12) The Museum of the Order of St John: From Slings and Arrows to Slings and Aspirin.


The Museum of the Order of St John

We think of them as kindly helpers at village fetes patching up minor injuries and teaching people how to resuscitate shop window dummies, but once upon a time they were warrior monks in charge of a whole country.

Beware the Portuguese couriers! Also the ghosts.

  • Location: St John’s Gate, St John’s Lane, Clerkenwell , EC1M 4DA.
  • Type of Museum: Medical, religious.
  • Admission times/prices: Monday – Friday, 10am – 5pm, Saturday, 10am – 4pm. Free; donation for guided tour.
  • Facilities: Special family days, a museum club for kids, regular museum tours with costumed actors.
  • Transport:  Tubes: Farringdon or Barbican tube/train, buses 63, 55, 243. Personally I wouldn’t bother trying to park in this area, but there are pay and display parking spaces if your visit is intended to last less than 2 hours.

The main bit(s).

Strange as it may sound, I’m going to classify the tour as the main bit, because the museum itself is so small and seems to be intended as an addendum to the tour.

Be careful you tag on to the right tour, however. There are so many round here that we tried gatecrashed the wrong group twice before getting in with the right one.

Tours begin at 11am and 2.30pm and last about an hour and twenty minutes, taking in the whole of the inside and out of the arch, that ancient (well, Tudor) building you might have wondered about if you’re one of the many local office workers rushing by.

The St John's Maltese cross, old and new: although it has become simpler in design, the four arms still signify the four virtues of prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude, and the eight points stand for the eight ‘attitudes.’

The Chapter Hall inside was also designed to look like a Tudor Hall, with lots of stone, exposed beams and ‘cordalls’ supporting the roof representing the different languages common in the Order at the time (every time the word ‘Order’ is said you definitely hear it with a capital initial and a slight echo).

St John’s flags and Maltese crosses are everywhere. Both have changed over the years: the St John in question was originally St John the Almsgiver, until he was usurped by John the Baptist after the Order was given his right hand. Well, supposedly his right hand – there are about 8 of them in existence; perhaps he’s like Kali.

We are told the stories of many of the former pryors, whose shields are displayed along the walls in date order with a few spaces left at the end for the next Grand Pryors. It’s very similar, probably intentionally, to the display of Popes at St Paul’s just outside Rome; that one says that the Church will fall when they run out of space for Pope plaques, but the Order of St John has fallen and risen enough times that I doubt it’s worried about a little interior design.

The original priory was smashed up by revolting peasants, not because they hated the Order but because the Pryor at the time was also the treasurer charged with collecting the poll tax, then Henry VII shut it down, Mary opened it and Elizabeth shut it down again. Even the puritans had a go at it, perhaps because the Order’s pryors occasionally had a side-job as the wonderfully named Master of the Revels. Playwrights such as Shakespeare would have paid frequent visits to the Council Chamber directly above the arch.

Their Maltese rent was 'one falcon a year.' This is what they thought was a falcon. Good thing they were human healers, not animal.

This Chamber has romped through history like Forrest Gump. As well as the above, it hosted Samuel Johnson and Oliver Goldsmith when it was the HQ of the first ever Gentleman’s Magazine. Artist William Hogarth also lived here as a child, when his father ran an unsuccessful Latin-themed coffee shop in the building, and if that sounds unlikely, when the Order reclaimed it, the building was a pub.

The Mantle Room, now full of fairly random but pretty stuff donated by the people of Malta, has also changed role, but for a sad reason – it was the Coins and Medals room until the majority of them were nicked in the 1980s.

The museum itself has only been open for a few years, and is small but well organised, laying everything out from the original Knights in armour to current First Aiders in uniform.

While this building was going through so many changes, so was the Order. Although, as the Knights Hospitaler, they took a vow to care for the sick – and treated people of all nationalities – they got sucked in to the Crusades along with everyone else. After they got booted out of Jerusalem, they did a tour of future tourist traps Acra, Limasol and Rhodes, before Holy Roman Emperor Charles V gave them Malta.

Suleiman failed to kick them out of Malta – the Knights sent his warriors heads back to him as cannonballs – but Napoleon succeeded. After this, there are some gaps on that wall of plaques where there was no grand pryor at all.

