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.
- 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.