Ashmolean is the oldest public museum in Britain, and the first purpose-built
public museum in the world. The events which led to its establishment
began in 1677, when a cabinet of curiosities was donated to the University
of Oxford by Elias Ashmole. This cabinet consisted of a collection of
rarities, which Ashmole had received, by deed of gift, in 1659. To house
this remarkable collection, a new building was erected on Broad Street
beginning in 1679. Upon its completion, four years later, the museum
was officially opened on 21 May, 1683.
The collection of rarities which formed the basis of the old Ashmolean
was originally compiled by the two John Tradescants, father and son,
who housed it in their residence at Lambeth, known affectionately as
the ĎArk'. While the Tradescants were, in most respects, typical of
collectors of the period, they differed from their contemporaries in
their approach to the matter of accessibility, for they were the earliest
to acknowledge the value of their collection to the general public.
What is more, they were the first to actually open their collection
to a public audience; entrance being determined neither by status nor
gender, but by the payment of a fee.