London's best unsung museums
Sherlock Holmes Museum
The last word in factional conceit, 221b’s study is a loving Victorian recreation and a splendid photo op. Bedrooms are fittingly scattered with iconic personal effects, make-believe papers and paraphernalia, and waxwork tableaux from the stories have recently been added upstairs.
Best exhibit Mr Holmes’s armchair by the fireplace – the perfect place to relax with a pipe.
Sherlock Holmes Museum, 221b Baker St, NW1 (7935 8866/ www.sherlock-holmes.co.uk). Baker St tube.
FREENamed after General Wladyslaw Sikorski, a war hero and leader of the Polish government-in-exile, this museum was set up to document the social and military history of Poland. Like the nearby Institut Français, there is the feeling that it’s been set up purely for Polish ex-pats, as all of the exhibits are labelled in Polish, but there are guided tours in English. Best on show here is one of the Enigma deciphering machines that were used by Polish mathematicians to crack codes. Best exhibit Although the line, ‘Hey kids, we’re going to the Sikorski Museum!’ doesn’t have a particularly appealing ring to it, younger visitors may enjoy the full-size model of Wojtek the 'soldier bear' mascot of the Polish soldiers. Sikorski Museum, 20 Princes Gate, SW7 (7589 9249/www.sikorskimuseum.co.uk). South Kensington/Knightsbridge tube.
Sir John Soane’s Museum
FREEYou’ll never forget your first visit to the home of architect Sir John Soane. It’s stuffed with curios and is almost exactly as Soane left it when he died in 1837. Among the treasures are an Egyptian sarcophagus that Soane was so elated at acquiring that he partied for three days. Best exhibit Hogarth’s ‘An Election’. Sir John Soane’s Museum, 13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, WC2 (7405 2107/www.soane.org). Holborn tube.Smythson Stationery Museum
FREESmythson’s is one of a few ancient London shops that also doubles as a museum. Smythson Stationery Museum , 40 New Bond St, W1 (7629 8558/www.smythson.com). Bond St tube. Spencer House Built 1756-66 for the first Earl Spencer (one of Diana’s ancestors), Spencer House is London’s finest surviving eighteenth-century private palace. Eight meticulously restored state rooms are open to the public on Sundays only. Tours of the house, which take in paintings by Sir Joshua Reynolds begin every 15 minutes. Best exhibit The spectacular garden, designed by Henry Holland, covers almost half an acre and backs on to Green Park.Spencer House, 27 St James’s Place, SW1 (7499 8620/ www.spencerhouse.co.uk). Green Park tube.V&A Museum of Childhood
FREEThis East End museum houses the national childhood collection. Exhibits are displayed so that all ages can get the most out of them and there are numerous temporary exhibitions, as well as a programme of events and workshops.V&A Museum of Childhood, Cambridge Heath Rd, E2 (8983 5200/www.vam.ac.uk/moc). Bethnal Green tube.
FREEIn March 2009, the new Theatre and Performance galleries at the V&A opened to the public. The galleries replace those at the Theatre Museum in Covent Garden, which closed in 2007. Best exhibits Over a million (count ’em) original programmes and playbills.V&A Theatre and Performance Galleries , V&A, Cromwell Rd, SW7 (7942 2000/www.vam.ac.uk). Kensington tube.Wiener Library
FREEThe world’s oldest establishment dedicated to collecting information about the Holocaust is currently fundraising for a move to a larger building that will allow it to show larger, more regular exhibitions. Try to help. Wiener Library, 4 Devonshire St, W1W (7636 7247/www.wienerlibrary.co.uk). Regent's Park tube.Wimbledon Lawn Tennis MuseumThis enjoyably interactive museum surveys tennis throughout the world from its medieval beginnings. Highlights include a 3D ‘ghost’ of John McEnroe and an insight into the science of the game that uses the same camera techniques as ‘The Matrix’. The tour takes in No 1 Court, the press room and Centre Court. Best exhibits Kit from the 1880s onwards, and the Wimbledon trophies.Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum, Church Rd, SW19 (8946 6131/www.wimbledon.org/museum). Southfields tube then 493 bus.
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