The Oxford University Natural History Museum

The Oxford University Natural History Museum

‘On what side – your mother’s or your father’s – are you descended from an ape?’
This scathing put-down from Samuel Wilberforce, Bishop of Oxford, was ably fielded by its target, Thomas Henry Huxley, scientist, and proponent of Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution.
‘I’d rather be descended from an ape,’ he said (allegedly), ‘than from a divine who employs authority to stifle truth.’ Touché!

This (or something along these lines) was the most memorable exchange of the Evolution Debate of 1860. It took place in Oxford in the newly opened Natural History Museum and both sides claimed victory (!). If you visit today, you will see a column commemorating the debate right outside the main entrance and a plaque upstairs.

Both religion and science were peculiarly bound up with the beginnings of the Oxford Natural History Museum. It was the inspiration of the Regius Professor of Medicine, Sir Henry Acland, but largely funded by the sale of Bibles to the Mid-West of America by Oxford University Press.

This is even reflected in the architecture. Either side of the main door stand Adam and Eve. Above them, at the apex, sits an angel, holding a Bible in one hand and a dividing cell in the other. The building was built ‘to the glory of God’ for the study of science and for a few years at least, all the University science departments were here, under one roof.

The entrance arch

Before you even look at the exhibits, you will be struck by the roof. It is made of glass and covers a huge atrium. The atrium is surrounded columns made of stone and iron. All the stones are different (but British), and the iron columns are all surmounted by different leaves. This is Victorian Botanic Gothic at its best. Take a look at the photo on the Museum website https://www.oumnh.ox.ac.uk/museums-architecture

The first collections included natural history material from the original Tradescant collection in the Ashmolean Museum. This was supplemented with artefacts from 19th century scientists such as William Buckland. Buckland was a geologist and had a fabulous collection of petrified poo.
Today this is where you come to find the Geology, Mineralogy, Entomology and Zoology collections of Oxford University. And entrance is free!

Of course, the museum is now closed, but since you would only see a few thousand of its 7 million objects if you went along in person, you would do better visiting online in any case.
Our top tips are:
Buckland’s Oxfordshire Dinosaur – the Megalosaurus. See here for a great online exhibit and lots of fascinating explanation. https://www.oumnh.ox.ac.uk/megalosaurus-and-oxfordshire-dinosaurs
The Oxford Dodo. Remember the Dodo in Alice in Wonderland? Charles Dodgson (or Dodo Dodgson – it was his own joke (he had a stutter)), better known as Lewis Carroll, brought Alice to visit shortly after the Museum opened. Read all about the Dodo here: https://oumnh.ox.ac.uk/the-oxford-dodo
Insects -bees, bugs, butterflies, spiders…. with 5 million specimens in the entomology collection, you could spend the rest of the lockdown looking at them. Go to: https://oumnh.ox.ac.uk/insects and notice that you can search the collections if you are interested in a specific insect.
Fossils – view Charles Lyell’s fossils at https://oumnh.ox.ac.uk/collections-online#/item/oum-narrative-84123
First Animals Exhibition – this exhibition is scheduled to run until September 2020 and has gone online. There are films to watch and exhibits which you can virtually examine. It explains how animals adapted from millions of years ago until today. You could spend all day here. There’s even a modern Evolution debate (though they didn’t invite the Bishop of Oxford…). Enjoy! http://www.oum.ox.ac.uk/firstanimals/

 © Victoria Bentata 2020 for Walking Tours of Oxford

Oxford’s Libraries – The Bodleian

Oxford’s Libraries – The Bodleian

Home to more than 100 libraries, Oxford is one of the most bookish cities in the world. Each of its 38 colleges has at least one library, some have two or three and Magdalen college has five! Every faculty has a specialised subject library and the mother of them all is the great Bodleian library.

The University’s first library (the Cobham Library) was in an upstairs room of the University Church of St Mary the Virgin and opened in 1320. In the days before damp proofing, keeping books as far as possible from the ground was the only way to save them from mouldering. Still today, a large number of our Oxford libraries are on upper floors.

However, Merton College breaks all records as the oldest ‘continuously functioning’ academic library in the world, dating from 1373. Merton’s books weren’t originally kept on shelves, but in a locked chest and only Masters of Arts could access them. Later, owing to their great value in the pre-printing world, they were chained to the shelves. You can visit the Merton College website for a virtual tour of this stunning library. Merton College . Notice the beautiful ‘waggon’ ceiling and take a look at some of the stained glass.

The Bodleian Library is positively modern by comparison, founded at the beginning of the 17th century. However, it is now one of the most important libraries in the world and in the UK is second only to London’s British Library.

