Analysing the English Collections at the Pitt Rivers Museum

The New Oxford City and County Museum: the beginnings of the Oxfordshire County Museums Service

Alison Petch,
Researcher 'The Other Within' project

In the winter of 1964, Beatrice Blackwood, a member of the Folk-Lore Society, wrote a section of the Folklore journal giving museum news across the country. One item concerned her own home county, Oxfordshire. This relates to the beginnings of Oxfordshire County Museums Service and relates how the founders believed that that service should relate to the University of Oxford's museums:

The New Oxford City and County Museum

The Oxford area has long needed—and wanted—a local museum, and at last the project is really beginning to take shape. The following account is based on a report in the Oxford Times for 31 July 1964.
The scheme of a City and County museum started in 1959 with a meeting convened by the Oxford Preservation Trust. A joint committee was then set up by the City and County Councils, with Mr Harry Plowman, Town Clerk of Oxford, as its clerk. The committee arranged a survey to discover what material was not yet covered by the University museums. Last autumn the report on the survey was received by the Councils, and they then decided to go ahead with the scheme. It has been decided that the museum should not compete with those in the University and should contain local historical and archaeological material. The educational side is to be stressed, with a view to providing eventually a museum service to schools.
The museum will be housed at first in an historic building in Woodstock; in about ten or fifteen years' time it will be given a permanent home in Oxford, if all goes well. Its Director is to be Miss Jean Cook, now curator of the City Museum, Chichester, and previously of the Royal Museum, Canterbury. It is hoped that she will take up the post not later than 1 November, and that before then she will be able to discuss with the City and County architects what alterations will have to be made in the building. Miss Cook is a B.A. with honours in Anglo-Saxon archaeology and a B.Sc. with honours in zoology and chemistry (University of London). She is an associate of the Museums Association, and has spent three months on archaeological digs in Sweden. She has had teaching experience, and has run a museum service for schools.
Miss Cook will have to start the new museum from scratch, as she did in Chichester. It is certain that she will not be hampered by lack of material. The Deputy Town Clerk, Mr John Edwards, already has in his charge about three thousand items considered possibly worthy of inclusion, and many Oxfordshire families have cherished possessions which they will eventually be pleased to place where they will be permanently cared for and appreciated, or, even more important, items of interest to historians and folklorists which are not cherished, and would otherwise not be preserved at all. [p. 300, part of 'Museum News', Beatrice Blackwood]. 'Museum News', Beatrice Blackwood, Folklore, Vol. 75, No. 4 (Winter, 1964), pp. 298-302

Later an update was provided:

Oxford City and County Museum

By the Director, Miss Jean Cook.
The Oxford City and County Museum was opened in October 1966. It is jointly provided by Oxford City Council and Oxfordshire County Council who share the running costs on an equal footing. The Museum was established to collect material from the City and County relevant to the history and environment of the people of the area with concentration, initially, on the more immediate past.
The first home of the museum is at Fletcher's House in Woodstock, a building owned by the County Council and vacated by the Fire Brigade in the autumn of 1964. ...
So far the Museum has not begun to collect material and information relating to customs, but this is now being actively considered with particular reference to song and dance. In a county with a strong Morris tradition there is obviously considerable scope.
The Museum has adopted an outward looking policy in many of its activities. It has an active education service at present principally concerned with schools but with potential in the field of adult education. ... Other aspects of the museum's services are the provision of weekly public lectures throughout the winter on a wide variety of subjects, regular temporary exhibitions, identification of material brought in and the provision of all kinds of information on City and County for a very varied public. ...
Among future developments hoped for are the formation of a body of museum correspondents who will, when trained, greatly increase the collecting power of the museum both for objects and, equally essential, for information. ...
Objects of the more distant past are now being collected by the museum. When these are exhibited it is hoped to plan an archaeological display, based on themes such as settlement and culture in an attempt to tell the story of prehistory in the Oxford area in a way not so far tried by the University Museums in the City.
Obviously the present site will rapidly be outgrown and the committee will soon be considering possible ways in which the museum can expand. There is no difficulty in planning this in principle but in practice financial considerations will, as always, be a limiting factor. For a museum established to serve a wide area it seems obvious that some kind of branch museum system should be aimed at and if this policy is decided upon then possible sites may recommend themselves for different reasons.
This is an interesting, if critical, stage in the museum's development. Some internal consolidation is needed, as well as gradual, well-planned expansion. Active collection is also a priority and this involves conservation and eventual display. In addition the museum needs to be seen to be fulfilling a need in the community and in a period of financial stringency this is more than ever important. However, the museum has been started on a sound basis of local authority co-operation and here it is certainly ahead of its time. If the interest shown in it in its early years can be maintained, and the service which it offers can be steadily, if gradually, improved then its future looks hopeful. ['Museum News' by Beatrice Blackwood, Folklore, Vol. 79, No. 1 (Spring, 1968), pp.48-50.

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