When Is A Museum Not A Museum?



London is a city of museums. I counted 43, and that was just up to the letter ‘B’. I got bored after that. There are museums of firefighting, cartoons, fans, clocks, prisons, furniture, rooms, nursing, musical instruments, freemasonry, Jewish military contributions and now the museum of steam and water, just opened on Green Dragon Lane in Brentford (with a special feature on sewage! Great!) but the growing trend in cities is setting up your own private museum to make money.

In other countries I’ve been to the museum of chocolate, hemp, ideas and erotic corkscrews (don’t ask), but most are money-making exercises. The list of London museums you’ll find on Wikipedia is extraordinary, and they’re nearly all run because of bequests or collections made available over the years. However, there are now private profit-making  museums, too, although they don’t advertise themselves as such. One is the relatively new London Film Museum, which has worked out that it’s the rolling exhibitions that pay.


I went there when it first opened and found it to be a horrible tourist rip-off, with almost nothing of interest on display, but now it’s going for legitimacy with an exhibition of James Bond’s hi-tech transport, from the Octopussy microjet and the Thunderball jetpack to the rather more boring Skyfall Honda bike. Pride of place goes, of course, to the Aston Martin DB5 from Goldfinger and Goldeneye. I saw the car on the set of Goldeneye and it’s very hard not to fall in love with.

We won’t know whether the exhibition is any good just yet (it’s about to open), but it will have to beat the excellent 007 exhibition at the Barbican. Sadly, the last great museum to go bust and not gain support from a government grant was Covent Garden’s Theatre Museum – surely a city with so many theatres and theatrical life ingrained within its soul deserved to keep a museum on the subject? But no, the collections were split up, and some can now be seen at the V&A.

4 comments on “When Is A Museum Not A Museum?”

  1. Vivienne says:

    Kew Steam Museum has been going for ages and ages, but maybe has just had a revamp. Lovely Italianate tower a bit like the one on the Victoria embankment just south of Victoria station, but getting overshadowed by major flat developments.

  2. Dan Terrell says:

    Vivienne: I really like your “getting overshadowed by major flat developments.” It has such a nice surreal secondary meaning. In American English it would be the DAB (dull and boring) “major apartment developments.” 🙂
    Now, what classification of English would that be? I suppose Standard English, not Deep English, but perhaps Plane English as in geometry?
    Hello Dali.

  3. Helen Martin says:

    There was a dress worn by Ellen Terry as Lady MacBeth in 1888. It took L50,000 to restore and was on display at Smallhythe Place in 2011. If there is no theatre museum where would something like that go. The dress is covered with the wing covers of the jewel beetle and many of them had to be repaired or replaced from the 1,000 donated. It’s good to know that these are naturally shed by the beetles. I’ve always wondered who had the idea to make that costume.

  4. Vivienne says:

    Dan, thank you or sorry. Will try to keep to plain English, although even plains are flat.

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