It is named after Sir Thomas Bodley, who studied at Merton and there developed a love for books. He was a lucky man and his first piece of luck was finding a rich widow willing to marry him. Mrs Bodley’s first husband had been a successful pilchard merchant, so some say that the Bodleian was ‘built on fish’.

However, there was nothing fishy about the deal Bodley made with the Stationers Company of London in 1610. Sharing his vision and keen to promote their books, the Company promised him a ‘free and perfect’ copy of every book ever published in this country. The deal they signed is still in force today and UK publishers still have to send their books. So the Library has quite a collection! Around 13 million books at last count. You can see the original agreement here: Click here

The second most important rule in the Bodleian is that nobody is allowed to take out books. You want to read? You sit in the library. This rule applies to royalty too. During the English Civil War, King Charles I was holed up at Christ Church, having lost London to the Parliamentarians. Desperately needing advice, he decided to consult the Seigneur d’Aubigny’s book on military strategy. So he sent a note to the Bodleian asking to borrow it and the librarian …turned him down. The Bodleian still has the note. The King of England had to come sit in the library. (Not that the book helped, obviously – he still lost the war and, ultimately, his head…)

As observed, books and water don’t mix, but books and fire are an equally major disaster. So rule no. 1 is that anyone who wants to become a ‘reader’ in the library has to take an oath. You swear ‘not to bring into the Library or kindle therein any fire or flame’. This may seem a tame method of fire prevention, but the Bodleian has been as lucky as its founder: it has never had a fire.

As for the Bodleian’s collections… this period of lockdown is the perfect time to investigate and admire them at your leisure. The Marks of Genius Exhibition of 2015 was truly extraordinary for both its range and its depth. It contained everything from the Magna Carta to the Audubon Book of American Birds, from The Wind in the Willows and Tolkien’s Hobbit dust jacket, to 15 century maps, Newton’s Principia and the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. Access it here: http://genius.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/about/marks-of-genius/ In fact, you’ll get a better view and more information online than had you visited the original exhibition.
If you are interested in Women’s history, try this: Click here for the ‘Women Who Dared’ Exhibition 2016. You can click on each exhibit for more information and for access to a whole world of related exhibits.

The Tower of The Five Orders

In normal times, a tour of the Bodleian Library (https://visit.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/plan-your-visit ) is ideal for bookish people who have already enjoyed a Simply Oxford Tour with Walking Tours of Oxford. Simply Oxford Tour informationWalking Tours of Oxford also offer a wide-ranging and thoroughly entertaining Literary Tour of Oxford and specialist tours on C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien

©Victoria Bentata 2020 for Walking Tours of Oxford

Ashmolean Museum

Ashmolean Musuem

Had a certain widow not been found tragically (and some thought suspiciously) drowned in her garden pond, then Oxford’s oldest and largest museum might never have come to be.

The unfortunate victim was the former wife of John Tradescant the Younger. Her recently deceased husband had left his collection of ‘rareities’ to his friend Elias Ashmole, who had helped him to catalogue it in 1656. However, Mrs Tradescant was unimpressed and was in the process of contesting the will, when Ashmole moved in next door to her (!) A hop over the fence, a little push… we shall never know, but the consequence was that Ashmole secured the collection and Oxford, England and the World its first public museum.

You can see portraits of the John Tradescants in the Ashmolean Museum today, the Elder framed by vegetables, fruit and flowers and the Younger proudly wielding a spade. Both were royal gardeners to Charles I, a role which (unusually) involved international travel on a grand scale. Their job was to collect plants, but their hobby was collecting anything they found interesting, the aforementioned ‘rareities’ or ‘curiosities’.

Elias Ashmole was a well-connected lawyer, scholar and antiquarian collector. He eventually gave his and the Tradescants’ collection to the University of Oxford in 1677 on the proviso that it be housed it in a building dedicated to the ‘advancement of knowledge’.

The Ashmolean Museum opened in 1683 but it was considerably smaller than today and was located in the building of what is now Oxford’s Museum of the History of Science on Broad Street. The collections were on the top floor, the ground floor was a lecture theatre and in the basement was the University’s first Chemistry and Anatomy Laboratory. It was here that the University’s first Reader in Anatomy dissected the remains of any criminals hanged within 21 miles of Oxford. (You can see the building here with the famous Oxford heads outside – no, nobody is entirely sure whose heads they are – herms, Roman emperors… the original sculptor left no notes!)

