London’s cultural big-hitters – the likes of the British Museum and National Gallery – are truly world-beating, dizzyingly expansive showcases of art and history.
size is not everything. London has scores of intimate, specialist and plain
eccentric museums, dedicated to personalities, pastimes, occupations and
Hobbies and collectors
Toy Museum packs legions of wax and China
dolls from around the world – as creepy as they are mesmerising – into two
adjacent historic houses. There are also board games, teddy bears, puppets and
a curious collection of toy theatres.
by early hand-held air-conditioning? The
Fan Museum boasts a pan-global
collection of more than 3,500 fans, some dating back almost a millennium,
created from ivory, silk and even peacock feathers.
The Cartoon Museum focuses more on
satire than silliness, displaying caricatures and comic strips dating back to
the early 18th Century, as well as modern masterpieces by Gerald Scarfe and
to know the when, where and hoe of horticulture? The
Garden Museum in St Mary’s Church exhibits antique gardening tools and has
a charming replica of a 17th-century knot garden.
the spot for a busman’s holiday, with museums devoted to specialities both
mainstream and distinctly offbeat.
for chronometer creators to tick off, the Clockmakers’
Museum is essentially one room whirring, chiming and pinging with the sounds of
hundreds of timepieces, from Elizabethan pocket watches to distinctly modern “nuclear”
in a 19th-century ice warehouse, the history of the ice trade – and transport
of the chilly product on the Regent’s Canal – forms the heart of the London
intriguingly macabre Old
Operating Theatre Museum is based around the herb garret and
19th-century theatre discovered above St Thomas’s Church; here, surgeons dashed
off amputations and other bloody interventions in near squalor.
clinical gore to another level, the
Hunterian Museum exhibits the collection of early surgeon John Hunter, plus
later additions – thousands of medical and biological specimens like skulls,
teeth, anatomical models and surgical instruments.
homes and specialist museums dedicated to the lives of the rich, famous and
fascinating give insights into their assorted ids and egos.
Freud Museum, where the father of psychoanalysis lived during his later
years, gives context to Sigmund’s theories. It is still replete with his books,
art and, yes, that couch.
Charles Dickens Museum celebrates arguably the most iconic author of
Victorian London, who lived and scribbled here in the late 1830s, recreating
aspects of his daily life and career with manuscripts, paintings and original
House Museum has much the same intention,
using period furniture, art and early scores to imbue the 18th-century
composer’s former home with the atmosphere that he would have experienced while
noodling on the Messiah. As a counterpoint, Jimi Hendrix lived next door at
number 23, now the museum’s offices.
the Londoner-in-the-know’s favourite secret is Sir
John Soane’s Museum. It is the essence of London’s
finest museums distilled, with archaeological artefacts from ancient Rome and
Egypt, works by Canaletto and Turner, and Hogarth’s satirical Rake’s Progress.
The uniquely personalised home of architect Soane, prolific in the late 18th
and early 19th Century, is unmissable – in turns classically grand and truly
The article 'London’s alternative museums' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.