The woman in the painting is about to leap out and possess one of the dummies. Run! Run for your life!

Returning to their Hospitaler roots was what gave the Order back the building, by then worn out from its colourful life. They got it because they’d set up an eye hospital in Jerusalem (it’s still there and very busy) and started to train people in first aid.

I wonder if, secretly, the really high-up members of the Order are trained as warrior monks too? Bandages, thermometer, safety pins, helmet, sword…

The extra bit(s).

Across the road from the arch is the modern church, counterintuitively much more minimalist than the Methodist chapel down the road that we’d visited earlier the same day. Here stood the round priory that the peasants destroyed; a ring of slate on the ground outside still marks the size and shape of the building.

Banners for the worldwide Orders - 300,000 strong now, mostly under 25. A little army...

Underneath, the 12th century crypt is still intact and, woah, this makes the whole visit worthwhile even if the lively history of the rest doesn’t interest you.

To one side is a chapel in which you can actually get married, at least if you’re a Goth or a Twi-Hard. On the other side is the alabaster effigy of one of the procurators of the Knights of Castile. He’s not an original resident of the crypt, having been brought over here after he was made homeless (he’s ‘The Interloper from Sunny Spain’) but he’s not random: as well as the page and the puppy curled up by his feet, he bears a Maltese cross. Remember that scene in Indiana Jones where they crawl through the rats to lift the lid off the tomb? This is like a cleaner version of that, perhaps thanks to the Knights of Castile.

After the beauty of this effigy, it’s genuinely shocking to turn the corner and see the ghastly cadaver effigy of William Weston. As a memento mori, they made a model that looked exactly like his corpse after several months underground, and they made his facial expression look like he could feel every nibble from the worms. Oh yeah. That’s exactly what I want at my wedding.

The bits where you end up spending money.

A postcard of two of the scariest first-aid kids ever.

The shop is very small and, to be honest, rather expensive, but the donations chest looks like it was previously used by pirates. I bought one of those wooden pencil cases and pencil sets; it cost more than usual but my daughter reckons it’s better than usual too.

Stuff for kids and people who act like them.

If you plan your visit well, there will be lots on for kids, as they do have special family events on occasion; otherwise, there is a dressing up area and of course lots of armour, and any young St John’s badger would gain from seeing their organisation’s interesting history.

This is actually inside - they kept the exterior Tudor wall as part of the inside of the museum.

I’m now looking up first aid courses, since mine is years out of date and my daughter has no knowledge of it at all; this isn’t the explicit aim of the museum, but I’m sure the Order would be pleased.

More photos.

Advertisements
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

11) John Wesley’s House: All About Him – and Hymns.


http://www.wesleyschapel.org.uk/house.htm

John Wesley’s House and Museum of Methodism.

Here you get to preach from Wesley’s pulpit, sit in his reading chair and admire his massive organ. Oh, and learn a little about one of the biggest Christian denominations, if you like.

You put your left hand in, your left hand out...

Location: 49 City Road, Shoreditch, EC1Y 1AU.

Type of Museum: Religious.

Admission times/prices: Monday to Saturday 10am – 4pm, Sunday 12.30pm – 1.45p, free. Closed 12.45-13.45 Thursdays. Free.

Facilities: Shop, church, gardens.

Transport: Tubes/trains: Old St, Moorgate, Liverpool St. Buses 21, 43, 55, 76, 141, 205, 214, 243, 271.

 

The main bits.

This isn’t the first time I’ve been here; when I came before it was because I was lost and needed the loo, but I ended up staying for the entertainment provided by an eccentric ex-military volunteer.

Said volunteer wasn’t here today, and we missed going round the actual house because we could find the volunteer who had the keys. It’s a shame, because the friend who was with me would have loved it. The house is set up like it would have been had John Wesley still been living there, but, unusually, you can touch and use most of the items. I expect devout Methodists would get a real kick out of sitting in John Wesley’s reading chair; for me it was more of an inspiration for interior design because man, was that chair comfortable! We even made a model of it at pottery the next day. Sadly, I can’t provide a picture, because the dog’s eaten it.

Either preaching or sneezing; 'bless you' is appopriate either way.

