New Museum of Oxford includes display on pubs and breweries

People are invited to tell their own stories online as well as visiting

The only museum to concentrate on the city and its people rather than the university has re-opened after a £2.8 million expansion and refit. Featuring new displays of objects, images, oral histories and interactive exhibits, the museum within Oxford Town Hall has tripled the size of its previous space, including a new shop and reception desk, a much improved welcome area and better facilities for over 100 volunteers who work there.

Pubs and breweries form an important part of the main exhibition, with pride of place going to an original pub sign in a metal frame that stood outside the long gone Allied Arms in Rose Hill. A display cabinet holds artefacts ranging from antique bottles and a cycling map issued by brewer Morrells, to a spittoon (remember them?!) from the Elm Tree on Cowley Road, now the Big Society.

Museum development officer David Juler said: “We don’t have anything particularly rare, but maybe the spittoon from the Elm Tree pub is a little more unusual and connected to a specific place in the city. We also have two wonderful horn beakers on loan from the Pitt Rivers Museum, which have hunting scenes on them. The displays have been created so that items can be added or changed, and for the time being they will be staying as they are. But we do still want people to contribute online to Oxford City Stories.”

This is a section of the museum’s website that invites people to share their own memories and keepsakes, and at present it is organised into eight collections covering topics such as race and inequality, lockdown memories, entertainment and sport, and LGBTQIA+ history. The online collection for beer and brewing includes a display card of Morrells bottled beers (Malt Stout, College Ale and Castle Ale), and a t-shirt that the museum is seeking help to identify.

Apparently issued by Halls brewery in Oxford, this shows a cartoon hare kicking a cartoon bear in a yellow jumper on the front, with the words STUFF THE BEAR, while the hare is shown victorious on the back of the t-shirt with the words FOLLOW THE HARE and the Halls Hare logo, which can still be seen outside some of its former pubs today. The t-shirt is thought to date from the 1980s and people are invited to contribute their thoughts online, but one possible explanation is that the Bear Inn just around the corner from the museum was once a Halls pub, and the t-shirt may have been produced when Fuller’s took it over. More here.

Returning to the actual exhibition, the Allied Arms sign is interesting in itself as well as being a rather handsome and imposing portrayal of a cricketer, an oarsman and a golfer. A Morrells pub, it was called the King of Prussia when opened in 1809 but gained its present name in 1914 during rising anti-German feeling at the start of World War 1. The replacement sign showed Allied soldiers from Britain, France and Belgium, but after World War 2 it was changed to show Churchill, Stalin and Roosevelt. In 1977 the pub was leased to Beefeater Inns and became the Ox, reverting to King of Prussia in 1996 before closing during the early years of the century. The derelict building was destroyed by fire in 2006, by which time permission had been granted for the site to become a Co-op supermarket and flats. Rose Hill was left without a pub.

There’s plenty of interest in the free Museum of Oxford to while away an hour or two, maybe more, with other displays including the infamous Cutteslowe Wall, Healing Spaces (hospitals) and Queering Spires. It’s open from 10am-5pm except Sundays, so pop in on your way between the Bear and the Royal Blenheim, and go online for more.