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London's most unusual museums: 50 of the best

Just a few streets away from the looming British Museum, the diminutive Cartoon Museum is easily missed but worth seeking out. Its mission is to preserve and promote British cartoon art, comic art and caricature and with a collection that dates from the 18th century to the present day, visitors of all ages will discover cartoons that tickle their fancy or spark a childhood memory. Playful and popular cartoon strips featuring The Bash Street Kids, Billy the Whizz and Dennis the Menace are shown alongside rarer and more politically minded works; if you feel the subject matter warrants further exploration you can also make an appointment to access the museum’s library, where comic book connoisseurs can study the medium further.

'Michelangelo and Leonardo' (1983); shown during a Ralph Steadman exhibition at the Cartoon Museum

3. Old Operating Theatre, London Bridge

In the 1800s, the Old Operating Theatre was used as an operating space for the deathly sick interned at St. Thomas’s Hospital. In those times medical equipment was primitive and effective anaesthesia unavailable so invasive surgeries such as amputations were terrifying ordeals for patients – although a skilled surgeon could perform the procedure in under a minute, novices would sometimes hack and chisel at mangled limbs for much longer. Staff talks on the theatre bring the innocuous wood-panelled space to gruesome life so it’s worth timing your visit to coincide with one; the adjacent herb garret exhibition space has complementary medical displays.

4. Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising; Notting Hill

Those same household products that we retrieve from supermarket shelves week-in, week-out are so familiar that we may not consciously consider our relationships with them, but the Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising seeks to do just that. Started by consumer historian Robert Opie, the museum’s collection includes over 12, 000 original items that should be familiar to all of us, be they packets of cereal, tins of baked beans or sachets of custard powder. Consider an amble through the space (which will close temporarily before moving to a new location, also in Notting Hill, in late 2015) as a rummage through a particularly well-stocked larder and prepare to encounter plenty of decommissioned products that once held pride of place on your family’s kitchen table.

Image: Spencer Murphy

5. The Vault at Hard Rock Café, Park Lane

With so many unique restaurants in London I despair when I see tourists queuing for a table at the Hard Rock Café but fans of music memorabilia will appreciate The Vault. So named because the space was once part of a Coutts bank and now holds valuable music mementos, the display area houses some impressive exhibits. Items in the collection include the guitar used by Guns N’ Roses guitarist Slash in the November Rain video, a harpsichord frequently used by The Beatles and, strangely, one of Madonna’s old credit cards. Open seven days a week, The Vault’s hours are different from the main dining space (typically the musuem is open from 11am to 10.30pm) and admission is free.

6. British Dental Association Dental Museum, Marylebone

Its origins may date back almost 100 years but there are still plenty of lifelong Londoners oblivious to the existence of the BDA Dental Museum. Its foundations date back to 1919 when Lilian Lindsay, the first female to qualify as a dentist in the country, donated a number of old dental instruments to the association. Today the museum’s collection includes some 20, 000 items with dental instruments, furniture, photographs and art all on display. With few people enthusiastic about a trip to the dentist, going to the museum might be another way to pay your respects to this field of medicine.

7. Pollock’s Toy Museum, Fitzrovia

The space is cluttered and the collection of old, beady-eyed dolls could be considered somewhat creepy, but Pollock's Toy Museum is an intriguing place. The museum itself occupies two conjoined houses near Goodge Street and when wandering from one small room to another prepare to encounter toys from your own childhood. Despite the ostensibly juvenile subject matter this museum is possibly better suited to adults who want to wallow in nostalgia than parents who want to provide their kids with distraction.

Image: Pollock's Toy Museum

8. The Crime Museum, New Scotland Yard

London has plenty of macabre museums, but perhaps the most morbid is The Crime Museum, better known as The Black Museum, at New Scotland Yard. Housing an extensive number of weapons which have been used to commit murders or serious assaults in London, its collection includes items used by Jack the Ripper and Charlie Peace. The cases referenced remain shocking and emotive and it’s perhaps for that reason the museum isn’t open to the general public; however, members of the police forces or associated bodies sometimes access the space to attend lectures on forensic science, pathology, law and investigative techniques.


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