Cabinet of Curiosities

Meet the John Tradescants, Elder and Younger, royal gardeners in the 17th Century and see treasures and antiquities from the world’s earliest museum.

Explore our Cabinet of Curiosities, generously on loan from The Ashmolean Museum, collected by intrepid explorers and gardeners to royalty, the John Tradescants, Elder and Younger in the 17th Century. Employed by the wealthy Earl of Salisbury, the Tradescants travelled the world known to Europeans, shipping back new and exotic plant specimens for the Earl’s gardens. In the course of their travels they also acquired a remarkable collection of botanical, geological and zoological items as well as man-made objects.

The Tradescants collected and catalogued, (with the help of wealthy antiquary Elias Ashmole) antiquities and curiosities from across the globe. Tradescant went on to open his Ark to all-comers who could afford the 6d entrance fee in 1634, breaking the mould of exclusivity that normally surrounded such collections, and making it effectively the first museum open to the public in England. The collection was bequeathed to Oxford University which then opened as Britain’s first public museum, and the world’s first university museum, in 1683.

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All our exhibitions & collections are included in our standard entry. To book tickets please click Buy Tickets which will take you to our main ticket entry booking page.