When people go to London, they tend to hit the major sites from Buckingham Palace to the Tower Bridge. This extends to the city’s museums as well, with most people opting for The National Gallery, The British Museum, the V&A, and so on. But what of London’s smaller museums? Don’t they deserve love too? Sure they do, and while they may not have the biggest draws, they still offer plenty of fascinating artefacts and exhibits. Have a look at these ten overlooked London museums below and let us know which ones we left off that you think people should visit.
Pollock’s Toy Museum
A museum for children of all ages, Pollock’s Toy Museum features many playthings that kids from many different eras have enjoyed. The Museum’s collection includes over 2,000 toys from all over the world. Most of them are from the Victorian period, offering a window into the lives of children who played with the toys nearly 200 years ago from teddy bears to tin soldiers. It’s part toy museum and part toy shop, not only letting you look at the toys of the past but letting you take home their modern equivalents.
Dedicated to one of history’s leading psychologists, the Freud Museum can be found in the home where Freud and his wife lived for a year after escaping Nazi-occupied Austria in 1938. Freud held his practice here as well as working on his text for Moses and Monotheism. His daughter Anna lived in the home until 1982, and it has since been returned to the condition when he lived there, including collections of his antiques, writings, and library books.
Dennis Severs’ House
So named for the man who lived here from 1979 to 1999, the Museum is actually a time capsule for the home lives of London’s residents. Each room shows visitors how a family in every period from the 18th to the 20th Centuries lived. During the Christmas holidays, each room is adorned with period-appropriate decorations. It’s a great place to visit to learn the most about what people were like, what they valued, and how London life changed over the years.
You wouldn’t think you could get that much mileage out of hand fans, but the fan museum does exactly that, and it’s really quite wonderful. Opened in 1991, the Fan Museum has in its collection thousands of exquisitely beautiful hand fans. The Museum makes its own fans and offers classes on making hand fans for anyone who wants a souvenir to take home. Found in a couple of Grade II listed homes in Greenwich, there’s also a wonderful orangery that’s worth seeing as well.
The Cinema Museum in Lambeth it a movie lover’s dream. It was formed in 1986 and is open for pre-booked tours throughout the year. The Museum’s collection began with a theater lobby cards and now includes film and projection equipment, posters, publications, uniforms, and items remaining from now-demolished cinemas from across the United Kingdom. In the days of multiplexes and corporate-owned cinemas, Cinema Museum is a great trip back in time.
Sherlock Holmes Museum
The Sherlock Holmes Museum is a recreation of Holmes and Watson’s famous flat located at the fictional consulting detective’s famous address of 221B Baker Street. Inside, the Museum is littered with objects and artefacts of their many adventures, so keen eyes can. Of course, there are also items in the Museum dedicated to Doyle, The Strand Magazine, and artist Sydney Paget, as well as a nice shop on the ground floor.
Old Operating Theater Museum
Part of St. Thomas’s Church on the grounds of what was once St. Thomas’s Hospital, the Old Operating Theater Museum is the oldest example of a surgery room in Britain. The Museum’s collection is largely dedicated to the history of medicine and especially from the time at which the operating theater was built. It originally served as a herb garret for the storage of medicines before the operating room was added in the 19th Century.
Marc Isambard Brunel and his son Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s contributions to the United Kingdom cannot be understated. Both father and son worked on the Thames Tunnel, and their Museum is located nearby in Rotherhithe. It mostly contains sketches, watercolors, and other artefacts relating to the tunnel. The Museum also puts on events throughout the year and conducts guided tours for visitors. They even host cocktail nights.
The Magic Circle
The Magic Circle is the premier organization of British magicians and illusionists and exists to promote the magical arts in the United Kingdom. Their headquarters near Euston Station contains a museum that celebrates the history of their profession and includes many artefacts such as posters, and playbills. Its collection includes Harry Houdini’s handcuffs and props used by His Royal Highness, Prince Charles, during his induction into the group. The Museum is available for pre-booked tours and exists on the first floor of the Magic Circle’s building, the Centre for Magical Arts.
It’s been over ten years since I visited the Cartoon Museum and it’s still one I highly recommend to anybody. The Museum is dedicated to the types of cartoons that grace the newspaper pages as far back as the 18th Century when politically-charged comics started to spoof powerful figures. The Museum shows off the evolution of how these cartoons and comics have developed through time and their power to influence us.
I am Canadian so I am no help to advise on what you may have missed but I can definitely say that the museums you featured definitely deserve the publicity. I, like many other tourists, have been to the The National Gallery, The British Museum, the V&A etc.
I am at pleased to say that I visited Sherlock Holmes Museum which later prompted me to go to Connecticut (USA) to visit the Gillette Estate. There are a few you identified which I would like to visit, for example The Toy Museum and the Cartoon Museum. Will park that idea until Covid is past.
Just a thought, it could be that in addition to a lack of publicity, some museums are free and others are not which may account for the disparity in visits.
Ruth daly says
The toy museum was delightful in 1967. There was some sort of mechanical museum where you could make engines actually run by pressing buttons. Lots of school kids on a field trip
The Grant Museum of Zoology for anyone who loves natural history. I believe it is affiliated with University College London. It’s a small museum but has lots of skeletons, models and some unusual collections. I came upon it by chance near my B & B in Bloomsbury. It is located at the corner of Gower and University streets. There was no charge to enter when I visited in 2015, but they did ask for donations.
Don’t forget the very poignant Coram Orphan’s Museum . This is a sad but important reminder of lie when o many women were forced by desperate circumstances to give up their children and many left a tiny possession with the child . Some of the artifacts are quite heartbreaking.
The Sherlock Holmes Museum bugs me because, of course, it isn’t 221B Baker Street. The address didn’t exist when Conan Doyle started writing the Holmes stories but reality caught up with the fiction as the area was redeveloped. Holmes’ home was located in the middle of the Abbey National Building Society HQ and they hired a secretary to deal with correspondence for some decades. The building society has since moved on to Euston and their old HQ was rebuilt. It is now a hotel, I believe. But the place that is now The Sherlock Holmes Museum is at least ten, maybe twelve units up the road from 221B. If you are that way, walk a little further and have a pint in The Volunteer, a renowned “haunted” pub.
Also, The Sherlock Holmes, a Greene king pub in Craven Passage near Whitehall has a Holmes museum upstairs.