Today’s Ashmolean Museum (see photo) is a short walk from the original museum in a classical building built in the 19th century to the designs of Charles Cockerell and is on a much larger scale. The original collections have been added to over the centuries, there was a redevelopment in 2009 and in 2011 its new Nubian and Egyptian galleries opened. The Ashmolean Museum is primarily dedicated to Art and Archaeology. It houses the largest collection of Raphael drawings in the world, it has a stunning Pre-Raphaelite gallery and an extensive collection of everything from casts, ceramics and coins to sculpture and tapestries. It also has important artefacts from Oxford’s history, such as the coins minted here by Charles I during the Civil War.

Whilst the museum is currently closed due to the Coronavirus pandemic, it is still visitable online. And don’t think it will be a quick visit! – There are 112,500 objects in the online collection, so that’s around 625 objects every day for the next six months!

Top Tip:
Start with the Treasures Click here.
In particular at this difficult time, look for Walter Sickert’s painting ‘Ennui’ – this may chime with your mood – or remind you how well you are doing… Or look at the Messiah violin by Stradivarius ‘Like the Messiah, worth waiting for’ 😊

Once we are up and running again, a perfect day in Oxford features our Simply Oxford Walking Tour at 11.30am which ends around the Broad Street area, perfect timing for lunch and then afternoon at The Ashmolean Museum.

[For more information about the Tradescants, visit The Garden Museum in Lambeth Click here

©Victoria Bentata 2020 for Walking Tours of Oxford

Spiced Roots Restaurant

A Caribbean Delight!

It was a grey cold February morning; snow was falling from the bleak skies above as I ventured into Oxford. However, after my tour that evening I was not rushing home but had dinner booked with some fellow guides. We had decided to try on the Cowley Road.

is a small family run restaurant and about a 15 min walk from the centre of Oxford. To fit in with tour timings, we had decided on an early evening meals so I wandered down to meet my fellow Oxford experts as the restaurant was opening for 5pm. The frontage of the restaurant is small but with the light shining through, we were welcomed inside to a warm and pleasant table in the window. Cocktail menus were presented to start but sadly due to having to drive home, we could not take full advantage of the many options available.

Having never eaten Caribbean food before, I did not know what to expect or really what to order so we opted for the ‘samples menu’. A broad selections of starters was presented on a slate plate – Jerk chicken, Lamb, pitta bread, dips, cod. We delved in with great delight! It was all delicious and so well presented.

Our main course then arrived, another grand selection and by this point we had all fallen in love with the Caribbean delights!

For desert we had a selection of three cakes including the mouth-watering banana bread which I had already read about from the on-line reviews. Simply stunning!

Thank you to Jamo and his team for welcoming Walking Tours of Oxford to Spiced Roots. It defiantly gets the thumbs up from me and I look forward to returning soon!

Harry Potter Tours in Oxford

It has been almost 20 years since Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was released in the UK (16th November 2001 to be precise). I was not a Tour Guide at that time, but I know that the popularity of visiting Oxford increased tenfold since the release. The vast impact of these movies continues and visitors flock from all corners of the globe to visit Oxford and the movie locations of ‘Harry Potter’.

Due to the large numbers now wanting to visit Oxford, some of the movie locations have become extremly busy and entry fees have increased.

Walking Tours of Oxford is delighted to offer ‘Harry Potter’ tours in Oxford. If you would like to book a tour with one of our qualified guides then there are a few things to consider: –

Filming Locations and Costs

There are 4 locations within Oxford and these are: –

Duke Humpfrey’s Library
This can only be visited as part of a Bodleian Library Tour Bodleian Library. No children under 11 years of age. This tour will focus on the history of the library and although your guide may mention ‘Harry’, this is likely to be in passing only as this is not a Harry Potter tour. This would need to be booked direct with the library and Walking Tours of Oxford have no affiliation.

The Divinity School
This is located below The Duke Humphrey’s library and is visited as part of the library tour. Alternatively, Walking Tours of Oxford Guides can take you in (subject to opening hours / closures). The charge is £2 per person and can be booked in advance for a large group.

New College
Not new at all – 1379! During the winter months, the college is only open in the afternoons. From March-October, opening hours are from 10.30-5pm. Please see website for further details New College visitors information. Entry charge £7 per person. The college will close for events and can do so at the last minute. Large groups will need to be booked in on-line via their booking portal.

Christ Church
This is a magnificent college to visit and even with Harry Potter aside! However, the entry fee is now £15 per person and you should always book on-line for entry Christ Church visitors information. If you do not pre-book then, during the busy season, you could be faced with queues an hour long! As of 2020, you now receive an audio guide as part of the ticket price so it is advisable to visit this college independently. Please note that the dining hall closes over the lunch period (approx. 11.30-2.15)

All prices correct as of Feb 2020 but subject to change, please check websites.

