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Ashmolean Museum

Ashmolean Museum

The  Ashmolean is one of the great museums in the world - and it can lay claim to be  Britain's first official museum. Indeed, at the time of its founding, the term  "museum" was unknown.

The  Ashmolean was originally based on the idiosyncratic collection of natural  history specimens collected by gardening pioneers John Tradescant (father and  son). The Tradescants displayed their collection at their house in Lambeth,  south London, but later deeded the curiosities to Elias Ashmole.

Ashmole  in turn presented this jumble of natural and man-made oddments to Oxford  University, where special buildings on Broad Street were created to house them.  These buildings first opened their doors on May 24, 1683. The first Ashmolean  was composed of three separate parts; the collection, a chemistry laboratory,  and lecture rooms.

The  public was allowed to view the collection - a concession that irked some of the  more supercilious academics of the period. The collection was enhanced by the  addition of its prize possession, the Alfred Jewel, in 1718.

This  Saxon relic is a gold-encrusted, enameled ornament intended to grace the end of  a staff, or scepter. The association with King Alfred is uncertain, though the  Latin inscription (which translates as "Alfred had me made") and the richness of  the jewel makes it likely that only someone as powerful as Alfred could have  been responsible for its creation.

In the  mid Victorian period the growing collection was split into natural and man-made  divisions, with the former being used to create the new Oxford Museum of Natural  History.

The  Ashmolean then turned to building up its collection of archaeological specimens,  including a large donation of Anglo-Saxon antiquities from Sir Richard Colt  Hoare, and new artifacts from Egypt, the Middle East, and Rome.

The  collection grew so large that new buildings had to be erected, and the present  Ashmolean was built next to the University's art collection on Beaumont Street.  The new museum opened in 1894. and in 1908 the collections of the Ashmolean and  the art gallery were merged.

Admission: free

Open: Tuesdays to Saturdays: 10am to 5pm Sundays: 2pm  to 5pm. Bank Holidays: 2pm to 5pm (But not all Bank Holidays -- please contact  the Museum to be sure it is open before visiting)

Ashmolean Museum, Beaumont Street OXFORD OX1 2PH Tel: Oxford (01865)  278000 Fax: Oxford (01865) 278018 Group bookings and tours: Oxford (01865)  278015 Web site

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