Many people view Oxford University’s Pitt Rivers Museum as a hidden gem. Youngsters are bewitched by its magical interior, and it’s a godsend for parents with many free events during the summer holidays.
It is regularly ranked by Trip Advisor as one of the must-see things in Oxford but because it does not have its own front door, we want to ensure as many people as possible know about it.
One initiative is our pop-up museum, which visits other parts of the county. If you’re in Witney next Thursday, you can find us in Marriotts Walk Shopping Centre where you can actually touch the museum objects, ask staff questions and get stuck into free family craft activities.
The pop-up museum at Gloucester Green
The pop-up museum will also appear at Need Make Use Day – our free, summer festival to be held in front of the museum on Saturday, September 6.
It will include shoe-making and bow-drill demonstrations, carrot-recorder and Brazilian drumming workshops, talks and tours, family fun, and a craft market.
The initiative is part of our current Heritage Lottery-Funded VERVE project. The project aims to provide a wide range of new displays and public activities that explore how human creativity has driven developments in techniques and technologies. In the past year, the pop-up museum has visited nine local and regional venues, attracting a total of 6,000 people.
Gentleman-soldier Augustus Pitt-Rivers founded the museum in 1884 with a gift of some 25,000 objects to the University of Oxford.
Displays in the museum's court, part of Folk Weekend Oxford, 2014
Today the museum cares for half a million objects, photographs and archives from a rich mix of cultures – from prehistoric to modern-day – from across the world.
You’ll be transported from sledging with reindeer across the Arctic, to the dramatic solemnity of Japanese noh theatre, to pondering the tiny and troublesome witch said to live in a silver-coated glass bottle from Sussex.
The museum is considered a cultural artefact in its own right, with its cast-iron Victorian architecture, densely packed displays and quaint handwritten labels. Our aim is for it to be the best museum of anthropology and archaeology in the world and, luckily, many of you are agreeing with your feet.
In five years, visitor numbers have increased by 60 per cent to 376,000 per year.
This spike in interest follows many improvements over the past 10 years, including a new research centre containing exhibition, library, teaching and laboratory spaces which opened in 2007.
A new entrance, completed in 2009, also makes the Pitt Rivers more visible from the doorway at the back of the Oxford University Museum of Natural History. The original vista across the display hall has been restored, with a colourful shop and information available as you arrive, with access for wheelchairs and buggies.
This month, the museum’s lower gallery is closed whilst we prepare a new display of artefacts from Captain Cook’s famous 18th century voyages of discovery. But we can assure you there is still plenty to see on the upper gallery, with its porcupine fish helmets, samurai swords, and blow-darts tipped with poison.
Volunteers demonstrate masks in the pop-up museum at Thame County Show
During the summer holiday, kids can take a carnival trail through the museum, or pick up a free activity backpack to become a true explorer every Tuesday.
Other family activities include shield-making on August 18 and mask-making on September 1.
Adults might be interested in our free First World War tour on Wednesday afternoons.
If you have not visited the museum in a while or never stepped inside before, we hope you will give it a try. It’s a Noah’s ark of human life.
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