and been replaced with a magnificent bear. The live bees up the back stairs are another favourite, as are the huge block of Fool's Gold, the revolving DNA molecule, the UV geology booth and the real diamond in the case of precious stones. In the cafe upstairs look across from one side of the museum to the other to compare the relative sizes and distances between the sun, earth and moon.