Independent London museums/the enjoyable oddities that are

I was in London a couple of weeks ago for an interview, and had a day to fill afterwards. Instead of the big galleries and museums I always lope round, I decided to investigate the interesting independents that London is filled with.

This brill list was my starting point, from which I selected the two that were free, and closest to where I was going… I’m nothing if not pragmatic.

London Canal Museum

As the name wouldn’t suggest, this museum is devoted to Carlo Gatti, ‘Mr Restaurant’ (1860 pageant) and ice importer extraordinaire to all of London. Massive pits are built into the building the museum is housed in, which contained the ice. Ice miners were lowered into the pits to chip chunks off, which were then loaded onto boats on the canal outside the building and driven to any restaurant or wealthy homeowner that desired them.

I’d never considered ice as a big historical topic before, and hadn’t really thought about how people got ice before we had cooling systems. I guess I just assumed they didn’t have ice, especially not in the home. It seems such a modern luxury.

What amazed me most is the story that a whole vat of ice, bigger than a house, was chipped off in Norway and transported all the way to India by boat, and  arrived largely intact. It just seems impossible.

All right, it might not sound thrilling. And none of my friends were impressed with the variety of factoids I took away from it and slipped into conversations for the next two weeks. But you’ll have to take my word that, in person, with an open mind and a natural curiosity, it’s worth it.

The next stop…

Pollock’s Toy Museum

Set into Scala Street, just parallel to Goodge Street and therefore ultra-central, is this little beauty, advertised by a cheerfully bright red shopfront. It looks tiny from the outside. The secret is that it sprawls over six or seven floors of the terraced house it’s in, so prepare for lots of walking up tiny steps into tiny rooms. With low ceilings, creaky floorboards and dusty exhibits. You may feel like an unwitting extra in a spooky film.

If you encounter anyone else, especially on the higher floors which are 16th century and therefore super-small, make friends with them quickly. At that proximity, it would be difficult not to.

It’s packed to the brim with amazing, intricate, beautiful, odd, terrible, shoddy, hilarious, fascinating and, at some points, truly random exhibits. Which really have to be seen to be appreciated. Plus some of the dolls “from another culture”, shall we say, provide a bit of an eye-opener into how much we’ve moved on.


one of the beautiful dolls – or one of the creepy ones?

Both museums highly recommended by me, and will make you feel you know your city a bit better.

The next two on the wishlist? The Freud Museum (so much potential just in that phrase) and the Sewing Machine Museum (much less potential, not least because it’s in Tooting).

Independent London museums/the enjoyable oddities that are