Small, unusual museums in London
Kitkat wrappers, Keats and couture: Culture Whisper's ten favourite small, unusual museums in London
From Kitkat wrappers and Keats to couture: here are Culture Whisper's top ten small and unusual museums in London.
Ask any Londoner what their favourite ‘off the beaten track’ museum is, and there’s a good chance the Horniman will get a mention. Its fans wax lyrical about the unusual policy of allowing visitors to pick up and even try on some of its objects, as well as the rather wonderful aquarium and butterfly house. Housing the collections of well-travelled Victorian tea trader and philanthropist Frederick John Horniman, this absolute gem is a treasure trove of anthropology and natural history amongst other curiosities.
When: Open daily 10am – 5.50pm
Where: 100 London Road, Forest Hill SE23 3PQ
Entry: Free (small charge for the aquarium, butterfly house and some exhibitions)
Leighton House Museum
A CW all-time favourite and perhaps one of the most astoundingly beautiful spaces in London, the former home of Victorian artist Frederic, Lord Leighton, is truly unmissable. It is a purpose-built art studio-house decorated with stunning colour and orientalist art and design. The jewel-toned mosaics and Islamic tiles that cover the walls in the Arab Hall are simply gorgeous, and the enormous open studio allows you a peek into Leighton’s world. There are also regular late openings with live music. It’s even available to rent for private events. Dream party venue anyone?
When: Wednesday – Monday 10am – 5.30 pm
Where: 12 Holland Park Rd, Kensington W14 8LZ
Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garret
Tucked away up a narrow spiral staircase in a centuries-old church attic in the shadow of the Shard is one of London’s most fascinating tiny museums. A complete old operating theatre – complete with original viewing steps in the round – and a museum of old surgical equipment. It’s a taste of London’s gory past. Check out their weekly events and talks too.
When: Tuesday – Sunday, 10.30am to 5.00pm
Where: 9a St Thomas Street SE1 9RY
Denis Severs’ House
This Georgian townhouse nestled in the heart of Spitalfields is Dennis Severs’ extraordinary gift to the capital. A portrait of the lives of a Huguenot silk-weaver family spanning from 1724 to the early 20th century, it’s a feat of story-telling. His painstaking restoration and collections create a richly drawn Georgian family home and give you an insight into the life of a house. It’s often used for filming and was recently featured in an American Vogue shoot by Tim Walker.
When: Monday 12pm-2pm, Sunday 12pm-4pm, £10 (open evenings with bookings only on Mon, Wed Fri 5-9 - £15)
Where: 18 Folgate Street E1 6BX
Entry: Prices vary
Fashion and Textile Museum
In between the fashionable eateries of Bermondsey Street is nestled this temple to sartorial craftsmanship. Their temporary exhibitions are always a thoughtful affair. There are also numerous evening and weekend workshops on design, pattern making and couture skills.
When: Tue- Sat 11am – 6pm, Thu until 8pm, Sundays 11am-5pm.
Where: 88 Bermondsey Street, London SE13XF
Housed in the old Lambeth Workhouse where Charlie Chaplin once lived as a child, the Cinema Museum is a love song to the art of cinema, whether that be the buildings themselves or the movies they show. The collection spans from old projectors, cinema fittings, signs and even ashtrays to fabulous vintage movie posters and reels and reels of film. The museum is currently under threat of closure due to redevelopment of the area, so sign this petition and get down there before it’s too late.
When: Only open for guided tours. Booking essential.
Where: The Master’s House, 2 Dugard Way (off Renfrew Road) SE11 4TH
Sir John Soane’s Museum
Another old favourite and one of the most perfectly formed museums in the capital. Sir John Soane’s Museum is the former home of 19th century architect Sir John Soane, which occupies three houses knocked together on one side of Lincoln’s Inn Fields. The house and his amazing collections – which feature gems from Hogarth and Canaletto as well as a sarcophagus and thousands of architectural sketches – have remained untouched since he died nearly 180 years ago. They have regular lates, and candlelight is the perfect way to experience this endlessly fascinating space.
When: Wednesday – Sunday, 10am – 5pm
Where: 13 Lincoln's Inn Fields WC2A 3BP
The Garden Museum
In the shadow of Lambeth Palace sits this lovely little love letter to British gardens and gardening. After a major redevelopment the museum reopened to the public in 2017 with a sleek modern extension, and now the mediaeval tower is open to the public for the first time. And what’s more, the attached Garden Café is getting some rave reviews for the flavourful, seasonal cooking, showing that museum catering can be more than just soups, sandwiches and scones. Sit down for a long lunch before channelling your inner horticulturalist.
When: Sunday – Friday 10.30am–5pm, Saturday 10.30am–4pm
Where: Lambeth Palace Road SE17 7LB
Museum of Brands, Packaging and advertising
Take a trip down memory lane with this temple of advertising and design. Founder Robert Opie collected over 12,000 items spanning from Victorian times to the present and you can follow the evolution of much-loved brands and products decade by decade as you experience the history of consumer culture in the museum’s ‘time tunnel’. It’s all a bit retro and full of colourful nostalgic design, from WWI Oxo cubes to Rimmel make up from the 1890s and 1930s Kitkats.
When: Monday – Saturday 10am – 6pm, Sunday 11am –5pm
Where: 111-117 Lancaster Rd W11 1Q
Wandering along the pretty Hampstead streets to this bright and airy Regency villa, one can see why the Romantic poet might have chosen to live there. It’s now a tiny museum and literary centre housing original manuscripts and other possessions, but the best time to visit is for the regular live music concerts and poetry readings. The gardens are stunning on a sunny afternoon too. Follow it up with a wander across the Heath.
When: Wednesday – Sunday, 11am – 5pm
Where: 10 Keats Grove, Hampstead NW3 2RR
The Vagina Museum
Florence Schechter originally established her Vagina Museum as a pop-up. Inspired by the penis museum in Iceland, but conscious there wasn’t one dedicated to vaginas anywhere in the world (bar a virtual vagina museum in Austria), she decided to take matters into her own hands and create one. Now, Schechter is keen to open a bricks and mortar site for the Vagina Museum, in London’s Camden Market. In March 2019, she launched a crowdfunding campaign looking to raise the £300,000 needed to open the permanent site.
If the crowdfunding campaign is successful, the doors to the museum’s new Camden home should open in November 2019. Expect vulva-shaped artworks as well as guides to female anatomy, periods and sex.
When: From November 2019
Where: Camden Market
By Megan Atkinson