THOUSANDS of people marvelled at the multi-million pound transformation of Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum, following its public opening at the weekend.

Visitors gave the £61m re-fit the seal of approval as they enjoyed five floors of artefacts – hundreds of which had not been seen at the museum before.

Managers said the refit had given the UK’s oldest public museum a new lease of life.

Designed by Rick Mather Architects and featuring Oxford’s first rooftop restaurant, project manager Henry Kim said the building certainly had the “wow factor”.

He added: “People have been waiting for this museum for the past four years.

“This is a real homecoming for us and the people of Oxford. There has been a lot of excitement about it.

“I was watching people as they came through the doors and there was just one word you could see on their faces – and it was ‘Wow’. They were bowled over by it all.”

The front of the musuem, which was built in 1845, remains the same, but inside there are 39 new galleries, including four temporary exhibition spaces, and a new education centre.

It is hoped more than 500,000 visitors will come to the Beaumont Street museum every year following the refurb, which was part funded by a £15m grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Tom Bower, 53, of Cowley Road, Littlemore, has been visiting the museum for 47 years.

He said: “I was dreading it. I have been coming here since I was six and I’ve got my old favourites. Some of them are in their old sites and I’m reassured by what’s left.

“It’s a very exciting space; it’s very uncluttered and you get tempting little views of what’s next as you go down. It’s fantastic.”

Lloyd Townsend and Tracy Scott, both 35, from Yarnton, came with their children Alex, three and Scott, 18 months.

Ms Scott said: “It’s incredible. It has been really opened out. It’s a lot better than it was before, when it was dingy and dark.”

Julien Marsal, 25, Marble Arch, London said: “It’s beautiful, I like the collections, they are very rich and the maps are very useful and the design of the building is very impressive.”