The museum section makes great use of paintings from the time periods it’s talking about, such as Hogarth’s gin alleys demonstrating the debauchery and Godlessness that was apparently rife at the time Methodism started in the 18th century. The rest of the museum, naturally enough, focuses on the life and works of John Wesley and the other early Methodists.

'We also expect that 'A FEMALE!!!' will address the congregation.

John Wesley and his brother Charles were bright young men who came from a tradition of religious non-conformism, and they both entered religious orders, but both also had a crisis of faith after going on a mission to Georgia. ‘I went to America to convert the Indians. But oh! Who shall convert me?’ asked John. Nature-loving Apaches weren’t the cause, however, but some particularly devout Moldovans. Back in London, more Moldovans continued to make the Wesleys feel impious. I had no idea there were so many of them in the city, or that they were so saintly.

A friend of John advised him to ‘preach faith until you have it, then you will preach because you have it,’ and this seems to have worked. John and Charles had it so much that they didn’t even want to stay within the church, and preached to heathen miners and factory workers in the fields. This is part of the reason that so many of the significant Methodist sites are in the West country and Wales, which is one of the reasons Methodism became so popular in America.

The waterlogged skeleton of a typewriter that belonged to a Methodist parson who was shot to death by pirates.

Church leaders very much did not like this easy-going preaching. They also did not like the Wesleys’ ‘enthusiasm.’ Most churches in England today would be grateful for any kind of enthusiasm among its followers, but back then it meant ‘excessive or extravagant display of religious emotion’ and was much frowned upon by the grumpy puritan Anglicans.

They also wouldn’t have approved of all the singing. I’ve never been to a Methodist service, but I suspect it’s more fun than the few Anglican and Catholic services I’ve been to.

The extra bits.

Although you wouldn’t usually count the church as an ‘extra,’ it is for me, since it’s not a museum.

A detail from a window; unusually direct.

My impression is that Methodist churches are usually plain, homely places, and this is confirmed by the Welsh friend who was visiting with me, but Wesley’s chapel is really rather glamorous. Even on a somewhat overcast Winter’s day the stained glass windows were vibrant in their technicolour glory. Each pew had a different design at the end, no doubt all signifying something, the pillars were marbles, and the massive organ is on the mezzanine level along with a second lot of tiered seating.

There is a secondary chapel that’s a lot simpler, like a village chapel, and here John Wesley’s own less impressive organ is still in use. Stop sniggering at the back.

I might bring my daughter along some time so that I can go to the house afterwards –

Reflect upon your sins and the fact that you should focus on yourself before judging others, and eat your lunch on a bench.

it is open between services on Sundays.

There are open green spaces at both the front and back of the house. Although the chapel is opposite the pleasant open spaces of Bunhill fields, these gardens would be a lovely place to spend a quiet lunchtime. Even the traffic noises are quieter at the back, where a modern mirrored office building surrounds the church like a guard.

The bits where you end up spending money.

As well as a small shop in the basement, there are postcards and books for sale upstairs, for which you pay by depositing money in a slot in the wall. This is quite trusting, but I guess not many people would risk going to Hell for the sake of a 30p postcard.

Stuff for kids and people who act like them.

This pew in the museum looks like it was lifted off a flying chapel - there so should be one.

The museum really isn’t aimed at children, though young Methodists might be interested in the origins of their faith. On church days, there’s a crèche and a Sunday school and there are occasional kids’ activities and older children would probably enjoy going behind the scenes in the house.

 

More photos. The ones with names were taken by Evan Matthews.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Competition: Free Victoria and Albert Museum membership!


To celebrate being a tenth of the way to my goal, I’ve decided to offer one

Victoria and Albert Museum membership – free!

Groupon had a special deal for these memberships a while ago and I bought two, but can’t think who would really want the second one. Now that I’ve joined the Museums’ Association, which gives many of the same benefits as V&A membership, I effectively have THREE V&A  memberships, which is a bit ridiculous really.

Membership offers:

  • Free unlimited priority entry to V&A exhibitions
  • Members’ Previews of major exhibitions and new galleries
  • Members’ Room
  • V&A Magazine
  • Members’ Events
  • 10% off at the museum cafes and shops (inc. at the Museum of Childhood) plus discounts at a few other random restaurants and a spa.

