London is pretty densely packed with museums. Ask any visitor to London, and they can reel off ten museums that they’re hoping to visit….the Science Museum, the V&A, the British Museum. What most visitors don’t realise is that there’s a whole lot more museums that they may never have heard of. Museums celebrating the macabre, the unholy and the downright obscure. You may not be a local, but with this guide to the weirdest museums in London, you’ll feel like you are!
10. Wellcome Collection
This museum was created out of the collection of Sir Henry Wellcome who was, by all accounts, somewhat of an eccentric. As well as changing the face of modern medicine by inventing the tablet, he also traveled widely and had a penchant for dressing up. Not anything weird, you understand…just the odd Native American headdress or maybe a monk’s robe. Somewhere along the line, he amassed a huge collection of artifacts, mostly related to medicine. A small part of the complete collection is on display at the Wellcome Collection building today – there are thousands of glass jars and other objects still stored elsewhere.
The permanent collection includes a real mummy, a torture chair and Napoleon’s toothbrush. Other pieces around the building showcase the work of contemporary artists such as Anthony Gormley and the temporary exhibitions cover a wide range of subjects. Recent exhibits have included “Skin”, which may have caused a few first-aid calls after visitors fainted, and “Death”. This is not for the faint hearted! But it’s a fascinating take on medicine and science’s relationship with art. There is also the “Medicine Now” gallery, with interactive exhibits. A fun one for the whole family, but be prepared to answer some awkward questions from the kids!
9. The Fire Brigade Museum
When a museum operates an “appointment only”policy, you know it’s going to be a bit on the obscure side. The Fire Brigade Museum occasionally holds Open Days, when the doors of the quiet-looking townhouse are flung open to reveal a host of Fire Brigade memorabilia inside. They have firefighting demonstrations outside and visits from the “Fire Dog”, to the delight of small children. But just when you think you’ve seen everything you need to see, you cross the courtyard to find a garage full of vintage fire engines, with firefighter uniforms to try on. An interesting, if unassuming, slice of London’s history.
8. The Fan Museum
A museum so obscure it’s almost become famous for it, the Fan Museum is home to 3,500 fans. “How much is there to know about fans?” you may ask….for the answer, you’d have to head to this 18th century building in Greenwich. Stocking fans from the 11th Century onwards, it’s an ideal trip for the fan fan in your life. What’s remarkable is the 3,500 aren’t even the full collection – the collection is rotated so that only 3,500 are displayed at any one time. The afternoon teas there are meant to be good too.
7. Cuming Museum
Another South London oddity, this is a brief patch of culture in the urban wasteland behind a condemned council estate. The museum was founded by the Cuming family in 1906 and tells the story of the Southwark area of London through the eyes of the Cuming family. Like Henry Wellcome, the Cumings delighted in collecting obscure things and this museum houses the assorted treasures they brought back from every corner of the world. The centrepiece of the first room is a majestic taxidermed bear, which can be unnerving in a darkened room. There’s a surprising amount to see and do in the small space, with dressing up for the kids and craft activities. You can even make your own pearly king!
6. Hunterian Museum
There’s more taxidermy on display at this museum attached to the Royal College of Surgeons. Unsurprisingly, the exhibits have a surgical theme to them and again, it’s not one for the squeamish. Joining the human remains are some animal skeletons and Winston Churchill’s dentures. It’s a celebration of London’s strong medical history and provides the training ground for the surgeons of the future