By Helen Morgan
On the 6th June, 1683, the world’s first University Museum opened in Oxford, England. Named after the English archaeologist, Elias Ashmole (1617-1692), who deposited with Oxford University a number of objects; some collected by himself, others bequeathed to him by his botanist friend John Tradescant (1608-62), which formed the nucleus of the collection. The Ashmolean Museum was the first purpose-built museum of its kind anywhere.
During the English Civil War (1642-51), Ashmole, an antiquary and a politician, had supported the Royalist side and on the restoration of Charles ll to the English throne, was rewarded with a number of lucrative offices. At that time Oxford was the main area of scientific pursuit in the country.
A plan was drawn up by the University Authorities to construct a new building to display the donated artefacts. One of the most highly acclaimed architects in history, Sir Christopher Wren, was commissioned to carry out the work. The first Ashmolean museum was situated in Broad Street in the building that is now the History of Science Museum.
The museum was designed to display the collections, which were organized in such a way that Oxford University could use them for teaching purposes while the public could also visit.
In 1845, just over a century-and-a-half later, Charles Robert Cockerell; English architect, archaeologist and writer, completed the construction of the present-day neoclassical building in Beaumont Street for the museum’s rapidly expanding collection.Today the Ashmolean museum contains artefacts from the earliest implements known to man, made some 500,000 years ago, to modern-day works of art.