Who would have thought that an eight-inch tall travel writer would like to walk on the weird side? Check out my list of London's weirdest museums.
From test-tube babies and venereal diseases to monetary policy computer games and royal sewing machines there are some really weird museum exhibits in London. In life the most interesting things are often the most unusual and that’s certainly the case with London’s weirdest museums.
The Hunterian Museum portrays a wonderful vision of one man’s desire to push the boundaries of science and surgery forward. John Hunter was a famous surgeon with a penchant for dissections; his work helped him obtain over 14,000 jars of specimens ranging from genital mutilations to animal fetuses and diseased organs. Hunter’s longing to understand what went on beneath the surface of the human body helped to push medical studies forward and save lives. It also makes for the most grotesque but fascinating spectacle you’re likely to find in all of Central London.
Standing on the calm and civilised streets of Russell Square, with its leafy park behind you and glorious Georgian townhouses all around, it is strange to think that one of the buildings houses a dark room full of disfigured limbs, dissected pregnant marsupials and cancerous bone growths.
The weirdest thing about the Hunterian Museum isn’t the quadruplet of alien-like test-tube babies, nor the grossly inflamed jar of amputated cystic penises, it is the creepy feeling of not knowing what might be going on behind the façade of any other posh-looking building in London.
Free – Tues-Sat
35-43 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, Russell Square, WC2A 3PE
Bank of England Museum
The Bank of England Museum is a totally different paradigm of weird.
Set within the central bank itself, the museum aims to explain the purpose of the Bank of England (originally to fund a war against the French), celebrate the ‘Old Lady of Threadneedle Street’s’ 300-year history and make monetary policy seem cool.
Initiatives such as ‘Target Two Point Zero’ encourage students to tackle the problem of keeping inflation at a steady rate –presumably this a genius plan to source free talent so the bank can sack off £600,000-a-year Governor Mark Carney and reclaim his £3 million London mansion. And an interactive game allows visitors to “take the helm of the monetary policy boat” to steer Britain into calm inflationary waters, which is an undeniably weird premise for a computer game.
The highlight of any trip to the BoE museum though is the chance to hold a real life gold bullion bar. Weirdly, the 13kg slab of shiny metal seems to weigh a ton when lifted from inside the circular security window – or so my manager tells me, I couldn’t lift it – and the experience isn’t even ruined by the presence of approximately two million CCTV cameras.
Free – Mon-Fri
Threadneedle Street, Bank, EC2R 8AH
The Geffyre Museum specialises in the history of the English domestic interior. It brings still life to life by allowing you to walk around in painstakingly authentic reconstructions of parlour, drawing and living rooms from different historical periods. The nuanced furnishings, paintings and ornaments provide a visually compelling window into the lives of Londoners from the past.
The weirdest thing about this museum is that although it does possess some of the characteristics of a ‘boring place’ – old wallpaper, paintings of flowers, curtains, faux IKEA-like lived-in qualities etc. – it is actually a really fun experience and well worth a visit.
Free – Tues-Sun
136 Kingsland Road, Haggerston, E2 8EA
Magic Circle Museum
The Magic Circle society was formed in 1905 when 23 practicing sorcerers decided to create a magic club. The Circle helped the wizards to share magical techniques and prevent secrets getting out – any member who explains their conjuring methods to the general public faces immediate expulsion!
Although some of The Magic Circle’s most prized items are hidden in ‘the inner sanctum’, which can only be accessed by approved magical members, the museum does permit visitors/muggles to browse through a collection of curious magical artefacts, including a pair of handcuffs used onstage by Harry Houdini and an original Sooty.
Not that weird at all actually…
£15 – 2-hour tour of the whole HQ including museum
12 Stephenson Way, Euston, NW1 2HD
London Sewing Machine Museum
Have all those sewing machines in the window at All Saints piqued your interest? Spent many a sleepless night thrashing about in bed as your mind wonders what the sewing machine that Queen Elizabeth gave to her eldest daughter as a birthday present in 1854 looks like?
Well now you can put those troubling thoughts to rest. Pay a visit to the London Sewing Machine Museum in Balham on the first Saturday of the month to examine this rare collection of 600+ different machines. It’s only weird if the sleepless nights get worse after your visit…
Free – First Saturday of the month
308 Balham High Road, Balham, SW17 7AA
London has hundreds of small specialist museums that are great for framing days around. Do let me know in the comments section if you plan to visit any of these unique exhibitions and I might be able to recommend a top coffee shop, quirky bar or tasty restaurant in the area.