Analysing the English Collections at the Pitt Rivers Museum

1965.5.1.203 Sheap-shearing in Oxfordshire. Photograph by Ernest G. Rathenau, donated by Ellen Ettlinger

1965.5.1.203 Sheap-shearing in Oxfordshire. Photograph by Ernest G. Rathenau, donated by Ellen Ettlinger

1986.17.2.1.b Morris dancer's bell-pad

1986.17.2.1.b Morris dancer's bell-pad

1930.84.1 Doll, Eynsham

1930.84.1 Doll, Eynsham

1992.9.1-2 Proctor's bands worn by Howard Morphy

1992.9.1-2 Proctor's bands worn by Howard Morphy

1965.5.1.516-7 Barn in Harpsden, near Henley, Oxfordshire photographed by Ettlinger

1965.5.1.516-7 Barn in Harpsden, near Henley, Oxfordshire photographed by Ettlinger

Oxfordshire artefacts

Alison Petch,
Researcher 'The Other Within' project

Writing as an outsider, Oxfordshire does not seem to be a county with a very strong self-image. The City of Oxford is a global brand, mostly because of the University and the high quality of its architecture, but the surrounding county is less easily defined. Too often the concepts of 'Oxford' and 'Oxfordshire' seem to collide and blur, much as the use of the terms 'English' and 'British' do (to English people). But Oxfordshire actually covers quite a large area [1] and although Oxford has probably always dominated cultural life in the county, there are many interesting things to discover in other areas of the county.

Today's Oxfordshire is a larger county than it was historically. In the boundary reorganization of 1974, part of historic Berkshire, including the Vale of the White Horse, were moved into Oxfordshire. This move is still controversial (see, for example, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CountyWatch) Oxfordshire now extends from the Chilterns in the south east, the Ridgeway in the south, and north past Banbury. In the west it stretches almost as far as Swindon and encompasses part of the Cotswolds. It is bordered by six other counties, Northamptonshire, Buckinghamshire, Berkshire, Wiltshire, Gloucestershire, and Warwickshire. The main centres of population are firstly Oxford itself, but also Bicester, Banbury, Chipping Norton, Witney, Thame, Abingdon, Wantage, Didcot and Henley on Thames.

The Pitt Rivers Museum has always collected objects from Oxfordshire since it was founded in 1884. This section of the 'Other Within' website, tries to look both at this collection in more detail and to look at artefacts from Oxfordshire more generally. The Museum is particularly grateful to the Oxfordshire County Museums Service, especially Phil Platt (the Social History curator), with whom much of this information has been prepared.

Whatever the uncertainties and changing shape of its borders, the Pitt Rivers Museum has sizeable Oxfordshire collections and some of them are of very particular types. In addition the local county council museum service (Oxfordshire County Museums Services, from this point referred to as OXCMS) have very large collections of items obtained in Oxfordshire.

This section of the website will not consider archaeological items found in Oxfordshire, except for those items which were found in historical settings (that is, it will ignore the very large stone tool collections from the county in the Pitt Rivers Museum and the OXCMS archaeological collections). This is because there was insufficient time to undertake all the research necessary even to catalogue and examine all the Oxfordshire stone tools held by the Pitt Rivers Museum (though as part of a separately funded project, this work is being carried out by Matt Nicholas). The only exception to this is the large collection of stone tools amassed and donated by Alexander James Montgomerie Bell which are discussed here. Instead it will concentrate on the ethnographic collections from Oxfordshire held at the Pitt Rivers Museum and the social history collections held at the OXCMS with a few of the items held by the Ashmolean Museum also being included.

To all intents and purposes 'ethnography' and 'social history' in these contexts mean the same thing, they mean items that were used in Oxfordshire by people during their everyday lives. These items are all from the medieval or later periods, but mostly from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Alison Petch
'Other Within' researcher

Content of the Oxfordshire web-pages:

Map of Oxfordshire

Statistics about the PRM and OXCMS Oxfordshire collections

Introduction to the Oxfordshire database

Search for objects from Oxfordshire here.

More information about particular aspects of the Oxfordshire collections:

Ethnographic and Social History collections from Oxfordshire

Oxfordshire before 1974

Eynsham the place / Ethnographic objects from Eynsham in the Pitt Rivers Museum

Ethnographic objects from Oxford in the Pitt Rivers Museum

Ethnographic objects from the University of Oxford in the Pitt Rivers Museum

Individuals associated with the Oxfordshire collections at the Pitt Rivers Museum and Oxfordshire County Museums Service

Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt Rivers' Oxfordshire collections.

Find out more about a related Oxfordshire society, the Oxfordshire and District Folklore Society 1948-?1965
and the early history of the Oxfordshire County Museums Service.

Ellen Ettlinger was very interested in Oxfordshire churches, to find out more follow these links.

Alexander James Montgomerie Bell's collection of stone tools in the Pitt Rivers Museum, many of them collected in Oxfordshire, is discussed here.

Find out more about the Oxfordshire waggons in the Oxfordshire Museum's Service here.

[1] Oxfordshire covers a total of 2,605 square kilometres, and is ranked 22nd out of 48, by size, of all English counties. In 2006 it had a population of 631,900 of which 149,100 lived in the City of Oxford. It is the 35th most populated county. A very high proportion of the population of Oxford are students, 30,000 (estimated at the last census to be 26 per cent of the working age population). Information based on http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oxfordshire and