London's best unsung museums

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  • New_04 MX MCC_crop.jpg
    A cricket casualty at Lord's Museum

    MCC Museum
    Visitable either on match days or as part of the thrice-daily Lord’s Tours, the oldest sporting museum in the world is opposite the members’ entrance to the famous pavilion. Upstairs, you can see the museum’s most prized attraction – the stupidly small Ashes urn. Entrance comes as part of the Lord’s Tour, itself a thorough two-hour stroll round the historic ground, marshalled by an affable MCC member. The highlight is your chance to wander around the pavilion. The tour takes in the Long Room, committee room, bar, visitors’ dressing-room and balcony. After a quick detour to check out the real tennis court, it then snakes round the ground, visiting each stand, the NatWest media centre and the famous Lord’s weather vane.
    Best exhibit Inevitably, that urn.
    MCC Museum, Boundary Rd, NW8 (7616 8656/www.lords.org). St John’s Wood tube. Open during Lord’s Tours.

    Museum and Library of the Order of St John

    FREE

    (donations requested for priory and crypt tours)

    This is three museums in one. The first shows the history of St John’s Gate: built in 1504 as the south entrance to the Priory of the Knights of St John, it’s also been a coffeehouse, owned by Hogarth’s family, and a tavern. In the eighteenth century it was a printing house for Gentleman’s Magazine. The second part of the museum concentrates on the Order of St John, founded in Jerusalem in 1099. Armoury and regalia are on display, as well as exhibits showing the Order’s devotion to nursing. The third and final part is an interactive display on the Order’s modern incarnation – the St John’s Ambulance. Best exhibit A 1785 version of ‘The Dictionary’ by one Samuel Johnson. Museum and Library of the Order of St John, St John’s Lane, EC1 (7324 4005/www.sja.org.uk/museum). Farringdon tube/rail.

    Museum of Fulham Palace

    FREE

    Located in Bishop’s Park just north of the Thames, Fulham Palace is a relatively undiscovered London gem. Until WWII it variously served as a summer retreat and permanent residence to the bishops of London. Its attractive grounds are its best asset – look out for the Bishops’ Tree, a cedar with some peculiar growths: wooden sculptures of churchmen peeping out over the top. After that, relax on the verdant lawn with scrumptious snacks from the rather posh Drawing Room Café. Indoors, there’s a gallery and small museum (open Saturday to Tuesday), with a handful of well-designed exhibits at children’s height. Kids can position their faces in a mirror painted with bishops’ hats, or guess the smells of herbs found in the garden (watch out for the sneaky addition of stinky manure). A quiet, pretty and highly civilised retreat from the urban jungle.Museum of Fulham Palace , Bishops Avenue, SW6 (7736 3233/www.fulhampalace.org). Putney Bridge tube.Museum of London DocklandsHoused in a historic warehouse, this excellent museum is devoted to the river and the docks. The Roman, Danish and Saxon history of the river is presented via exhibits and a series of videos narrated by Tony Robinson, before the museum takes on the birth of the docks and the lives of those who worked there. There’s also a section called Sailortown, recreating the sounds, smells and sights of nineteenth-century Wapping. Best exhibit The model of Old London Bridge. Museum of London Docklands , West India Quay, Hertsmere Rd, E14 (7001 9844/www.museumoflondon.org.uk/docklands). West India Quay DLR.

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    Marvel at how the packaging of household products has evolved

    Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising
    This 120-year history of consumerism, culture, design, domestic life, fashion, folly and fate, presented as a magnificently cluttered time tunnel of cartons and bottles, toys and advertising displays, is a small part of the collection amassed by Robert Opie – son of the celebrated collectors of children's lore and literature Iona and Peter Opie – since the day in 1963 when the then 16-year-old arrived home with a Munchies wrapper and declared his intention never to throw away anything ever again.Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising, Colville Mews, Lonsdale Rd, W11 (7908 0880/www.museumofbrands.com) Notting Hill Gate tube.

    Museum of Croydon
    Most London boroughs have local museums and Croydon’s is one of the better ones. Where else in London could you see John Salako’s football boots?
    Museum of Croydon, Level 1, Croydon Clocktower, Katharine St, Croydon CR9 1ET (8253 1030/www.museumofcroydon.com). East Croydon rail.

    Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture

    FREE

    This outpost of Middlesex University focuses on British domestic design from 1870 to the present. Themed temporary exhibitions draw out quotidian treasures from its collections. Part of the fun is revelling in nostalgia for a lost way of life, be it butcher boys, 'make 'n' mend' or Soda Streams. Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture, Cat Hill, Barnet, EN4 (8411 5244/www.moda.mdx.ac.uk). Cockfosters tube.Garden Museum Housed in a restored church next door to Lambeth Palace, this museum records and celebrates gardening. Its permanent display includes a collection of antique tools and there are exhibits exploring how new species of flowers, shrubs and trees were imported to Britain in the days when the process entailed epic sea voyages.
    Best exhibits
    The tombs of celebrated seventeenth-century plant-hunters John Tradescants and his son, also called John, as well as Admiral Bligh of the Bounty, who lived locally.Garden Museum , St Mary-at-Lambeth, Lambeth Palace Rd, SE1 (7401 8865/www.gardenmuseum.org.uk). Lambeth North tube.

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    The Museum of Immigration and Diversity

    Museum of Immigration and Diversity

    FREE

    Just one building between Brick Lane and Spitalfields Market tells much of the story of immigration into London’s East End. This museum has been the home of a Huguenot master silk weaver fleeing persecution from Louis IV’s France, a nineteenth-century synagogue, a community centre where anti-fascist marches were planned and now it’s at the heart of the Bengali community. It houses a small exhibition exploring immigrants’ stories. The museum only holds occasional openings as it needs money for repairs.Best exhibit The synagogue built in the garden.Museum of Immigration and Diversity, 19 Princelet St, E1 (7247 5352/ www.19princeletstreet.org.uk). Liverpool St tube/rail.


    Museum of London
    The history of London, from prehistoric times to the present, told through reconstructed interiors and street scenes, alongside displays of original artefacts found during the museum's archaeological digs. The Stuart, Victorian and Twentieth Century galleries are currently closed for a redevelopment project which will transform them by spring 2010, opening up 25 per cent more gallery space. The early galleries will remain open throughout.
    Museum of London, 150 London Wall, London, EC2Y 5HN (0870 444 3851/www.museumoflondon.org.uk). St Paul's or Barbican tube.

    Museum of Methodism & Wesley’s Chapel

    FREE

    You don’t need to be a Methodist to receive divine inspiration here – the building alone is worth a visit. Wesley described his chapel as ‘perfectly neat but not fine’. Riddled with self-doubt, he was never one for boasting. Fine it is, with an elegant courtyard. Best exhibit If you can, go for one of the Tuesday lunchtime recitals in the chapel to soak up the celestial atmosphere. Museum of Methodism & Wesley’s Chapel, Wesley’s Chapel, 49 City Rd, EC1 (7253 2262/www.wesleyschapel.org.uk). Old St tube/rail.

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