A caff with a museum attached
It used to be called the Bethnal Green Museum of Childhood, and everyone loved it. Now Mile End’s famous museum is owned by the V&A and – it’s horrible. What went wrong?
Clearly, there’s been some confusion. Someone has assumed that ‘Museum of Childhood’ means ‘Museum For Children’ – not the same thing. Instead of arranging the collection by decades, or into any cohesive history of childhood, random cases filled with everything from Harry Potter models to Victorian golliwogs fight for space with sandpits and playspaces for kiddies. Captions are of the ‘Can You See The Horsey?’ variety. Childhood should cover more than just toys, surely, and even if it chooses to concentrate solely on playthings, some context or history would have been useful.
Why, for example, is there no mention of childhood traditions? No street games, or hardly any board games, for that matter? Where are children’s street cries, like ‘Penny for the guy?’, a tradition that has vanished in my lifetime. Due to the ant-Catholic nature of Guy Fawkes night, the event was often chaotic. In 1844, 200 rioters accompanied a Guy on a donkey through Camden and beat up a group of Irish labourers. You won’t find out about such things here, though.
Worse still, half of the museum space is taken up with a truly lousy cafe, which calls to mind the controversially dumbed-down poster for the V&A a few years back which read; ‘An ace caff with a museum attached’.
London has over fifty wonderful museums. This is no longer one of them.