The January weather kind to us on this visit – cold but winter sunshine. Maps helped participants find their way between the two main attractions and other points of interest, and a good outbound journey provided more time to wander.
We had four different guides for our tours of the world-famous Bodleian Library, each with slightly different, but valid, slant on the history and the building, and feedback was good on all four. The Bodleian is the main research library of the University of Oxford, is one of the oldest libraries in Europe, and with over 11 million items, and in Britain is second only to the British Library. It is one of six libraries where all works published in the United Kingdom have to be deposited. The Bodleian operates principally as a reference library and in general, documents may not be removed from the reading rooms (and in the early years it was even a Chained Library!! so that readers could not remove books).
The Library tour started at the Divinity School, completed in 1488 for teaching theology. With it’s elaborately vaulted ceiling and 455 carved bosses, it is a masterpiece of English Gothic architecture. We continued inside the 17th century Convocation House, where Parliament was held in the Civil War, and looked inside the Chancellor’s Court room.
Next was Duke Humfrey’s medieval library, still in use today, where generations of famous scholars have studied through the ages – including five kings, 40 Nobel Prize winners, 25 British Prime Ministers and writers such as Oscar Wilde, C S Lewis and J R R Tolkien. Guides used microphone and individual headsets in the Library, to avoid disturbing readers/scholars.
The Guides described the fascinating architectures, resulting from the University’s creation in the Middle Ages, and its development over the centuries. If you thought that Libraries were boring – well this one certainly was not.
The Ashmolean Museum was the second attraction- the world’s first university museum. Its first building was erected in 1678–1683 to house the cabinet of curiosities that Elias Ashmole gave to the University in 1677. In 2001, the Sackler Library opened, incorporating the older library collections of the Ashmolean – an expansion of the book collection, which concentrates on classical civilization, archaeology and art history.
Modern expansions including large well-lit open atriums(2006 to 2009), now contain the new galleries of Ancient Egypt and Nubia, and the restored Ruskin Gallery, houses the Chinese Picture Gallery – the only gallery in Britain devoted to Chinese paintings.
Many thought the Ashmolean was bright, airy, excellent descriptions to accompany the exhibits and a good example of how museums should be, and offered something for everyone.
Walking around, between the attractions, there were plenty of pleasant local restaurants, the colleges, the statue of Cecil Rhodes, the indoor market, local bookshops, and many other well-known buildings and famous views, including the Bridge if Sighs. Oxford, as ever, provided not only the two named attractions, but a thoroughly enjoyable visit.