Oxford has a better claim than most cities to be the home of English children's fiction. Here Lewis Carrol wrote Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, Tolkien dreamed up Middle Earth, CS Lewis invented Narnia and and Philip Pullman devised His Dark Materials. So it seems fitting that a building within stone's throw of Lewis Carroll's old rooms at Christchurch College will soon be home to the Story Museum, full of exhibitions and events which will celebrate and trace the history of children's stories.
The Story Museum won't be opening until 2014, but co-director Kim Pickin very kindly invited Sarah McIntyre and myself to have a look around the site after our events at the Oxford Festival last Sunday.
From outside in Pembroke Street the future museum looks quite small. There is a 'shop window', displaying such useful objects as Borrower Traps and Invisibility Cloak Repair Kits (sadly for sale only to 'Oxford's fictional community' as yet) and a street door with this curious lamp above it...
...and some hungry looking door-bells.
Once inside, however, you find yourself in a labyrinth, for the building connects with others behind it, surrounding a central courtyard (well, when I say 'courtyard' I mean 'car park'. But I'm sure it will be a courtyard quite soon.) There are vaults and garrets and a confusing number of stairways, and an abandoned staff canteen on the top floor. The whole complex used to house Oxford's first telephone exchange (so quite a few stories have been heard there already) and you can read more about its history here. While I rather liked it in its present state of picturesque decay, it was exciting to hear Kim describe the plans which are afoot to turn these empty, paint-peeling rooms into magical spaces where tales will be told and plays performed. I think it's going to be a wonderful place, and I hope whole generations of children will be able to visit and come away inspired to read and to tell stories of their own.
Here are some photos that we took while Kim was showing us around. I'm already looking forward to going back in 2014 to see it all transformed...
|In the garret...|
|Eek! A Dinosaur!|
|Kim and Sarah|