The Best Small Museums in London
London is home to an incredible selection of world-class museums, but we’re also spoilt for choice with quirkier, small ones too.
During the current global pandemic many of these small museums are struggling to survive. I’ve chosen a few of the most wonderful places that I’ve personally visited and that you should definitely add to your to-do list!
I’ve tried to share some different ways that you can still enjoy these brilliant spaces remotely and I’ve also included the ways you can support them if you’re able to. The brilliant Ian Visits blog also has a helpful post about museums reopening which is kept up to date.
1. The Foundling Museum, Bloomsbury
The Foundling Museum tells the story of the UK’s first Foundling Hospital, an orphanage established in 1739 as a way of dealing with the rising numbers of abandoned babies. Their display of memorabilia is emotional without being too sentimental, telling the story of an overlooked part of London’s history.
As well as preserved historic interiors it has a surprising collection of contemporary art and outside on the railings there’s a moving Tracy Emin sculpture, a tiny bronze glove that looks like it’s been left behind.
2. Charles Dickens Museum
At the Dickens Museum you can experience the Victorian family home where Charles Dickens wrote Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby and Pickwick Papers.
They explain the different ways you can support them in the meantime here.
3. Leighton House, Kensington
The best example of art simply for ‘art’s sake’ Lord Leighton created his home in the 1860s as a symbol of his success. The highlight is the Arab Hall, it’s simply one of the best interiors in all of London.
4. The Charterhouse
Practically bursting with history is The Charterhouse. Though it only reopened to the public in 2019, it has a history dating back 700 years with plenty of twists and – frankly, gruesome – turns.
I also featured it during the first part of my Smithfield virtual London walking tour. You can watch the video below and the relevant section starts around 3 min 20 seconds in.
5. Crossness Pumping Station
Alongside Abbey Mills Pumping Station, Crossness is one of two London ‘cathedrals’ to sewage. The Victorians loved fusing engineering with OTT decoration and these survivors are truly eye-opening places to visit.
Crossness is brilliant because unlike Abbey Mills it is usually open to the public on select open days. Needless to say, these aren’t happening right now, however you can see and hear more about Crossness Pumping Station from a previous visit here.
Without visitors they are struggling to support themselves and so are accepting donations via their website here.
6. Sir John Soane’s Museum
Imagine a house owned by an avid – but slightly mad – art collector, hell-bent on cramming everything physically possible on the walls. Then you get an idea of John Soane’s home.
Owned by the architect John Soane and still laid out like a house. To add even more atmosphere they also host candlelight evening tours which are pretty special.
If you haven’t managed to visit before, or it was a while since you did, they have just launched an incredible 3D scan of the highlight rooms and so you really get a sense of swooping inside this gem of a building. Experience it here.
7. The Old Operating Theatre
Not for the faint-hearted, the Old Operating Theatre Museum in London Bridge is full of morbid medical fun. The highlights are live Victorian medical demonstrations but the whole museum is wonderfully eclectic and atmospheric.
If you haven’t visited (or fancy another trip) you can book and e-ticket for a future date here to help support them.
8. Dennis Severs’ House, Spitalfields
Tucked off busy Bishopsgate is Norton Folgate, an enclave of forgotten 18th Century London. A cross between an art installation and an immersive theatre show. There’s no phones or any talking allowed but this adds to the suspense. As you walk through a series of rooms, you feel as though the historic occupants have just left their seats.
A unique experience in London, Dennis Severs is definitely somewhere to visit if you enjoy London’s history and at the moment they’re selling gift vouchers to help them continue after lockdown.
You can read about my visit to this haunting London peculiar here and I also found a fabulous (if dated!) YouTube documentary with Dennis Severs himself…
Got any others to recommend? Let me know in the comments!
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