Oxford – The British Quadrangle
I thought I’d go get educated and hang out with droves of tourists and haughty students. So I went to Oxford. Cambridge was on the wrong side of London so it would’ve much harder to get too. And Cambridge sucks. Or something like that.
An old building with a clock tower on it. Sadly, that describes about a third of the buildings in the town of Oxford and I’m not even sure what this one is. Truthfully, it was closest to the train station so it got the first picture. By the end of the day I think was numb to old buildings. I have lots of “old building with clock tower” pictures aren’t even going to make this web page.
For me the real highlight of the day was the 3 excellent museums I visited. Starting with:
This building houses both the University Museum and the Pitt Rivers Museum. The University Museum is a natural history museum with lots of dinosaur bones and animal specimens. I’ll get to the Pitt Rivers in a little bit.
T-Rex looking menacing. Oxford was really the first place to apply truly scientific methods to the study of dinosaurs. In fact, one of there professors coined the term “dinosaur.”
When I saw this line of animal skeletons, the only thing I could think of was “Santa Claus is coming to town.” Is something wrong with me?
And now for the best specimen I have seen in any museum any where:
Drum roll please …
That’s right, they’ve got wood! All sexual connotations aside, they actually had two pieces of a tree sitting next this card. Not petrified or anything, just regular sticks. Amazing!
Alright, now to describe the Pitt Rivers Museum. This was the best museum I’ve been to in many years. Probably ever (and no sarcasm this time). The Pitt Rivers Museum is named after Lieutenant General Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt Rivers, whose collection of artifacts started the museum. And they now have at least 10,000 cool things for every word in his name. The Pitt Rivers Museum is not what I’d call a traditional museum. It basically tons of crap jammed into a too small and poorly lit room. The only way I’ve come up with to describe the collection it contains is this: it’s like someone from Oxford has gone to every yard sale in the world over the past 500 years and said “I’ll take one of each.” And when they brought everything home, instead of organizing it by culture they put things into functional groups, like all the lamps in one place and all the art portraying human forms in another. Which gives some very interesting contrasts, like an ivory carving of Jesus bearing the cross next to an ivory Buddha, which is underneath an ivory Vishnu. The place is also packed with interesting more daily use things from all over, like clothes, textiles, fire-starting tools, and examples of writing from pretty much every culture that had a written language. You get to see a lot things most other museums wouldn’t bother showing. You get the large collection of historic firearms, the 20 or so handmade boats and canoes from all over the world, a couple of totem poles, and, of course, the ever popular human skull and shrunken head display. They’re also featuring right now a large collection of photographs by Wilfred Thesiger, the legendary British traveler whose book Arabian Sands is a wonderful read and ranked number 5 in the National Geographic list of the 100 best adventure books ever written. But that aside, did I mention that I was really exciting about this museum? I didn’t mention that the two additional rooms of it are currently closed for renovation. Who knows what the heck’s in there? Anyways, if you ever find yourself in Oxford, I highly recommend the Pitt Rivers Museum.
And now, back to old buildings with clocks:
Tom Tower, center piece of the Christ Church College of Oxford. The university is divided up into a bunch of colleges in which students live and study together. Christ Church is one of the older (1525) and more prestigious of the lot. Lewis Carroll taught and wrote about Alice here. Also, they filmed pieces of Harry Potter here. And that really brings out the tourists.
The student dining hall.
Oxford was the originator of the quad at universities.
A stained glass rare stained glass window depicting the murder of Archbishop Thomas Beckett. Henry VIII ordered all images of Beckett’s murder destroyed. This one survived because some one bricked up both sides of it. Which is ironic because years before in 1546 Henry VIII took control of the college and was the one who named it Christ Church. I guess he forgot about his own window.
What’s that? “An old building,” you say. Exactly. This one houses museum number three: The Ashmolean. It’s England oldest museum, and based on the collection of Elias Ashmole, the chief gardener for the king. Apparently gardening was quite the lucrative profession back then because this collection is freakin’ huge. More sculptures, painting, pottery, coins, and artifacts than you could shake examples of wood at. We’re talking the real deal, too. Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Middle East, early China and Japan, paintings by Renaissance masters. Sadly, I got there only an hour before they close (which is at 5pm because nothing in England no matter where you are stays open past 5) which basically gave me enough time to read the names of all the collections in the museum and then run through a bunch of rooms before leaving. I did spend some time looking at old coins cause I’m into that sort of thing and then I took a picture of this table:
It’s table made in 19th century Italy. Every little piece in the top is some from of marble or other natural stone. OK, I really liked the table. I don’t know why. I visited a museum full of thousands of years of art and history and all I got was this stupid picture of a table.
I could show more old buildings with clock towers, but I just don’t have the heart. I will say that Oxford was a pretty neat place, though.