University of Oxford

Follow us @OxfordASPIRE

Update from the PVC: Oxford's Museums and Collections

2 April 13 -- jsuess

This term Oxford University's Pro Vice Chancellor's update focussed on Oxford's Museums and Collections, and in partciular on how philanthropy is supporting our museums.

Read his full update here, or check out some key highlights below.

Elizabethan Sundial comes to Light - Museum of the History of Science

The Museum of the History of Science has received its most significant, permanent addition to the collection for many years: an Elizabethan sundial donated by Howard Dawes. The pocket sundial is an elaborately decorated instrument crafted in 1585 by England’s first scientific instrument maker Augustine Ryther. Owned by Sir George St Paul, a magistrate who studied at Corpus Christi College and went on to be a generous benefactor of the Bodleian Library, the sundial was inscribed with St Paul’s name and coat of arms. It was found by a farm labourer in the grounds of his father’s house in Glentworth, Lincolnshire, where it had been mislaid hundreds of years earlier. This is only the third instrument by Ryther to come to light and is the earliest of the three. The dial is now on permanent display in the museum’s top gallery, alongside Queen Elizabeth I’s astrolabe.

Digitisation of the William Smith Archive - Museum of Natural History

The Oxford University Museum of Natural History (OUMNH) has won a £60,000 grant from Arts Council England to create a digital archive of William Smith, the ‘father of English Geology’ (1769-1839). 2015 will mark the 200th anniversary of the first geological map, published by Smith. To celebrate this event, OUMNH will create William Smith Online, a digital resource with an interactive crowd-sourced transcription tool, which will make available the museum’s archival collection of correspondence, manuscripts, geological maps and sketches relating to Smith’s life and work. The archive provides an extraordinary record of the struggles and achievements of Smith, the son of an Oxfordshire village blacksmith, who produced the first geological map of England and Wales and whose mapping techniques established the scientific methodology for producing geological maps, which continue to this day.

Ashmolean Receives Wellby Collection - Ashmolean Museum

A major collection of Renaissance and Baroque silver has been bequeathed to the Ashmolean by antique dealer Michael Wellby. The bequest includes nearly 500 objects and is one of the most important gifts of this kind to a British museum for over a century. Highlights include a rare lapis lazuli bowl made by Dutch goldsmith Paulus van Vianen and a silver gilt ewer made in Portugal around 1510-15. Michael Wellby (1928–2012) was a member of a family prominent in the silver trade. He opened his own shop in Grafton Street in the 1960s, specialising in German silver of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. At auctions in London and on trips to the continent he made many discoveries and acquired many rarities - several of these were sold through the shop but a few exceptional pieces were added to his personal collection, which has now been bequeathed to the Ashmolean.

Heritage Lottery Funding for Pitt Rivers - Pitt Rivers Museum

The Pitt Rivers Museum has received a grant of £1.05 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund towards its ongoing revitalisation project. Project VERVE – Visitors, Engagement, Renewal, Visibility, Enrichment – is a five- year project to refresh the displays, improve the case lighting and run a range of public activities, including workshops and special events. One of the new monthly events in the VERVE programme is After Hours, when the museum opens its doors until 7.30pm and offers a free, themed programme of talks and music. At the ‘Reel2Real’ event in March, visitors explored the collections listening to an eclectic playlist, including century-old recordings made by anthropologist Diamond Jenness in the D’Entrecasteaux Islands off Papua New Guinea, while at the ‘Masquerade and Performance’ event in February, director Dr Michael O’Hanlon gave an intriguing entitled talk ‘Striptease’ on the elaborate ceremonies of the Wahgi people of Highland New Guinea. You can follow the VERVE blog at

Sign up for our newsletter


Keep in touch

Follow us on Twitter @OxfordASPIRE

Email us

Phone 01865 613783