On Thursday 24th May some members of the History Society were shown round
the Museums Resource centre in Standlake. They were greatly helped by two
Society members – Roger and Caroline Mentz, who work as volunteers at the
Before we were taken round we were given a brief summary of the history and the
work of the Centre, which had been founded in 1963 to serve Oxfordshire
museums. It was a purpose-built store and one of the first in the country. It is
home to about 100,000 objects, most of which are items of Social History, and
about 17,000 of them are classed as Archaeological objects.
Then we were shown a few of the most interesting pieces in the Centre’s
collection. Roger and Caroline had selected 5 items under the headings of Earth
Air, Fire, Water and Ether for special examination which they described to us and
which we could look at in more detail.
The first piece was a seal which had belonged to Roger de Cumnor, a lawyer in
13th century Oxford. He was known to have lived in Cumnor, at Cumnor Place, but
the seal had been found in Park End Street, Oxford, so it had probably been lost.
The second object was a fan that had once belonged to Alice Liddell, of “Alice in
Wonderland’ fame, part of a large collection of Alice’s belongings kept in the
Centre. It was beautifully decorated and made of tortoiseshell and a form of
plastic. Apparently plastic in its early days (late 19th century and early 20th) was a
high status material.
The third item was a rush taper holder, probably from the late 18th Century or early
19th. It had been one item in the ‘founding’ collection in the Centre, and at that
time the records were less complete than later.
Item no. four was a painting of Iffley Mill by ? Shaffrey. The Mill burnt down in
1908, and the painter had made paintings before and after the fire. Interestingly,
Iffley Church is in the painting, but not in the right place.
Item no 5 was a replica of an Iron Age mirror, beautifully decorated with marks that
seem to recall the surface of water, and burnished to resemble gold, though in fact
it is bronze. The reference to water raises the question whether at the time water
was a sacred material.
After this, the group was taken round the Social History section of the collection.
This is a vast and fascinating collection of objects of all kinds – from farming,
industry, commerce and the home, and ranging from old Mangles and Lawn
mowers through Typewriters, early TV sets and Photographic equipment to Farm
Wagons, a Witney Blanket Loom and a horse-drawn Carriage from Waterperry.
The visit was a really engrossing insight into the past of Oxfordshire.