I like nothing better than a neglected or slightly weird museum. Thick dust along the tops of the cabinets, a musty smell hanging in the air, strange exhibits and follies, run by eccentric, often elderly, volunteers. My love for these museums began whilst studying Art History and English (eons ago now!) and has been built on over this last year whilst I've been on maternity leave. It just so happens that London is home to some of the worlds best museums and galleries, and particularly excels in small, independent and, quite frankly, bonkers museums.
I've spent a lot of my maternity leave exploring the museums and galleries of London. I think I've visited over 30 in the last year, but I thought I'd share a few of my favourite weird ones.
The operating table
The Old Operating Theatre is hidden down an unassuming street in Bermondsey. Its accessed by an alarmingly narrow doorway which leads to a steep winding spiral stair case, only just wide enough for one person. Wonky wooden walkways, big steps and yet more stairs finally take you to the high ceilinged attic which houses wooden cabinets containing old surgical instruments and other medical paraphernalia. The best bit, however is the old operating theatre which was bricked up in the 1800's when the hospital moved and was rediscovered in 1956. Why it was bricked up in the first place, rather than re-used as something else, has a deliciously creepy and mysterious air to it.
Rows and rows of glass shelves containing animal specimens collected during the 18 and 1900's await you at the Grant Museum. A collection of preserved animal brains, a jar of vowels, the rarest animal skeleton in the world and the jaws of an enormous shark are just some of the delights you'll encounter, all displayed in sumptuous wooden cabinets. The whole exhibition is overlooked by a family of ape and human skeletons situated on the balcony.
The Hunterian museum is part of the Royal College of Surgeons and is home to John Hunters collection of animal and human specimens, gathered in the 1700's. I'm told by a friend that it was more atmospheric before it was modernised, which I would have loved to see, but its still fascinating. The skeleton of a 7 ft 7 giant is pretty interesting, as are his direct wishes for his skeleton not to be put on display in his death! If you're squeamish, it might not be the best place to visit. There are jars of preserved foetuses as well as the smallest foetus skeleton imaginable- literally a couple of centimetres. There are also preserved human limbs that have been affected with small pox, as well as some rare animal skeletons too.
I got shouted at for taking this picture. Oops.
The Sir John Soanes Museum is the home of eccentric Georgian architect, John Soanes. He was a rich, prolific collector of neoclassical art and architecture. The house is as he left it; a glorious rabbit warren of cluttered rooms full of his collections. The basement holds a huge sarcophagus and also a ‘cell’ that Soanes built to house a fictitious monk!
Pollocks Toy museum is a small family run museum in a wonky house just of Tottenham Court rd. In it are toys collected from all corners of the world, lovingly displayed in colourful cabinets. The house itself is one of the best features, requiring visitors to navigate steep stairways and small connecting landings and lots of tiny rooms full of gorgeous old toys. I particularly liked the folk-ie toys collected from Iran and China, as well as the beautifully embellished miniature paper theatres.
The paper theatres
I've loved each one and Frankie 'wow'd her way around them all, charming all the other visitors, so I know she's loved exploring all these museums too!
It is my aim to visit as many of London's quirkiest museums as I possibly can. And then I want to venture out of London to see what the rest of the UK has to offer. After putting a call out on twitter, I can't wait to visit the Pencil museum, the Wireless museum and the Lawn Mower museum, to name a few! I'd love to know of any museums I might not have heard of, too.