12 Unusual London Museums To Visit This Year
London is full of quirky and often downright bizarre museums. These are my top 12 weird (but wonderful!) unusual London museums to visit this year.
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 and it raises interesting questions about historic and contemporary celebrity patrons.
On my latest visit I also noticed how much great contemporary art they have stored upstairs and you can read about this surprising feature in my post here.
2. Dalston’s Clown Museum, Holy Trinity Church
Caulrophobes might want to give this one a miss, but this has to be one of the weirdest museums on my list. Dedicated to clowning and founded in 1959 this is also one of London’s smallest museums and opens every 1st Friday of the month.
For more pictures from my visit last year, you can read my full blog post 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, and if there’s a better or more jaw-dropping room in London, I’ve never heard of it!
For more pictures of this gorgeous (and thoroughly OTT home) click here.
4. Bethlem Museum of the Mind, Beckenham
The original Bethlem Mental Asylum was where Liverpool Street Station is today, then it moved to the site of the Imperial War Museum in Kennington. London can’t boast a proud history of its mental institutions, which regularly offered visits for the public to visit their so-called ‘lunaticks’ for a fee.
Thankfully this new museum, supported with help from the artist Grayson Perry, is sensitively curated and in a beautiful setting. It doesn’t shy away from the past but neither does it flaunt gruesome aspects of it. Read more about it here.
5. Royal London Hospital Museum, Whitechapel
Another suggestion on a medical theme is this hidden gem in E1. With curiosities ranging from Edith Cavell’s grave to the ‘Elephant Man’s’ skeleton and Jack the Ripper’s letters, the small space has lots of interesting finds.
I wrote about the 4 must-see items in a post here.
6. Crossness Pumping Station, Abbey Wood
Known as the ‘Cathedral of Sewage’, you wouldn’t think a pumping station would warrant this level of beauty, but then again the Victorians loved fusing engineering with decoration. It’s open a handful of days per month but is well worth making a trip to SE2, especially on a ‘steaming’ day. Find out more here.
7. 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 19th Century architect John Soane and still laid out like a house, the only downside is that you can’t take photos inside, but this does add to its atmosphere. They also host candlelight evening tours which are pretty special. Find a date to visit on their website here.
8. Strawberry Hill House, Twickenham
On the subject of mad homes of eccentrics, Strawberry Hill House probably takes the crown. The Summer villa of Horace Walpole, son of Britain first Prime Minister, was built between 1748 and 1790 and is so gloriously over the top it even coined its own architectural style; Strawberry Hill Gothic. See more pictures from my last visit here.
9. Handel & Hendrix, Mayfair
On Brook Street there’s an odd mash-up of music styles in the pairing of George Frederick Handel and Jimmi Hendrix. In a coincidence that could only happen in London, the two lived next door to each other, 300 years apart. Number 25 is now a museum where you can walk through both musicians homes, treading through 18th century London before arriving in a methodically reconstructed Hendrix’s bedroom. Find out more here.
10. Charles Dickens Museum, Bloomsbury
The only surviving house that Charles Dickens lived in can be found on the charming Doughty Street, full of gorgeous Georgian terraced houses. If you’re a fan of the novelist it’s a must visit, but even if you’re not it’s worth walking through this home to get a sense of a 19th century London home.
I last visited for their ‘The Other Dickens; Discovering Catherine’ exhibition, which you can read all about here.
11. London Transport Museum Depot, Acton
You don’t need to be a massive TFL geek to visit here, but it helps. Containing over 320,000 objects ranging from tube carriages to tunnelling machinery to posters, this Depot is storage facility for the Covent Garden Museum and run occasional open days as well as more regular private tours.
Here are the 5 geekiest things I found on my visit.
12. Dennis Severs’ House, Spitalfields
Tucked off busy Bishopsgate is Norton Folgate, an enclave of forgotten 18th Century London. Of all the atmospheric facades the strangest address is that of number 18, Dennis Severs House. A cross between an art installation and an immersive theatre show, this museum doesn’t allow phones or any talking and you walk through a series of rooms that are laid out like the historic occupants have just left their seats.
Read about my visit to this hunting London peculiar here.
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