I recently undertook a mini tour of mini museums. The use of the word mini is in no way derogatory, its just that in comparison to say the V&A they’re much smaller.
My first port of call was the Museum of Brands in Notting Hill, just a short walk along from Ladbroke Grove underground station. As you’ll see from the picture it’s a relatively modern building, having opened in 2002. Its size belies the amount of exhibits. The museum features over 12,000 original items including domestic “everyday” products, packaging, posters. toys and games, which it sets out inside a “Time Tunnel” in chronological order. The early years were interesting, but I found the most fascinating parts those that I had grown up through. Rediscovering Mint Cracknell was a bit of a high point (sad man that I am). It made me realise that growing up in the 60s and 70s the innovation in food and packaging had given us an array of exciting eating options. I expect twenty somethings can only curse their luck that they have never tried a Vesta Chow Mein, Toast Toppers, Findus Crispy Pancakes or a Pop Tart, while reflecting on how much bigger a Curly Wurly or Waggon Wheel were back then.
The second museum saw the frivolity of the Design Museum left well behind as we visited The Foundling Museum in Coram’s Fields near to Great Ormond Street Hospital. The Foundling Hospital that took in unwanted children has ceased to exist since the late 1950s having moved away from the site of the museum in the 1920s to a more rural location.
The exhibits tell of the struggle that the philanthropic retired sea captain Thomas Coram had in setting up the hospital in the 1780s. As you may expect, it’s quite an austere environment and the displays are presented without frills or embellishment. A twenty minute documentary detailing the life of a “Foundling” was rather moving, as were the audio memories of people who had gone through the system in the 1930s and 40s. If I had a criticism it would be that the exhibition does focus quite heavily on the people that oversaw the running of the hospital in the 18th and 19th centuries, and you walk through several palatial rooms that held committee and Governors meetings. I wanted to see and hear more about the children’s lives and the conditions that they lived in. However, taken as a whole it was an education and worth the visit.
A short walk found us at the home of someone who knew the Foundling Hospital well, Mr Charles Dickens. His house at 48 Doughty Street has ben restored to the time when he took the house in 1837. Even if you’re not a Dickens aficionado the museum is a fascinating glimpse into his life as he began to gain cult status with the reading public.
Ranging over four flours the rooms are full of Dickens’ own furniture and mementos and I would strongly advise the hiring of the audio guide to get the most out of each room. The house itself is quite small, but the Trust purchased the adjoining property to give more rooms for special exhibitions and to ease the flow of visitors, as the stairway up to the attic become rather steep and narrow, so you exit into the adjoining house. A very nice museum and one where you don’t have to exit through the Gift Shop.
So three great little museums, which if you’re in London and have the time are well worth a visit. As is another small museum, the Museum of the home based in Hoxton, which I visited a while ago.