OFFBEAT ODDITIES

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Published on March 22, 2015 with No Comments

03 Fan Museum

03 Fan Museum
Picture 1 of 11

The best London oddities and offbeat museums.

Words SURIANI ARIFF

London and its surrounds offer some of the best museums for the traveller. But when you’ve had enough of Matiseeses and van Goghs, why not look for something different to do?

Some of the city’s offbeat museums offer a more culturally quirky side to London as well as a slice of unique English culture. If you’re ever curious about Jack the Ripper or the Elephant Man, then start your journey at the Royal London Hospital Museum and Archives (bartshealth.nhs.uk) in Whitechapel. Joseph Merrick, the Elephant Man, was cared for in the hospital until the end of his life. A replica of his skeleton is on display (his bones are kept with the medical school for research), together with his hat and veil and other photos. For fans of Jack the Ripper, there is a showcase on forensic medicine featuring original material on the Whitechapel (Jack the Ripper) murders and hospital surgeon and curator, Thomas Horrocks Openshaw who helped investigate.

Moving away from the macabre and for a lighter outing, try the Fan Museum (thefanmuseum.org.uk) in Greenwich. While it may erroneously heed only to lady guests, you would be remiss not to check out the museum for its detailed story-telling on fans as a cultural tool. The building itself is worth a look – a Georgian townhouse that dates back to the 18th century. Inside is a collection of over 4,000 fans, including a 13th century Chinese fan leaf and a bladeless Dyson. Discover how fans are a cultural representation of change, used at one time to ward off evil spirit and as status symbols in another.

At the Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising (museumofbrands.com), it’s a trip down memory lane with 12,000 original daily consumer items that have impacted the world. You will certainly identify with many of them, if not all. You’ll see Rimmel cosmetics from the 1890s, a 1970s Chopper Bike, the changing faces of Johnson’s Baby Powder throughout the years and various candy wrappers including a KitKat from the 1930s. Started by consumer historian Robert Opie, the museum is easily located around the corner from the world-famous Portobello Road Market, making this treasure trove of retro design and memories a nice half-day outing.

Dennis Severs House (dennissevershouse.co.uk) by Spitalfields Market is not really a museum. It’s a private home but it is open to the public. It’s quite hard to describe what it is actually, except that going through the 10 rooms, you will definitely feel you’ve entered the home of the Jervis family. The Jervises aren’t real; but Severs wants you to think that – to wander from room to room experiencing how they lived in the 18th century, as though they’ve just stepped out for awhile. There is fresh fruit on the table, half drunk cups of tea, jackets draped over chairs and smells of cooked food from the kitchen. It’s an outing that requires you to fully engage the senses to experience time travel.

Finally, what better way to end your London museum outing than to immerse yourself in lush greenery? The Garden Museum (gardenmuseum.org.uk) is truly a labour of love. Beautiful and tranquil, with the Thames surging past its door, the focus point of the museum is the outdoor knot garden tended by their small horticultural team of staff and volunteers. The knot garden is significantly historical as it includes species introduced by John Tradescant the Elder and Younger, prominent gardeners and horticulturists of the 16th and 17h centuries respectively. Plants such as the scarlet runner bean, red maple and tulip tree can be traced back to the Tradescants, and they also add lush and beauty to the centre of London. The museum organises three main temporary exhibitions annually, often bringing new light to how the public views gardens and its societal impact.

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