In Summary
Our Harry Potter tours, which are 1 hours and 45 mins in length usually visit two locations – New College + The Divinity School and we recommend booking Christ Church before or after your walking tour with us to complement our tour. The best time for a Harry Potter tour is around 2pm and we would meet at The Weston Library on Broad Street, visit The Divinity School + New College and then end the tour at Christ Church for 3.45pm and suggest booking Christ Church for entry at 4pm.

Disclaimer
Our Harry Potter tours also cover ‘Classic Oxford’ and ‘Other Film sites’. We cannot guarantee entry to any locations as Oxford is a working university and can close at a moment’s notice. The tour is in no way associated or endorsed by JK Rowling or Warner Bros Inc. This is not an ‘official’ tour.

Award Winning Tours 2020

Award winning Tours

Wow! Once again, Walking Tours of Oxford, is thrilled to announce that we have won the prestigious ‘Gold Service Award’ from Feefo. Throughout 2019, my team has worked tirelessly to ensure that high standards are met on all of our tours. This is a phenomenal achievement. Each guide has been carefully selected to ensure the very best experience adhere to the guiding etiquette in Oxford. All guides are fully qualified – members of The Institute of Tourist Guiding and The Oxford Guild of Tour Guides. This means we have undergone an intense 9-month training course and sat at least 4 exams at the end of that period. We are exceptionally grateful to all clients that choose Walking Tours of Oxford and review on Feefo. In addition, we have also been awarded ‘The Oxfordshire Prestige award’ which is a real honour and speaks volumes about the quality of tours offered by Walking Tours of Oxford. Everyone is special to us. Thank you. Heidi and team

Tolkien movie

Tolkien movie

Having been a Green Badge guide in Oxford for over 6 years, JRR Tolkien has become very much part of my every day life!

I was thrilled when I learnt that there was to be a new movie on his life.  It is always helpful to be able to see something played out on screen!

So last weekend I took myself of to the cinema to see #Tolkienmovie with great excitement!

The movie focuses on Tolkien’s time as a young adult. From the loss of his mother and the time he spent in a boarding house.  During the time he met the love of his life, Edith Bratt.  It also very much focussed on the formation of the ‘TCBS’ (the Tea Club and Barrovian Society’ of which Tolkien was a member.

I enjoyed the movie particularly seeing the Oxford locations (some of which I had seen being filmed back in November 2017) although I do feel it may have stretched the truth on occasion!

During the peak summer months of May, June and July (with possible extension beyond) we are operating CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien tours in Oxford.  These are scheduled to operate every Saturday at 2.30pm.

Starting from The Eagle and Child (the pub strongly associated with The Inklings) and will weave through the streets of Oxford.  At the end the tour will visit inside Magdalen college (entry included but subject to availability).  There was a brief scene from the movie filmed inside Magdalen.

As with the majority of our tours, we keep numbers small to ensure the very best experience.  Book early!

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/cs-lewis-and-jrr-tolkien-walking-tour-of-oxford-tickets-54793890000

Below are some pictures taken of the filming during November 2017 – come and discover them with us!

#tolkien #tolkienmovie #cslewis #theinklings #tcbs #oxford #walkingtoursofoxford

Tolkien filming

What is a Green Badge Guide?

What is a ‘Green Badge Guide’?

Throughout my website you will find mentions of ‘Green / Blue Badge Guide’ but what exactly does that mean?

In theory, anyone can become a guide in Oxford as here in the UK, unlike other countries, Tourist Guides are not regulated.

This means that you could be taking pot luck when you book a tour, with out a regulating body or any official qualifications required.

The governing body for Tour Guides here in the UK is The Institute of Tourist Guiding (https://www.itg.org.uk).

To become a member of The Institute of Tourist Guiding (or ITG for short), there is an admission process to register for one of the courses that they offer.  All candidates are interviewed and then selected for various capabilities displayed at that interview.  They would be looking for clarity of speech, presentation skills, calm and customer focussed skilled … to name a few.

Each course is usually run by The Tourist information centre and accredited by the ITG.

There are three levels awarded which are:-

White Badge –

For those thinking of taking up paid or voluntary employment guiding visitors around an attraction such as a stately home, cathedral, museum or theme park, or even a business or industrial estate.

Green Badge –

For those interested in working full or part-time guiding visitors at sites of interest and on walking tours in an area such as a town or city centre or specified countryside area.

