London's best unsung museums
Alongside the V
Apsley House & Wellington Arch
This Robert Adam-designed house is crammed with artworks plundered by or presented to Wellington during his career, including some impressive candelabras and a giant neoclassical statue of Napoleon. There’s not much in the way of biographical detail but you’ll pick up plenty while trying to reach the complementary Wellington Arch via a tortuous underpass enlivened by informative mosaics. The Arch itself has viewing platforms and a permanent display about other London arches.
Best exhibit Wellington’s death mask.
Apsley House & Wellington Arch, 149 Piccadilly, W1 (7499 5676/www.english-heritage.org.uk). Hyde Park Corner tube.
Bank of England Museum
FREETacked on to the end of the Bank of England, this museum is housed in a replica Sir John Soane interior, the largest of its kind in the world. It offers a good blend of modern, child-friendly attractions and dusty older corridors that the grown-ups will enjoy. The museum tells the history of the Bank and currency in the UK, and there’s lots of stuff about forgery. Best exhibits A bar of gold you can pick up and a full set of NatWest piggy banks circa 1983. Bank of England Museum, Threadneedle St, EC2 (7601 5545/www.bankofengland.co.uk). Bank tube/DLR.
Benjamin Franklin House
This creaky old London home of the US politician and scientist focuses on the scientific discoveries he made while living here between 1757 and 1775.
Benjamin Franklin House, 36 Craven St, WC2 SNF (7839 2006/www.benjaminfranklinhouse.org). Charing Cross tube/rail.
The British Dental Association Museum
FREEThe history of British dentistry (don’t scoff, Americans). Features lots of teeth, plus old dentists’ chairs and oral health posters. The British Dental Association Museum, 64 Wimpole St, W1G 8YS (www.bda.org/museum). Regent's Park tube.Brunel MuseumWithin the elegant confines of this red brick engine house is the tale of the design and construction of the Thames Tunnel, the oldest tunnel in London. Visitors are able to learn of the struggles of fires and floods experienced during its construction, as well as visit the tunnel itself, which runs directly beneath the museum. This was the first tunnel to be dug under a river through soft earth, and is still in use today, as part of the London underground network. The museum is currently celebrating the two hundredth anniversary of the birth of young Isambard Kingdom Brunel, who helped design the tunnel with his father, Marc Brunel. Best exhibits There are display boards detailing the historical significance of the engine house, but to get the most out of it take one of the guided tours. Brunel Museum, Railway Avenue, SE16 (7231 3840/www.brunel-museum.org.uk). Canada Water tube.Cartoon MuseumChortle your way round this amusing little museum, which displays British cartoons, caricatures, comics and animations. On the ground floor, snigger at time-honoured works by Hogarth and Gillray, WWII cartoons depicting Churchill and more recent subjects of satire: Bush and Blair. There’s an excellent selection of amusing books and cards in the shop, an extensive library and a regular cartooning workshops. Best exhibits Relive your youth on the upper gallery, where the comic strips on display include the Beano, 2000AD and Rupert. Cartoon Museum, 35 Little Russell St, WC1 (7580 8155/www.cartoonmuseum.org). Russell Square tube.
Centre for the Magic Arts
Centre for the Magic Arts
The Magic Circle Museum has historic apparatus, memorabilia and posters as well as the largest collection of magic books in Europe. Appointment only.
Centre for the Magic Arts, 12 Stephenson Way, NW1 2HD (www.themagiccircle.co.uk). Euston Sq tube. Appointment only.
Charles Dickens Museum
It’s easy to walk past the only surviving London house in which Dickens lived. You have to ring the doorbell to gain access to this unassuming townhouse with just a small plaque to mark it out from its neighbours. Inside, there are four floors of Dickens material, from posters advertising his public speaking to rare editions of his work, in a house decorated as it would have been during Dickens’s tenancy (1837-1839).
Best exhibit A grille from the Marshalsea jail where Dickens’s father was imprisoned.
Charles Dickens Museum, 48 Doughty St, WC1 (7405 2127/www.dickensmuseum.com). Chancery Lane or Russell Square tube.
It’s fitting that the man who had 300,000 people file past his coffin before his state funeral now has a museum dedicated to his life. The Churchill Museum is part of the Cabinet War Rooms, preserved to recreate the Cabinet meetings held below ground in WWII. Churchill’s extension explores both his childhood and career while his voice booms out those famous speeches.
Best exhibit Churchill’s half-smoked cigars.
Churchill Museum, Clive Steps, King Charles St, SW1 (7930 6961/www.iwm.org.uk). Westminster tube.
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