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Top 5 Underrated Museums

16 July 2015 Imogen Greenberg

Wondering what to do on one of London's typical rainy days, we recommend a trip to London’s top five underrated museums that you might not have explored yet... all of them full of their own kinds of curiosity, they’ll leave you wanting to go back for more.

Pollock’s Toy Museum

Just behind Goodge Street Station, twisting through two old houses is Pollock’s Toy Museum. The museum houses a collection of Victorian toys, including dolls, teddy bears, tin toys, folk toys, dolls houses, puppets and toy theatres. It is named for Benjamin Pollock, a toy maker whose shop dates back to the 1850’s. The museum was founded in the 1950s bringing together Pollock’s toy theatres with other collections, creating a strange and eclectic series of rooms with a slightly spooky feel. The museum is recommended for slightly older children and adults, and it isn’t the light-hearted summer holiday jaunt you might expect from a toy museum. Having said that, the shop is full of incredible and unique toys like miniature pop up theatres; I came here as a small child and loved it, and I don’t think its done me any harm...

For more information about Pollock’s Toy Museum, please see the website.

 

Horniman Museum

The Horniman is tucked away in Forest Hill in South London and so can sometimes go under the radar, but it’s gained in recognition as a result of its fabulous lates. Also its idyllic location means it comes with 16 acres of gardens and an aquarium, making it a perfect summer holiday outing. The collection covers Natural History, Anthropology and Musical Instruments, and is full of one-off objects and strange stories. I particularly like the over-stuffed Walrus, which has become somewhat of a mascot for the museum (follow him @HornimanWalrus). The summer season of events is African Summer, including performances, activities, a carnival, a late, and jazz picnics. The Horniman is never short of activities, or surprises for that matter.

For more information, please see the website.

 

The Grant Museum

Like an elaborate stage set of the study of a mad professor, the Grant Museum of Zoology was founded in 1828 as a teaching collection, and is now one of the UCL Museums. The display cases are made of old wood, and pile on top of each other precariously towards the high ceiling, where a gallery circles around the top. Skeletons of animals hang in mid air, their mouths open. There are thousands of specimens, pickled, skinned, stuffed and reconstructed. The now extinct specimens include a Dodo, a Tasmanian tiger and a Giant Deer, which greets you at the door (it’s affectionately known as Elkie). What the Grant has that The Natural History Museum doesn’t is a sense of collusion, a feeling that you are behind the scenes. If your child is an aspiring zoologist, bring them here and they’ll want to come back again and again. Highlights include The Macrarium, which displays a collection of animal species smaller than your thumb.

For more information, please see their website.
 

Old Operating Theatre

A tall, thin house in the shadow of the Shard houses the Old Operating Theatre and Herb Garret. The operating theatre is the oldest in Europe, and was part of the old St Thomas’ Hospital. The Herb Garret that sits next to it is in the attic of the old St Thomas Church. Nestled in at the top of a winding wooden staircase, it feels forgotten. It is atmospheric, filled with strange dusty smells, and full of instruments for surgery that make you feel a little queasy. The operating theatre itself is a round room with benches, so spectators could peer down at the patient (who wasn’t under anaesthetic), as this was an early teaching hospital. These benches now make a perfect spot for talks and lectures, on topics from body snatching to speed surgery.

For more information about the Old Operating Theatre and what’s on, please see the website.

 

The Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities, Fine Art and Natural History

One of London’s newest museums, Viktor Wynd calls his museum all-encompassing. Instead of carefully classifying its objects, the museum aims to be a pre-enlightenment museum, a Wunderkammer to reflect a world so full of beauty and miracles any classification would fall short. The Museum displays everything that catches the eye of the founder, whether it’s a rare marvel like Dodo bones or a McDonald’s Happy Meal Toy. Other surprises include pickled genitals, ancient dildos, stuffed birds, shrunken heads and butterflies. Eclectic doesn’t begin to cover the collection, but if you’re finding this all just a little too ‘curious’, their temporary exhibitions sometimes stray further into conventional realms. In 2016, they’ll host an exhibition of artist Austin Osman Spree and contemporaries including Leonora Carrington. This museum is a London rarity, subverting instead of educating, marvelling instead of explaining. Funded by a Kickstarter campaign, it may well mark a new, or perhaps just a return to a very old, chapter in London’s museum scene. The admission includes a cup of tea and a biscuit. You’ll either love it or hate it...

For more information, please see the website.

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