5. Horniman Museum
The Horniman Museum isn’t an obscure museum by any means – it’s a large and busy one, hidden in the depths of South London. But it’s certainly a weird one. Its centerpiece is a large taxidermed walrus, and there’s a room of taxidermed exhibits surrounding it. Taxidermy seems to be a theme in these London museums, doesn’t it? It seems like it was the popular thing to do in 19th century London.
The Horniman also features an aquarium in the basement, with starfish, anemones and jellyfish. It’s much cheaper than the London Aquarium and just as interesting, especially the coral reef tank full of brightly colored tropical fish. As well as the taxidermy and fish, there’s a large gallery devoted to musical instruments, with a hands-on room where you can bang tubes with a flip-flop or scrape wooden toads with a stick. Then there’s 16 acres of grounds, including ornamental gardens, food gardens, a bandstand and outdoor instruments. During vacation times, it’s overrun with school children and they pack out the wrought-iron conservatory having picnics. An eclectic collection and a long trek from Central London, but well worth a visit.
4. London Film Museum
Take a step away from the crowds of tourists surrounding the London Eye, and step inside the huge complex County Hall. Within its shadowy hallways, you’ll find the London Film Museum.
It doesn’t look like a traditional museum – it’s more of a series of corridors and small rooms than one space. But it contains some real gems from the film world – from one of the original Star Wars sets to the dinosaur skeleton from Night at the Museum. The Harry Potter series gets its own room (see above) and is suitably spooky. There’s not much in the way of interactive exhibits, but there is a create-your-own-car-chase car, which plays chase music as you sit in the car and watch your faces appear on a backdrop of Central London. It’s a funny little museum, but good for film enthusiasts who don’t worry about a lack of natural light.
3. Pollock’s Toy Museum
Another small, dark but fascinating museum. Pollock’s looks at toys from the last 200 years. It has been described as unnerving by those who have visited and felt dolls’ eyes watching them in the dark. It’s been based on Scala Street since 1969 but has been in business since 1956 and is connected to the Pollock’s Toy Theatres shop in Covent Garden. Its current home is two unrestored townhouses knocked together, which helps you feel like you’re back in the 19th century. Despite being all about children’s toys, the cramped conditions mean it’s not ideal for children. But adults will find the collection of teddy bears, jigsaws and dolls intriguing.
2. Garden Museum
Set in the atmospheric church adjoining Lambeth Palace. Inside, the ancient church has been sympathetically restored but retains the glorious stained-glass windows, which pour light onto the cafe area. The cafe, incidentally, serves food mainly grown in its own garden. The museum itself shows exhibits covering the history of gardening in the UK as well as contemporary gardening photography. Like some of the other museums, it only displays a fraction of its collection at any one time, as the 10,000 items the museum owns would never fit into the small space!
It’s an unusual and fairly specialist museum but owns some beautiful artwork that would appeal to anyone. The British have a peculiar attachment to their gardens, so it’s a good place to go to if you’re hoping to understand a bit more about what makes eccentric English people tick! It’s also an easy walk from the London Eye and right next to a quieter part of the Thames, with splendid views of the Houses of Parliament. You might even bump into the Archbishop of Canterbury!
1. Cinema Museum
Not to be confused with the London Film Museum, the Cinema Museum is a small collection with the emphasis on the film-going experience rather than the film itself. Set inside an ex-workhouse building in an obscure part of South London, it is another appointment-only museum except for special events and Open Days. Exhibits cover the history of cinema from the 1890s to the present day and include vintage projectors and classic movie posters. The guided tours are even led by guys dressed as ushers!
There is a small screening room, where they sometimes show classic movies, and an upstairs area where they hold special film-themed evenings. One recent evening had well-known film critics discussing obscure 1960s horror movies, while visitors feasted on “severed arm cake” and other gory delicacies! It’s as eccentric a museum as you can get, is entirely staffed by volunteers but is a memorable experience, that’ll leave you feeling nostalgic for the golden days of cinema.