Museum of the History of Science


This weekend the girls and I took another trip to Oxford. After the inevitable visit to Blackwells (where we bought Noel Streatfeild’s A Vicarage Family; The Adventures of Miss Petitfour by Anne Michaels, in which the eponymous heroine goes flying on a magic teaparty tablecloth with her numerous cats streaming out behind her; The Book of Beasts: Colour and Discover by Angela Rizza and Jonny Marx, which my elder daughter has barely closed since buying; and failed to get Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo which has sold out everywhere!) we crossed Broad Street to the Museum of the History of Science. This Oxford University museum nestles between Exeter College and the Sheldonian Theatre and as I once had a bedroom window literally next to it I am rather ashamed that I have never been before.

Elizabeth I’s astrolabe, a gift from Sir Robert Dudley.

Like other fantastic museums, the Ashmolean, the Museum of Natural History and the Pitt-Rivers, the Museum of the History of Science is free but does ask for donations, particularly if you take a trail or guide pamphlet or take part in an activity. My younger daughter did the Shakespeare’s Family Trail: Stars, Globes and Magic and the elder took the guide version which differs in that it doesn’t ask questions or have bits for you to fill in. There were several other trails available, focusing on different aspects of the museum you might be particularly interested. Being big fans of Shakespeare in our family the guides offering an insight into the science of his world were fantastic and we got to see some amazing exhibits including Queen Elizabeth I’s astrolabe (an instrument for use in astronomy and astrology), a copy of John Dee’s ‘Holy Table’ which he used to talk to angels, a Magic Stone charm and some wonderful globes.

A microscope made for King George III, a keen scientist.

The museum is much smaller than the other university museums but there is still a good deal to see. Down in the basement we found some manuscripts and artwork about alchemy which my daughter is learning about at school. We also saw Charles Lutwidge Doddson’s (aka Lewis Carroll’s) case of chemicals for his photography that he would have used in his photography of ‘the real Alice’, Alice Liddell, along with many early cameras and radio equipment. Museum volunteers were running a family drop-in ‘Making Micrographia’ which gave children the opportunity to look at slides under microscopes, draw what they saw and then make ink monoprints of their drawings. In the Special Exhibitions Gallery there is a Back From the Dead: Demystifying Antibiotics exhibition until 21st May 2017.

Good news for parents is that the gift shop is very tiny and fairly easy to overlook so the visit was cheap and tat-free! We really enjoyed our visit and will be keeping an eye on the museum’s events calendar in the future.



One of only two known examples of the earliest surviving celestial globe from the early 16th century. It was made by Johann Schoner and a celestial globe made by him can be seen in the famous painting ‘The Ambassadors’ (1533) by Hans Holbein the Younger in the National Gallery.

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