The members’ room has a computer with internet access, so you can leave your netbook at home, and free tea and coffee (make it yourself) which saves money for a start. Then you can skip the queues at Lates events and get in free to special exhibitions. The shop is notoriously good, and you get 10% off there. Basically, it’s a damn good prize.

To enter, post a comment below, answering this question:

This chandelier is in the entrance to the V&A. Who made it?

Comments will be screened until the competition’s over a week from today at midnight on Tuesday February 15th.

Update: competition is now closed, so comments are visible. I literally pulled the names out of a hat and the winner is Cheryl Morris. Hope you enjoy your prize, Cheryl!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 65 Comments

10) The Ragged School Museum: Gazunders, Canes, and Addictive Balls.


The Ragged School Museum.

Back straight! Elbows off the table! And don’t step on the gazunder!

Palms unsatisfactory. See me.

Location: Copperfield Rd, Mile End, E3 4RR.

Type of Museum: Local History/Social History.

Admission times/prices: 10am to 5pm Wednesdays and Thursdays, and 2pm and 5pm on the first Sunday of each month. Free, with £2 per person donation suggested for the demo lesson.

Facilities: Small but tempting shop, cafe (snacks only).

Transport: Tube: Mile End. Train/DLR: Limehouse. Buses: 277, 309, 323, 339, D6, D7 and 25.

The main bit(s).

We came to this museum because the puppy ate my daughter’s glasses. Not that the Ragged School offers spectacle-repairing facilities – it’s near to one of the few opticians open on a Sunday.

This paddle is all you need to get straight. Don't tell Fred Phelps.

There was no doubt that we were going to visit at some point anyway. We’ve been numerous times before, and my daughter actually remembers visiting, which is a sign that she really enjoyed it. One time I brought a group of adult EFL students and ended up doing an impromptu Victorian school room demonstration, complete with dunce caps and canes. The museum is interactive enough that even those students with lower-level English got a lot out of it.

Today, however, was a Sunday so the proper Victorian schoolteacher was teaching us and I got to be a giggling pupil this time. I was impressed by how into it all the pupils were – adults and kids both: the instant the teacher entered the room, everyone sat up straighter, saying ‘shh!’ It only took a mention of elbows off the desk for everyone to immediately move their hands to their laps. I’m sure there would have been volunteers for caning if she’d asked.

Ever noticed how much dunce caps look like Klan hoods, and how apt that is?

Sat in separate girls and boys sections, we had palm inspection, the register (the kids’ names actually would have fit in well in Victorian London), and morning prayer, then chanted proverbs while the monitors handed out slates, pencils and authentically-knackered cleaners. An adult should not feel proud of being able to write the alphabet neatly and subtract large numbers, but, well, I did; I blame the eager-to-please atmosphere.

Note: Dr Barnardo didn’t actually allow dunce caps to be used in his school; I’m not so kind.

Upstairs, another volunteer tells lively stories about Victorian home life, stood in a model Victorian poor person’s kitchen. Well, a relatively poor person’s kitchen – the underclass of the time often lived in just one room with rotas for beds let alone kitchen tables. The volunteer focuses on the gruesome bits of history, such as accidentally stepping on a gazunder and wiping your foot on your sister’s dress. Kids and grown-ups alike laugh.

A Victorian child's shoe found in a local chimney. Either it was put there for luck, as they sometimes did, or it's all that remains of some poor chimney-sweep.

All the volunteers are lovely. The little museum was so popular today that they could probably have done with yet another person to man the ticket desk for the classroom demonstration, but aside from that, we were impressed; of the main volunteer downstairs, Bryn, my daughter said that he was nice and makes the museum more interesting than the others. This is a little unfair on the many other museums I’ve visited that have great volunteer guides, but you can always tell when the guide loves their subject rather than just knows a lot about it.

The extra bits.

The Coat of Arms of Bethnal Green: A blind beggar and his daughter. I'm so proud.

Usually this section is about temporary exhibitions; everything here is permanent, but the local history section might not have been what you were looking for when you came here. There’s a lot of local history to pack in, of course, even when focusing on the poor; factories an local industry, the docks, faith, and culture – for example, the genesis cinema used to be a variety hall, where the usherette took home the discarded programmes and ironed them to resell the next day. Poverty-inspired recycling.

