One man’s eclectic collecting habits

Anglotopia Day 14 – All the things I never did in Oxford

What American television would term “hoarding”, the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford could be termed one man’s multicultural hoard. With a recent facelift and re-shelving of artifacts, the Pitt Rivers now seemed like an organized, curated hoard.

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It was the most eclectic, interesting, and somewhat freaky museum I had ever visited. It was hard not to love the huge, vaulted room, feeling sort of like walking into someone’s private underground collection of eccentricities. The exhibits ranged from old to modern gun collections and other weapons, tattoo and piercings in global indigenous groups, clothing of Native American tribes, opium pipes, jewelry and anti-witchcraft amulets, a wide variety of expressive masks, pottery, and clothing seemed to fill large cases and drew my eye no matter which way I looked.

Canoes and totem poles and boats rose up from the floor and hung from the ceiling. Level after level revealed something new and interesting – items rarely found in such large and multifarious quantities in other museums.

I have to say, of all the random museums I have visited, I loved Pitt Rivers the most. I’m not sure if it was the musty interior, the huge cavern of the place, or the varied items on display, but I spent a great deal of time there trying to figure out how the things fit together. Shrunken heads, painful piercings, and coats made out of seal-gut are the objects which make up lives somewhere. They told stories I had not heard before.

TipSince museum admission is free, and Pitt Rivers is an easy walk from Oxford centre, it is definitely worth a look. It’ll alternately interest and freak you out in turns.


I managed to fit a short visit to the nicely redone Ashmolean Museum as well, enjoying the bright, airy corridors and its collection of ancient and medieval artifacts from around the world. Most of my time was spent here – like the British Museum – gathering information for the ancient civilization unit I teach to grade 6 students. Such is the life of a teacher, even on summer holiday.

My afternoon took me on a walking tour of Oxford, through the Divinity School at the Bodleian, most notable for its ceiling and its use in Harry Potter films as the Hogwarts infirmary.

Before there was the Harry Potter series, however, there was the immortal works of C.S. Lewis. Legend goes, he was leaving the Radcliffe Camera after a long afternoon of work, and it was snowing. As he walked out, he noticed the following two things just beyond the door:

And thus, The Chronicles of Narnia was born.

From the windows of the library, J.R.R. Tolkien saw the two sharp spires of All Souls College and crafted them into scenes in The Lord of the Rings. A church I visited in the Cotswolds had a door that was said to have been the inspiration behind scenery in The Hobbit.

From there, we strolled the alleys around the colleges, chatted about university and college life, and ended up at St. John’s College – where admission to the grounds was free.

This was quite near The Eagle and Child Pub, famous for its Inklings club made up of J.R.R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, and Charles Williams, who met there and had what probably amounted to some great discussions. Also known as the “Bird and Baby” Pub, it was usually packed at nights when we were students here. Thankfully, I was there on a mid-afternoon on Sunday, so I was able to get the Sunday roast dinner, hanging out in the back, and soaking up the literary atmosphere.

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From there, I decided to relax a bit and take in the Conjuring 2 about the Enfield poltergeist. Needless to say, we were all suitable freaked out of our minds by watching the film. It made me think of all the old houses, castles, and churches I had visited, and though I’m generally not one to believe in the supernatural, it was enough to make me question if tragedy, loss, and pain does really stick people to their places.

An excellent read – fiction, of course – about the idea is the book Rooms by Lauren Oliver. Ghosts watching, tied to a house, trying to sort out the line between their former lives and the current lives of the living in their place.

Dark rooms in centuries-old castles always make me think of such things.

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