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A guided tour through key architectural and design philosophies underpinning the Oxford Museum of Natural History.

Henry Acland, Regius Professor of Medicine, played a key role in the building of Oxford’s new science museum in the 1850s. In this essay, he describes expectations for the building – its construction was nearing completion as he wrote. He also discusses its famous connection to the “Gothic style”. While guiding readers through some of the building’s chief features, Acland leaves no doubt this was a project meant to combine nature and God; reverence and rigour. It’s a vision of science that’s largely forgotten today.

Acland appends two 1858-59 letters from John Ruskin. In this correspondence, the great advocate of Gothic design elaborates some of the core principles of this approach and relates them to Oxford’s museum. This is a superb summary of Gothic Revivalism. Acland also adds 1859 correspondence from John Phillips, describing plans to integrate geological materials into the building’s decorative features.


Henry Acland (1815-1900) was physician and natural scientist closely associated with the revival of the medical school and the study of natural science at University of Oxford.


Acland, Henry, and Ruskin, John (1859) The Oxford Museum (London: Euston Grove Press), 128 pages. 2010 facsimile of 1859 edition.

ISBN13: 978-1-906267-19-3 (paperback)
ISBN10: 1-906267-19-7 (paperback)
Recommended price: GBP£5.95 | USD$10.00
dimensions: A5 5.8 x 8.3 (inches)
dimensions: A5 148 x 210 (mm)


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