Here is also a lot about the history of the Ragged Schools. This one was set up by Dr Barnardo, formerly mentioned in the Royal London Hospital Museum post, and was slightly different to a lot of the other Ragged Schools of the time. You can probably guess that the name came from the raged clothes the kids wore, but many of the schools insisted on standards of cleanliness and pristine appearance that poorest kids, with no running water and one sink per street, simply couldn’t live up to.

Even girls were allowed to study here, though far fewer came because they were expected to stay at home and look after the house and their siblings. Interestingly, the girls found it a lot easier to get work (in the factories or as servants) than the boys did; there were lots of jobs, but there were also lots and lots of people. The same, of course, is happening in many areas of the country today.

It is a little disturbing how often the Victorian sections of these museums feel like they could have been written today.

That concentrated expression is because this is one of those extremely simple and extremely addictive toys. Just one more try...

The bits where you end up spending money.

The shop is very small but sells many of those little knick-knacks that you get tempted by and suddenly you’ve spent a tenner.

Downstairs is a small café – no hot food, at least not at this time of year – and in the Summer it has seating outside by the canal.

Stuff for kids and people who act like them.

The museum is geared up for exactly these sorts of people. Apart from the talks and demonstrations, you can dress up in mob caps and aprons or flat caps and waistcoats, sit at the old desks (which we still had in my primary school – very practical they are too) and play with the interactive exhibits. The nutmeg in the smellobox bit needs replacing, and the feathers in one of the feely-boxes are suspiciously metallic, but otherwise there are lots of things to grab and lift and engage your mind.

Photo taken in a brief break from selling matches.

At the end of the demo lesson, the teacher asked for any questions, and one kid asked ‘can we come again?’ I don’t think any museum could hope for higher praise.

More photos.

The Ragged School Museum: Gazunders, Canes, and Addictive Balls.

Location: Copperfield Rd, Mile End, E3 4RR.

Type of Museum: Local History/Social History.

Admission times/prices: 10am to 5pm Wednesdays and Thursdays, and 2pm and 5pm on the first Sunday of each month. Free, with £2 per person donation suggested for the demo lesson.

Facilities: Small but tempting shop.

Transport: Tube: Mile End. Train/DLR: Limehouse. Buses: 277, 309, 323, 339, D6, D7 and 25.

The main bit(s).

We came to this museum because the puppy ate my daughter’s glasses. Not that the Ragged School offers spectacle-repairing facilities – it’s near to one of the few opticians open on a Sunday.

There was no doubt that we were going to visit at some point anyway. We’ve been numerous times before, and my daughter actually remembers visiting, which is a sign that she really enjoyed it. One time I brought a group of adult EFL students and ended up doing an impromptu Victorian school room demonstration, complete with dunce caps and canes. The museum is interactive enough that even those students with lower-level English got a lot out of it.

Today, however, was a Sunday so the proper Victorian schoolteacher was teaching us and I got to be a giggling pupil this time. I was impressed by how into it all the pupils were – adults and kids both: the instant the teacher entered the room, everyone sat up straighter, saying ‘shh!’ It only took a mention of elbows off the desk for everyone to immediately move their hands to their laps. I’m sure there would have been volunteers for caning if she’d asked.

Sat in separate girls and boys sections, we had palm inspection, the register (the kids’ names actually would have fit in well in Victorian London), and morning prayer, then chanted proverbs while the monitors handed out slates, pencils and authentically-knackered cleaners. An adult should not feel proud of being able to write the alphabet neatly and subtract large numbers, but, well, I did; I blame the eager-to-please atmosphere.

Upstairs, another volunteer tells lively stories about Victorian home life, stood in a model Victorian poor person’s kitchen. Well, a relatively poor person’s kitchen – the underclass of the time often lived in just one room with rotas for beds let alone kitchen tables. The volunteer focuses on the gruesome bits of history, such as accidentally stepping on a gazunder and wiping your foot on your sister’s dress. Kids and grown-ups alike laugh.

