Here’s why you should not miss The Story Museum, Oxford

The Story Museum in Oxford bills itself as “a most unusual museum” in the heart of the city. After spending a morning there recently I can happily say that not only is it unusual, it is absolutely charming. 

If you love stories, books and being transported into another world, then do not miss the Story Museum when you are next in Oxford.

This magical museum is dedicated to the art of storytelling and where better for it to be located than in the heart of Oxford, a city bursting with literary connections.

From a magical wardrobe to a Mad Hatter’s tea party, Oxford is a city that has provided inspiration to countless authors including Philip Pullman, J.R.R. Tolkien and Lewis Carroll. The Story Museum celebrates these writers and others, as well as highlighting the human need for stories and celebrating the myriad ways that we can all benefit from the telling of a good yarn. 

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The Story Museum Oxford
The Whispering Wood

Stories are the most important thing in the world. Without stories we wouldn’t be human beings at all

Philip Pullman, Story Museum patron

What is the Story Museum?

Through immersive exhibitions, gallery spaces and events, the Story Museum celebrates the art of the story in all forms. The museum underwent a £6 million refurbishment and only reopened in 2020 (only for it to be closed on and off owing to the pandemic). However, the museum is now well and truly open again, welcoming children of all ages through its doors for a whimsical, magical adventure celebrating great stories.

The Story Museum Oxford
The Story Museum in Oxford

Small Worlds

The museum is set in three buildings set around a central courtyard. On the ground floor is an on-site cafe and where you’ll find Small Worlds. This space has been designed for very young children. It’s a land of picture books, nursery rhymes and traditional tales.

There are five story-themed zones where you can go on a Bear Hunt, relax in the Night Safe, ride on the Story Bus, enjoy Winnie and Wilbur’s miniatures theatre and discover Traction Man’s under-sink world.

This is a ticketed event (separate from the museum) and well worth planning in advance if you’re visiting the Story Museum with very little children. The hour-long sessions start with a song, followed by a reading of that week’s featured story and then time to explore the five themed zones before a final story and song.

The Portal

If you’re visiting the Story Museum with older children as we were, then your journey into the land of spellbinding tales starts in The Portal. This is where we met our Story Guide, a charismatic staff member who introduced us to the museum, the power of stories and, our first port of call, the Whispering Wood.

The museum staff really are fantastic and have an infectious enthusiasm for both the museum and stories.

We were asked to each choose a wooden magic wand and instructed on how to use them to move leaves and press buttons when we were in the Whispering Wood. These seem to have been introduced following the pandemic – to stop lots of hands touching buttons and other surfaces – but it actually adds to the experience and everyone was happy to choose their own wand. We were all also given a set of headphones.

Entry to the Portal is by timed ticket entry every 10 minutes.

The Story Museum Oxford
Hundred Acre Wood in The Enchanted Library

The Whispering Wood

This mysterious forest traces the ancient roots of storytelling and every tree has a story to tell from a different culture. Visitors are guided along this immersive experience through an audio tour deliver via your headset.

Follow the paw prints of Firouz the hare as you journey from one tree to the next. Each reveals the ancient roots of a story as well as fun facts and lively retellings of the tale. We particularly loved the the Cap Seller and the Monkeys, an oral tradition Indian folktale form the Panchatantra. 

The Treasure Chamber

After the Whispering Wood, we were pointed towards the Treasure Chamber. This space is dedicated to temporary exhibitions and when we visited the display was inspired by The Book of Hopes, by Katherine Rundell, which is all about finding hope in the little things.

Katherin Rundell was a guest curator for this exhibition space and the result is the Garden of Possibilities. The garden features original work from many of the UK’s best loved children’s writers and illustrators and is a space where you can doodle on walls in The Doodle Pad, dress up in The Shed of Make Believe and communicate with aliens in The Shed of Time & Space.

The Story Museum Oxford
Horrid Henry’s Bedroom in The Enchanted Library

The City of Stories

Located on the ground floor of the museum, this 25-minute film experience takes visitors on board the museum’s Story Craft to journey through a thousand years of Oxford’s story history. But first of all, you need to fire up your imagination!

Again, our Story Guide here was excellent; funny, engaging and enthusiastic as he encouraged our group of eight to think big thoughts and get our imaginations working full speed.

Once we had safely embarked on the fantastical story craft, we journeyed back in time and encountered all sorts of tales including Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, C S Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, J R R Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials.

It’s a fun experience and one that kept everyone in our group engaged. Philip Pullman – who is one of the patrons of the museum – also makes an appearance.

This is a separately ticked film experience

The Enchanted Library

Our final stop at the Story Museum was the Enchanted Library. This was also easily my favourite part of the museum. Located next door to the Treasure Chamber, this immersive exhibition invites visitors to immerse themselves in some of the world’s most popular books.

Life-size sets invite you to walk through the wardrobe into Narnia, join in the party in a disused swimming pool, step into the bedroom of Horrid Henry (and sit on a whoopee cushion!), visit Hundred Acre Wood – and more! Bookcases with the history of children’s literature line the walls, leading you from one literary world to the next.

The Story Museum Oxford
The Shed of Time & Space in The Treasure Chamber

Live shows at the Story Museum

We didn’t get to see any of the live shows during our visit to the museum but it’s worth looking at the website to see what’s on as regular talks, workshops, performances and events take place.

Where is the Story Museum?

Oxford’s Story Museum is located on Pembroke Street in the heart of the city.

Address: The Story Museum, 42 Pembroke Street, Oxford, OX1 1BP

Ticket prices are £8 / each. The City of Stories and Small Worlds require an additional ticket.

Website

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