The Oxford University Museum of Natural History, completed in 1858, houses a magnificent display of dinosaur skeletons and huge numbers of zoological and geological exhibits – as well as the remains of a dodo, the bird that famously became extinct in the late 17th century.
The museum was built shortly after the publication of Charles Darwin’s work, Origin of Species. Victorian culture, which was notoriously narrow-minded, had great difficulty in accepting Darwin’s theories of evolution and natural selection. In fact, shortly after the publication of the book – and while this museum was still being completed – there was a great debate in Oxford, discussing whether Darwin’s theories held water.
The debate eventually decided that Darwin was wrong – and it was decreed that the design of the museum would have to be changed accordingly. If you visit the museum, you’ll see that one window frame on the building is adorned by statues of cat-like creatures; these were originally meant to be apes – but after the debate it was decide that cats would be more appropriate because Darwin’s assertion, that man had evolved from apes, had effectively been debunked.
However, the stonemasons working on the building disagreed with the decision, and promptly decide to go on strike. The rest of the window frames were never finished, and the aforementioned window remains the only one to have been completed. These days, of course, Darwin’s theories are much more widely accepted – though the cats remain on the museum as a reminder of the Victorians’ conservative outlook.
Find out more about the museum on our Oxford tour. Click here for more information