All the volunteers are lovely. The little museum was so popular today that they could probably have done with yet another person to man the ticket desk for the classroom demonstration, but aside from that, we were impressed; of the main volunteer downstairs, Bryn, my daughter said that he was nice and makes the museum more interesting than the others. This is a little unfair on the many other museums I’ve visited that have great volunteer guides, but you can always tell when the guide loves their subject rather than just knows a lot about it.

The extra bits.

Usually this section is about temporary exhibitions; everything here is permanent, but the local history section might not have been what you were looking for when you came here. There’s a lot of local history to pack in, of course, even when focusing on the poor; factories an local industry, the docks, faith, and culture – for example, the genesis cinema used to be a variety hall, where the usherette took home the discarded programmes and ironed them to resell the next day. Poverty-inspired recycling.

Here is also a lot about the history of the Ragged Schools. This one was set up by Dr Barnardo, formerly mentioned in the Royal London Hospital Museum post, and was slightly different to a lot of the other Ragged Schools of the time. You can probably guess that the name came from the raged clothes the kids wore, but many of the schools insisted on standards of cleanliness and pristine appearance that poorest kids, with no running water and one sink per street, simply couldn’t live up to.

Even girls were allowed to study here, though far fewer came because they were expected to stay at home and look after the house and their siblings. Interestingly, the girls found it a lot easier to get work (in the factories or as servants) than the boys did; there were lots of jobs, but there were also lots and lots of people. The same, of course, is happening in many areas of the country today.

It is a little disturbing how often the Victorian sections of these museums feel like they could have been written today.

The bits where you end up spending money.

The shop is very small but sells many of those little knick-knacks that you get tempted by and suddenly you’ve spent a tenner. Downstairs is a small café – no hot food, at least not at this time of year – and in the Summer it has seating outside by the canal.

Stuff for kids and people who act like them.

The museum is geared up for exactly these sorts of people. Apart from the talks and demonstrations, you can dress up in mob caps and aprons or flat caps and waistcoats, sit at the old desks (which we still had in my primary school – very practical they are too) and play with the interactive exhibits. The nutmeg in the smellobox bit needs replacing, and the feathers in one of the feely-boxes are suspiciously metallic, but otherwise there are lots of things to grab and lift and engage your mind.

At the end of the demo lesson, the teacher asked for any questions, and one kid asked ‘can we come again?’ I don’t think any museum could hope for higher praise.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Explore museums from your sofa.


Explore museums just like on Streetview, only better.

Click on the doorway to go from room to room and you’re dragged forward in what looks like a special effect from an 80s scifi series. Very cool.

Hopefully they’ll have more museums up soon; perhaps I can do some of them?

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

9) The Science Museum: Flaming Bubbles, Deadly Briefcases and Broken Hearts.


The Science Museum.

I’ve been here at least 50 times in ten years – a sign that it’s either amazing, or I have some sort of syndrome.

Hot chicks and cool dudes.

Location: South Kensington, SW7 2D

Type of Museum: I think you can probably work this one out for yourself.

Admission times/prices: 10am-6pm every day. Free entry except for special exhibitions. Late opening for adults once a month.

Facilities: A really good shop (actually 2), a couple of cafes and restaurants, an Imax cinema, simulators, special exhibitions, an area for under-5s and an area for older kids,  the adults-only Dana Centre, lectures, workshops, oh just about everything really.

Transport: Even I can’t get lost if I use the tunnel from South Ken tube. Buses: 14, 49, 70, 74, 345, 360, 414, 430 and C, 9, 10, 52, 452 and 7. Car parking is practically impossible unless you have a disabled drivers’ badge, but why would you want to drive with all those buses?

The main bits.

Like I’m intending for many of 100 museum visits, this was an evening adults-only event, but it’s not like I don’t what the place is like during the day; I got mistaken for staff a couple of times.

This innocent-looking briefcase gave four people lethal injections after they answered a series of questions to prove that they really did want to die. And you thought suicide booths were unrealistic…

On this occasion, we didn’t actually visit much of the main museum, but from past experience: the downstairs hall with the Stevenson’s Rocket and all the other old machinery is greatly improved by going for the guided tour. Otherwise, it’s just the section you walk through on the way to the more interesting bits.

