Come and see the dodo in Oxford!
Though it looks like a Victorian nurses’ home from the outside, the museum complex on Parks Road is a fun place for rainy days in Oxford. It also has an impressive pedigree. In 1860 Darwin’s theory of natural selection was famously debated here by Thomas Huxley (for Darwin) and the Bishop of Oxford, Samuel Wilberforce, who famously asked Huxley "whether it was through his grandfather or grandmother that he claimed descent from a monkey."
In 1894 the first public demonstration of wireless telegraphy took place in the museum’s lecture theatre and we can thank the natural history museum for Lewis Carroll’s fascination with the dodo. Rev Charles Dodgson (pen-name Lewis Carroll) was a regular visitor to the museum and would have seen the dodo’s skeleton on display and paintings of this lugubrious bird which died out in the 17th century. These days there is a very convincing recreation of the dodo standing next to the skeleton which attracts a lot of visitors. The collection is divided up into displays on evolution, primates, the history of life, vertebrates, invertebrates and rocks and minerals, but the dinosaurs remain the best bit!
The building itself was opened in 1850. It was designed by the Irish architects Thomas Newenham Deane and Benjamin Woodward and influenced by the writings of the critic John Ruskin, who involved himself directly during construction.
The cloistered arcades that run around the ground and first floors are made from stone columns, each being carved from a different type of British stone. The ornamentation of the stonework and iron pillars incorporates natural forms such as leaves and branches in the Pre-Raphaelite style championed by Ruskin.