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London Top 5 Quirky Museums

  • 24 Feb 2016

Each month we ask a London expert to give us their Top 5 for a particular aspect of the capital. This month, London expert Laura Porter, goes in search of the oddest museums in the capital – and shares the quirks she uncovers.

1. Ragged School Museum 

Victorian classroom and family fun

What's it like? The very spot where Dr Barnardo started a school to provide poor children with a basic education and a good square meal... explore four floors of these canalside buildings, including the Victorian classroom and kitchen. It’s free to get in, and while the museum is open only on Wednesdays and Thursdays, during the school holidays you’ll find free activities on every floor. Plus there's also Sunday opening once a month for lessons in the Victorian classroom with a costumed teacher. Want to make a day of it? With Mile End Park next door, there’s plenty of space to picnic and run free – or walk along Regent’s Canal to the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. 

Who goes there? Families for the free holiday activities, but anyone interested in Victorian London, heritage buildings and local history will find something to enjoy. 

Why I love it: On my first visit I met volunteers who had worked there for over 20 years – and I could understand why. It just feels like home as everyone is so welcoming, plus there's always something new to do each holiday. 

How to find it: Ragged School Museum, 46-50 Copperfield Road, London E3 4RR. Tel: 020 8980 6405

2. Benjamin Franklin House

Only surviving home of a US Founding Father

Quirky Museums Benjamin Franklin

What's it like?
This Georgian house, close to Trafalgar Square, offers architectural tours and – my recommendation – the 'Historical Experience'. Follow a costumed actor, and find out how they knew Franklin. There are video recordings to interact with too, but while the rooms are restored, they are mostly bare – so you only get to know the story of the house by listening to the performance. Be sure to play your part by holding your questions until the end of the tour when a museum assistant meets your group. 

Who goes there? American visitors who want to see where Franklin lived. 

Why I love it: It sounds such an odd way of seeing a building but it does work. Without the actor this would be just a fine example of a Georgian building – with the actor, you learn the story of a very interesting man. 

How to find it: Benjamin Franklin House, 36 Craven St, London WC2N 5NF. Tel: 020 7925 1405
  

3. Magic Circle Museum 

Secret Society's Collection

Quirky Museums Magic Circle

What's it like?
Down a side road near Euston is The Magic Circle Headquarters. Join a 'Magic Circle Experience' tour and you'll see magic shows and go into the one-room Magic Circle Museum. All of the exhibits are in glass cabinets but your guide will point out the highlights, then let you explore. You’ll find film props, a recreated window of a Victorian London magic shop and magic show posters (one’s worth a reported £1 million). Bonus: look out for the cups and ball used by The Magic Circle's most famous member, Prince Charles. 

Who goes there? Anyone with a love of magic and live entertainment. Sure, many will enjoy reliving childhood memories, but this is no archaic institution; new magicians join every year. 

Why I love it: The feeling of entering a secret society and being allowed to see their most hallowed collection. 

How to find it: The Magic Circle Headquarters, Centre for the Magic Arts, 12 Stephenson Way, London NW1 2HD. Tel: 020 7387 2222
 

4. Museum of Brands

A truly rubbish collection

Quirky Museums Museum of Brands

What's it like?
You can document social history in many ways, but how about looking at what most consider rubbish? Robert Opie has collected packaging for over 30 years, and he shows it's the everyday stuff which arouses the nostalgia – simple things like household goods and sweet wrappers which we can all relate to. Travel through the Time Tunnel, from Victorian times to the present day, for a unique trip down memory lane. 

Who goes there? Old and young alike; you’ll either remember using the brands yourself, or simply enjoy seeing them for the first time. 

Why I love it: It's those happy memories for me. We all miss favourite sweets or cans of pop – and here we can see them again. 

How to find it: Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising, 111-117 Lancaster Road, London W11 1QT. Tel: 020 7243 9611

5. Grant Museum 

Glass jars full of specimens

Quirky Museums Zoological Museum

What's it like?
A university museum of zoology? Doesn’t grab you? Just step inside and you’ll discover wonders, like the rarest skeleton in the world (it's a Quagga – a type of South African zebra). Wherever you look you’ll find jars full of animal parts including the popular bisected heads. Venture into the cave-like Micrarium which has over 2,000 microscope slides lit up like an art exhibition. Even the wooden cabinets have a story to tell; they were used in the Great Exhibition of 1851. Bringing it right up to date are the iPads to leave your opinions and answer questions. Keep your eyes open for the glass jar of moles exhibit – it even has its own irreverent Twitter account

Who goes there? Not just the students. They have an active events programme including talks, drawing classes and family fun. 

Why I love it: It's great that this place is open to the public – not kept just for UCL students. I like to sit at the tables and read the books left out.. I always notice something new. 

How to find it: Grant Museum of Zoology, Rockefeller Building, University College London, 21 University Street, London WC1E 6DE. Tel:  020 3108 2052 

Read more of Laura's London tips at aboutlondonlaura.com

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