Upstairs, next to the Launchpad, is a small section with lots of ancient gold orreries (which spellcheck insists is ‘orderlies,’ which conjures up a rather different image), maps and other scientific instruments that aimed for beauty as well as function. This section is always, sometimes deserted; it feels like a well-kept secret even inside one of the biggest museums in the world.

One of the reasons I’ve visited so often is that the main galleries revamped so frequently; I’ll be back soon to post an update after my next visit.

The extra bits.

One of the main reasons I got Plus membership is because it works out really good value for the Imax cinema: you and a friend et free entry as many times as you like for a year. Although this Imax does occasionally show mainstream films, it’s mainly a sneaky way of getting my daughter to watch and enjoy film on serious subjects. A word of warning: the cinema is about fifteen stories up a spiral staircase, so allow extra time to get up there and shake off the dizziness.

There are always paid-for special exhibitions, but there’s so much to see and do in the main museum that I rarely have time for them. However, for a change from the educational I do recommend the interactive space visit where you get jiggled around and sprayed on – which is generally fun, in my experience.

A biscuit heart, much like my real one: broken, messed-up, and covered in hundreds and thousands.

Really, the whole of this visit was ‘extra bits’ since it was a Lates event. There was booze, pies, workshops, the opportunity to dress up as a cockroach, speed dating, talks on things like punk science, and, our choice, a pub quiz. Sadly, it’s simply not possible to take part in many of these events – it’s smorgasbord of delights laid out for you, then you’re told you can have only one.

Not many colouring-in competitions are NSFW.

Don’t worry that the pub quiz will be difficult science – it’s pitched at about the right level for the general public and is not serious at all. There was even a fiercely-contested colouring-in competition; we were very disappointed that our multimedia entry didn’t win, with the corrugated cardboard fan, the bottletop hat, the mustard hair and the ketchup cloak. We were beaten by someone who made theirs into a jigsaw. Boo, clever people!

The bits that cost you money.

And boy, can it cost you a lot of money! Sure, the main museum’s free, but the shop is so tempting; it’s probably a good thing that it closes at the same time of the museum (some museums keep their shops open for an extra ten minutes), or I’d probably have my name on a plaque somewhere as one of the museum’s biggest donors.

The perfect present for birdwatchers or people who live bad puns. Countdown fans will love it.

Anyway, check out the Science Museum shop on the link above. They’ve got so popular that they’ve started to sell stuff in other outlets too, but it’s probably best to give them your money directly. There are tons of toys that most adults I know would love, from colour0changing mugs to crystal radio kits to fingerprint kits to watches that a real spy could wear. In the unlikely event that I ever get married, I’m going to have my wedding list here.

Stuff for kids and people who act like them.

The Science Museum is always top of my recommendation list for people looking to entertain kids in London. Even tiny kids have a great time in their own section with water play, giant jigsaws and climbing frames. Then, of course, there’s the Launchpad.

The Launchpad is so popular that one of the main draws of the adults-only Lates events is that grown-ups get a chance to have a go – not much chance during the day unless you want to push a kid out of a queue.

These arches haven’t fallen even though they’re made out of rubber and built and stood on by me.

Every time I go there, I improve the length of my erection. It’s not often you use that word sincerely, but I mean the bridge-like pier-like thing that’s made by piling slabs as far as they’ll go. I always get way beyond the bit they have marked as ‘record!’ so I think they might just be underestimating to make me kids feel like they’ve achieved something.

If you ever go there, the part I most recommend is the bit where you put a straw in your mouth, bite down on a wire and put your fingers in your ears. It demonstrates how good modern hearing aids really are – the sound is clearer this way than with regular hearing.

And definitely try to get in to the Bubble Show. You need to arrive early, because it’s popular and has limited spaces. We’ve been to it so many times that my daughter’s started heckling the Explainers if they miss a bit. But where else can you hold a bubble in your hands and see a methane bubble set on fire?

Number 2 in the ongoing series ‘celebs I have met in museums:’ Janet Street-Porter, cajoling people to stump up donations.

More photos.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

8) Gunnersbury Park Museum: Perfect pots, pipes and Poles at the park.


Gunnersbury Park Museum.

I went to this museum by accident, but man am I glad I did; it’s the most beautiful museum I’ve been to so far this year, and will probably remain one of the most beautiful settings.