Blue Badge –

For those who would like full or part-time work guiding visitors around a region or metropolitan area on walking tours, at sites of interest, and using various methods of transport.

I opted for the Green Badge and this involved an 8 month training programme.  I attended lectures, talk and walks conducted by professional such as academics at The University or other Green / Blue Badge guides. Each week we would have a practice walk where we could demonstrate our knowledge and be marked accordingly.

At the end of the training period, we undertook 4 exams (two walking and three written) and it was only on achieving a high grade at all these examinations that we passed.  Then we were awarded our ‘Green Badge’ in our presentation held at The Town Hall in Oxford by the patron of The Oxford Guild of Tour Guides, The Lord Major.

Guiding is not just about knowledge.  It is also about being able to project your voice, knowing when to lower the volume (when inside a college for example and the students are studying).  It is also about group management and ensuring the safety of the entire group.

It was a pleasure and a privilege to be accepted on to the training course and, although there were many times of stress, I look back on it now as a rewarding time.

Training does not simply stop with the presentation of our badges.  It goes on.  Each year, The Oxford Guild of Tour Guides, runs a Winter training programme to broaden and enhance our knowledge.

Over the 6 years that I have been guiding, I have met many wonderful people from all over the world.  I love my job and and I wear my badge with pride. #choosequalified

Dictionary result for qualified

adjective
  1. 1.
    officially recognised as being trained to perform a particular job; certified.

 

FEEFO GOLD TRUSTED SERVICE AWARD 2018

WALKING TOURS OF OXFORD RECEIVES FEEFO GOLD TRUSTED SERVICE AWARD 2019

30 JANUARY 2019, Walking Tours of Oxford has won the Feefo Gold Service award, an independent seal of excellence that recognises businesses for delivering exceptional experiences, as rated by real customers.

Created by Feefo, Trusted Service is awarded only to those businesses that use Feefo to collect genuine reviews and insights. Those that meet the high standard, based on the number of reviews they have collected, and their average rating, receive the award. A badge of honour, this accreditation remains unique, as it is based purely on the interactions with real customers. As all reviews are verified as genuine, the accreditation is a true reflection of a business’ commitment to outstanding service.

Walking Tours of Oxford met the criteria of collecting at least 50 reviews between January 1st 2018 and December 31st 2018, with a Feefo service rating of between 4.5 and 5.0.

Heidi Boon Rickard, Walking Tours of Oxford commented: “We’re thrilled to receive this award from Feefo. It recognises how hard we’ve been working to give great experiences to all our customers, who are the most important judges of what we do. We’re committed to delivering the highest quality of service, so it’s important for us to listen, understand and respond to all our customers. We are looking forward to another successful year ahead.”

Congratulating Walking Tours of Oxford on winning this year’s award, Matt West, CEO at Feefo, commented: “The Trusted Service award has always been about recognising those companies that excel beyond the norm. This year we’ve seen many remarkable businesses leveraging the full potential of Feefo to provide outstanding levels of experience for their customers – and rightly being awarded our most prestigious accreditation. I’m looking forward to the continual success of the businesses that work in partnership with us throughout 2019.”

Feefo is a reviews and customer insights technology company that provides businesses with the tools to collect real, purchase-verified reviews and insights. Working with over 3,500 clients, Feefo ensures that all feedback is authentic, by matching it to a legitimate transaction, in order to increase consumer confidence and enable businesses to make smarter business decisions.

 

Parking in Oxford

Throughout 2018 we had a few clients who arrived late for tours due to parking problems.  Please do allow plenty of time when travelling to Oxford. Car parking is not plentiful in the centre of Oxford and is discouraged.  The best option is to use one of the 5 park and rides outside Oxford and then hop on the bus into town.  This is how I always travel in.  It will cost you £2 to park the car for up to 12 hours.  Note that you will require the last 3 digits of your car registration when paying at the machine so if you have a hire car – remember to make a note!  Here is the link to the Park and Ride website:

https://www.oxford.gov.uk/directory/8/car_parks_in_oxford/category/56/categoryInfo/13

If you do prefer to drive into Oxford then you could try The Westgate car park:-

https://westgateoxford.co.uk/your-visit/getting-here

Another car park would be Worcester Street:-

https://www.oxford.gov.uk/directory_record/351/worcester_street_car_park/category/53/city_centre_car_parks

Or Gloucester Green:-

https://www.oxford.gov.uk/directory_record/339/gloucester_green_car_park/category/53/city_centre_car_parks

See you soon!

Heidi and team