London’s Less Visited Museums

London

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Why is it that one of the first things one does upon visiting another city is to go to its museums? I hardly ever do that at home. And London is stuffed with them.

The Kinetica is a platform for international new media art. At the moment it features immersive works that ‘challenge perceptions to question what is real, perceived or imagined’. I had no idea that the place existed. Unfortunately this is no rarity, as I have not visited more than half of the museums in London. Some are because they’re packed with children, like the Science Museum, or overwhelmed with tourists like the British Museum.

Some have become pale imitations of once great institutions, like the miserable disappointment of going back to the Maritime Museum and finding it little more than a children’s playground now, some because I have little interest in their subject matter – the Dental Museum, anyone? The Clown Museum? Water and Steam? Eyes? Sewing Machines? Fans? Tennis? Packaging? The ‘Magnetic Laboratory’ (although actually that sounds quite interesting)? And partly, I suppose, because I can see so much online more easily – even though great art has to be experienced in person.

There have been a lot of changes; the new Design Museum has received rave reviews, the Cinema Museum is a precious and rare place that deserves attention and the V&A still has the giant automaton Tipu’s Tiger (below).

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The Cuming Museum burned down four years ago and we’re still waiting for it to reopen, but it’ll be worth it because it’s all that remains of Sir Ashton Lever’s Holophusikon, which used to be in Leicester Square and housed thousands of strange items from around the world. Other collections that have been lost include the Royal Society’s Repository, the Leverianum, the Egyptian Hall and the Royal Surgeons’ Museum.

Meanwhile there are dozens still to uncover and explore, along with a truly vast number of galleries and open houses. How many museums and galleries are there that we don’t know about in the Greater London area?

10 comments on “London’s Less Visited Museums”

  1. Brian Evans says:

    The Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green is OK. And the Geffrye Museum in Hoxton is good, in what was the old furniture making district. Rooms through the ages with the furniture and décor of the time. Sir John Soanes house in Holborn is also a favourite.

    We, like admin, were disappointed with the revamped Maritime Museum. And anything in fact that has been revamped. The fashion now is for empty spaces and minimalism with the exhibits. However, my partner visited the Queens House in Greenwich yesterday which has been restored and he thought it very good.

    We’ve lived in Southport for 16 years and still haven’t been to the local Lawnmower Museum. Nor are we likely to.

  2. Davem says:

    I mentioned this on another thread but the Cartoon Museum is wonderful – although it does depend on which exhibition is showing at the time.

  3. Peter Dixon says:

    The Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising in Notting Hill would make Proust give up on cakes. You can cut the nostalgia with a fish knife.

    What’s not to like about a clown museum? Remember the Avengers episode where Jimmy Jewell played a murderous clown?

    Last time I was in Whitby they had a splendid traditional town museum in the park. It didn’t suffer the onslaught of ‘interactive’ (i.e. not working) displays and ‘interpretation’ panels but was full of amazing old stuff like samurai armour, bits of whales, fossils, toys, badly stuffed animals and even the mummified hand of a hanged criminal that was made to hold a candle by burglars on the theory that it made them invisible. Pure unadulterated magic!

  4. Martin Tolley says:

    For me, the smaller, lesser visited museums score through having a real story to tell and illustrating it well. The Foundling Museum – be prepared to have your heart-strings tugged – is one such. And if we’re allowed define Greater London as including High Street Brentford – The Musical Museum – the story of “mechanical music” from music boxes to Wurlitzers – (there’s even a self-playing violin) and not an Ipod in sight; is a gem. Make sure you go on a day when Roy is heading a guided tour.

  5. Vivienne says:

    Agree about the Packaging Museum. I went to find Scott’s Porage Oats as the new pack has a chap on the front who doesn’t look as if his arms and legs can possibly join up. But Scott’s seem to guard the old design zealousl. The first chap was based on a real young man who won all the Highland Games.

  6. Vanessa says:

    I agree with the earlier poster – the cartoon museum is worth a visit.

    Whitby’s museum was there when I went a couple of years ago. Stuffed full of exhibits, a great little place.

    One old favourite, which closed some years ago, was York’s automata museum. Fascinating and delightful.

    Is the piano museum still going in Brentford?

  7. Helen Martin says:

    I love museums, but I don’t want great empty spaces with minimalist exhibits. I want the real thing: the first whatsit produced in the local factory, the twisted glass from the Great Fire (every town has had one), Victorian era small clothes, an ancient whatever dug up in Mr. Brown’s pasture, and photographs of the local schools through the decades. You can find out what the people are proud of, how they see themselves, and what they regret losing.

  8. Vivienne says:

    The Petrie Museum has one of the oldest articles of clothing: a cotton top a young girl today could wear without seeming dated. Also a wonderful exhibit labelled “small brown pebble”.

  9. Helen Martin says:

    I met Tipu’s Tiger in Laurie King’s “The Game” where it was located in an extremely unsettling museum, fictional fortunately. Museum’s can often unsettle our assumptions.

  10. Marc says:

    The last time I visited the Ships and Aerospace sections of the Science Museum was like stepping back into the museums of my 1970s/80s childhood. Interaction was a push button on some of the models of engines with lots of display cabinets and wonderfully dated fonts on the signs.

    I hope they haven’t been updated!

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