London is full of great museums, including many less well known ones. If you are visiting this summer, then check out these 5 museums for a less hectic but still as fun visit to London.
The Cartoon Museum sits in the shadows of the British Museum on a side street behind Oxford Street. It holds regular exhibitions alongside a permanent collection which includes Gillray, Rowlandson and Cruikshank amongst others. Worth a visit.
Not really a museum as many of its more valuable items are now held in America. Testament to the vision and recherché tastes of its creator Horace Walpole who designed a house which rejected the restrained classicism popular at the time for a more bombastic building along gothic lines to create a sense of gloomth and dramatic foreboding. He was also an eclectic collector and the house was designed to show off his collections. On his death his house and collections were sold off. In the twentieth century much was bought by American collector Wilmarth Sheldon Lewis who presented his collection to Yale to become the Lewis Walpole Library.
A brutalist fortress a short distance from St Pauls, the Museum of London tells the story of London and the people who have lived “here” before the City was even founded. Focusing on social history and lived experiences, the museum contains several immersive experiences including a psychedelic trip to Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens. There is also a museum in the Docklands which in 2018 exhibited Roman Dead.
This wonderful small building on Victorian Embankment (near Temple Tube) was house and office to Viscount Astor in the late nineteenth century. With its wood paneling and stained glass windows it has a plush, over-corniched feel which is welcoming and cosy. Since 2011 it became a museum whose focus is showing publicly owned art from regional collections in the UK. It has held exhibitions on the Ancient Egyptian beauty industry, early Jazz and Sussex modernism. It’s only open January to April but is free.
Sir John Soane’s old family house in Lincoln’s Square Fields is a strange mix. Part house and part museum, it was designed by Soane in the Neo-classical style. Soane was an eclectic collector, but unlike Walpole his house still holds his collection. This was because Soane did not trust his eldest son to look after his legacy. Gems include the original paintings of Hogarth’s Rakes Progress, the sarcophagus of Seti I and ceramics. The house is worth visiting for the ambience of the rooms itself.
The preeminent small museum in London and one of the best ancient Egyptian museums in the world, the Petrie Museum is part of UCL. With around 80,000 objects from Egypt and Sudan the collection holds many gems including a net dress, toilet spoons and several Fayum portraits.
The museum was built around the collection of Amelia Edwards and Flinders Petrie. Both were strongly willed Victorians. Amerlia Edward was a writer and scholar. She also cofounded the Egypt Exploration Fund. One of Petries contributions to the scientific study of archaeology was the development of dating using pot shapes. You can still a collection of pots in the museum.