Yes, I'm craving cake now too.

  • Location: Popes Lane, Acton, W3 8LQ.
  • Type of Museum: Local history.
  • Admission times/prices:  Nov-Mar 11am-4pm, Apr-Oct, 11am-5pm.
  • Facilities: Café, shop, playpark.
  • Transport: Acton Town  tube, Gunnersbury Park overground, E3 bus.

The main bit(s).

This is another museum that was chosen by me looking up the postcode of something else I was going to (a facial and massage via one of those Groupon deals), typing ‘museum’ in the ‘search nearby’ box and selecting one to go to. And then I went to the wrong one. Oops.

This is not the greatest photo ever, but I had to lie on the floor like a madwoman to take it, so I'm posting it, damn it!

The building was once a manor house, and you can immediately picture Austen heroines gossiping in the grounds, which are today mostly full of dogwalkers and mums with babies. The inside of the building is gorgeous too – not all of it has been conserved, but you can occasionally glance away from an exhibit and see an unexpectedly bright ceiling mural or a chilling, bone-like marble fireplace.

The last ever hansom cab in London,from 1933. Hope the meter's not still running.

The exhibits themselves have clearly been arranged by someone who knows how to make ordinary objects aesthetically appealing. There are sections on archaeology, the Victorian household, local retail and the Rothschild family who once lived here. Finally I know what a bath chair looks like – you see the mentioned in books sometimes and they never mention a towel or bubbles.

The extra bit(s).

There are two temporary exhibitions, one about local industry and one about the Polish community in Ealing.

Even museums are getting Easter eggs in early this year.

While it was interesting to read about the lives of people who escaped here for various reasons, the industry section really captured my interest; I’ve always thought of West London as middle-class suburbia, but it was once (as the exhibition title says) a Hive of Industry.

Turns out that they did actually once make swords - and guns, which even the toughest guy wouldn't use for shaving.

He hates her jumper so much he's about to puke, and that's clearly a before and after pic of an incredibly effective makeover.

Most of the company names are familiar: Beecham’s, Maclean’s, Lucozade, Glaxo, Coty, Pears Soap, Wilkinson Sword, and, of course, Ealing films. Less familiarly, there were lots of breweries thanks to the earlier  use of the area for agriculture, and there was even Brentford mineral water, which is an unlikely proposition.

One extra part that I couldn’t visit was the Victorian kitchens, which are only open in the summer. That might mean that, should you want to visit, you might want to wait till then, or wait even longer till the guided tours at Open House weekend in September, but I definitely recommend the museum for a visit even without those extras.

The bits where you end up spending money.

The tiny shop at reception includes a couple of less common items among the usual pencils and keyrings paraphernalia – mouse ‘rugs’ and lots of really cheap fossils. At first I was confused about why there would be fossils here at all, but I think it must be because the Sadler collection that the museum originally opened with in 1929 included a lot of fossils dug up in the local area. Again the only fossils I expected to find round here were genteel old ladies, but there was once a lot of brick-making and pottery in the area, which bespeaks of the kind of soil that’s usually good for turning up fossils, so it makes sense.

The museum rocks.

Just before you enter the museum at the front, there’s a sign for a café, which was open and busy with dogwalkers even at this time of year. It’s a decent-sized café with lots of outside seating and is right next to the kids’ playpark – the perfect place to have a rest if you have small messy animals of either the dog or the human kind with you.

Stuff for kids and people who act like them.

What do you mean, do I work here?

Like many local history museums, this one does lots of outreach work with local schools, who from the sounds of it were really enjoying their session. There’s also a kids’ trail, a few hands-on exhibits, and a kids’ section with colouring in sheets of Victorian servants (which, true to form, my little bourgeois puppy has eaten) and giant snakes and ladders.

Turns out snakes and ladders has a much more exotic history than I would ever have guessed; it was once Moksha-Patama, ‘salvation-damnation,’ a Hindu game to teach children about how good actions lead to the former and bad to the latter. I’m not sure the lesson would have been particularly effective, since the outcome of the game is completely down to chance; you go back down the reincarnation chain if you do bad things, but you have no control over doing them. Cheerful.

(More photos).

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment