Bloxham Village Museum
Bloxham Village Museum is set to become 'the Ashmolean of Bloxham' following the donation and installation of 15 museum cases from the Ashmolean Museum.
The cases, which once contained priceless china and Greek artefacts, will take pride of place at Bloxham and house the museum's equally important but perhaps slightly less priceless items of social history. They’re no longer needed by the Ashmolean Museum, which, like Bloxham Village (albeit on a very different scale), is undergoing a major redevelopment project.
Bloxham Village Museum was established in 1980 to celebrate the history of the small Oxfordshire village and according to registrar Peter Barwell, the cases are vital to the museum’s modernization plan.
The stores of the museum are now much more organised, allowing the curator and assistants to find their way more easily around the collection.
“The collection is so much easier to view. It’s transformed us into a new museum,” he said. "We received all the cabinets from The Ashmolean Museum we had hoped for and are now busy setting up our new exhibition 'NOW & THEN'."
"We will open our doors on Easter Sunday and Bank holiday Monday and every Sunday and Bank Holiday thereafter and every Wednesday in July," he added.
The Ashmolean Museum, founded in 1643, has one of the world’s finest collections of art and archeology. In October 2005 the museum received Heritage Lottery Funding of £15 million for a massive redevelopment project designed to improve accessibility.
The work will provide 100% more display space, combine the currently divided Greek and Roman displays, and provide an education centre and conservation room.
The new cases from the Ashmolean have greatly improved display conditions.
Dr Nicholas Mayhew, director of the Heberden Coin Room at the Ashmolean, takes up the story:
“When we began to plan the redevelopment project we realized lots of the display cases would no longer be appropriate, so we offered them to local museums in the Oxfordshire area."
“Many of them don’t meet the government indemnity standards necessary for the larger museums, but for smaller museums they’re perfect. We’re very happy that the lottery funding we’ve received will also benefit other museums in the neighborhood.”
For Bloxham Village, the cases will transform the collection, making displays more appealing to audiences and the decision by the Ashmolean has come as the icing on the cake, following two years of modernisation work.
A collection of historical dress, long languishing in an attic, are now displayed in pride of place.
In the past year, the entire collection of more than 5,000 items, including farm implements, household items and costumes, has been repacked and catalogued.
Like many small museums, the collection had never been computerized and finding items for exhibitions relied entirely on the memory of the three elderly conservators associated with the museum.
Having reorganized the stores, attention has now turned to the museum building itself. Bloxham Village Museum is located in a 14th century courthouse owned by the ancient village charity Bloxham Feoffees.
While undeniably atmospheric, the building was problematic. A sloping floor let water in, the electricity supply was out-dated and the exhibition displays badly needed improving.
A display of Bloxham Museum's garden tools collection.
A lottery grant has allowed the necessary structural changes to be carried out, while the Ashmolean cases have solved the display problem. Local businesses pitched in too, with Fired Earth providing tiles for the newly finished floor, and Chipping Norton Glass remaking the damaged leaded windows in the popular ‘cottage’ display.
Both the Ashmolean and Bloxham Village Museum are working hard to make their collections more engaging and relevant to a 21st century audience. As Mayhew explained:
“It’s time for us to come down from the ivory tower. It’s not enough any more to say ‘the door is open’. We have to work to make our collection accessible and interesting to the world.”
Olivia Laing is the 24 Hour Museum Renaissance Student Writer in the South East region. Renaissance is the groundbreaking initiative to transform England's regional museums, led by MLA, the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council.