It’s thanks to good old-fashioned lobbying that East London has the Bethnal Green Museum of Childhood at all. Part of the V&A, it’s a beautiful open-plan museum on Cambridge Heath Road, just near the Bethnal Green tube station. And judging the by the shrieks of excitement that echo around the vast central hall, it’s a hit with its target audience too.
I didn’t realise, but it was originally intended to be in West London, when local philanthropists of the time decided that East Londoners should have a museum too, at which point the iron structure was dismantled and moved from South Kensington in the 1860s to its permanent home. It wasn’t originally a childhood museum either, until the officer in charge, Arthur Charles Sabine, suggested making it child friendly by hanging works at child-height and displaying childhood memorabilia.
It was renovated in 2007, and it now has a grand entrance and a new café inside, with child-sized meals, making it far more kid-friendly. Most of the displays are behind glass but there’s enough out in the open to amuse kids who mob the place, although it’s open late as part of the First Thursdays programme if you prefer things quiet.
My favourite display is on the top floor – the doll houses. I’ve always loved them, ever since my grandfather made me and my sisters one, which my nieces and nephew now play with. Of course without the magic ingredient of a child’s imagination they are not quite as enchanting to me now, but still worth checking out if you are in the area. Apparently it’s the largest British dolls’ house collection not in private hands….. although another huge collection can be found in nearby Spitalfields, owned by artist Rachel Whiteread
The Nuremburg House is the oldest in the museum, built in 1673, and was made to teach girls how to run a household. Although as someone who played extensively with a doll house and is now writing from an unmade bed in view of an overflowing washing basket I don’t know if this is necessarily effective.
Queen Mary, wife of George V, donated this one in 1921.
The Schroder house was built by artist John Aldus and is a copy of a house designed by Gerrit Rietveld in Utrecht.
Finally, this is one built in the Sixties, and is open-plan all around so children can play with it in a communal way (I refuse to be cynical about it).
My other discovery today is that the Clown Museum has moved to Wookey Hole in Somerset, so I doubt I’ll ever see it. Mixed emotions, given my coulrophobia, but I’m somewhat disappointed.
And also I was happy to find out that Spoonfed have voted this blog one of their top five hyperlocal blogs. Thank you x
V&A Museum of Childhood
Cambridge Heath Road
Tel: 020 8983 5200
Open 10.00-17.45 Monday-Sunday (last admission 17.30), 10.00-21.00 on the first Thursday of every month
Closed 24, 25 and 26 December and 1 January every year