Summer seems to have left London. The last couple weeks have been stormy and cool, and my winter clothes have started to make their way to the front of my closet. With the all the rain, I’ve been taking cover in London’s museums, particularly the smaller ones. I never realized how many museums are hidden around the city, but it’s been amazing to discover them.
Benjamin Franklin House
I had never heard of the Benjamin Franklin House museum before, but when I learned of a museum in London dedicated to one of the most famous Americans in history, I had to go. The house is located in the heart of central London right around the corner from Charing Cross station, tucked away down a narrow street lined on both sides by beautiful Georgian buildings. I went for one of the museum’s Historical Experience tours, a theatrical guided visit with multimedia effects. It brought the Grade I listed house—where Benjamin Franklin lived for nearly 16 years—to life, and taught me things I never knew about him.
Another central London museum hidden in plain sight is the Cartoon Museum. Located on a little street just steps away from the British Museum, it’s dedicated to British cartoon history. Every famous character is represented, from Dennis the Menace to Judge Dredd. I particularly enjoyed a temporary exhibition about cartoons during World War I that was set up to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of the start of the war.
Leighton House Museum
Right next to Holland Park, the Leighton House Museum is the former home of Victorian painter Frederic, Lord Leighton. I fell in love with the stunning Middle Eastern interiors as soon as I walked in, and couldn’t take my eyes off the Syrian tiles and Egyptian screens. The works of art upstairs—many of them by Leighton himself, but others by famous artists such as John Everett Millais—were also great to see.
Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising
Secreted away in a little mews in Notting Hill, the Museum of Brands showcases the history of British consumer culture from the Victorian era to the present. A narrow walkway lined with display cases packed full of products from each decade offers insights into the country’s history through everyday goods and commemorative objects. Despite having grown up in the US, I managed to recognize a lot of the brands from more recent times, and it was fun to see which brands had strong presences in both countries.
Set in a beautiful historic building in Shoreditch, the Geffrye Museum is dedicated to the history of the British middle-class home. With displays of furniture and interiors spanning the centuries, it gives an idea of what household life was like in various periods. I explored the museum, then went for a walk in the back, which is equally worth a visit for its pretty gardens and seasonal plants.
Bank of England Museum
Given my former life as a banker, I couldn’t help visiting the Bank of England museum. Appropriately located right by the Bank tube station in the City of London, the museum showcases the history of both the building and the British banking system. There are interactive exhibits and special exhibitions, including a current one on the Bank of England during World War I (yes, there’s a theme in London’s museums this year).
Florence Nightingale Museum
My inner feminist couldn’t resist the Florence Nightingale Museum, which is tucked away inside St Thomas’ Hospital, across the Thames from the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben. The museum is refreshingly modern, and takes visitors through several circuits detailing Florence Nightingale’s childhood, nursing career—including the Crimean War, when she rose to international fame—and later life.
It’s summer, which means that a visit to London’s Garden Museum in Lambeth was a must. Housed in a stunning deconsecrated church, the museum has several exhibits on gardening through the centuries, as well as a cafe serving delicious looking food and—of course—a peaceful garden in the back. The gift shop had a lot to tempt me, too.
How about you? What are your favorite small museums in London or elsewhere in the world?