Behind the polished veneer of every great city is a subculture of bizarre and eccentric charm. The Big Smoke is no exception. You’ve heard of the V&A, the National History Museum, the British Museum, and other legendary free museums in London. However, there are other institutions which house collections of the city’s historic jewels -some dark, some marvellous- that await your scrutiny. So if you have a thirst for the unconventional and peculiar, here are ten museums to satiate even the most deviant of palettes.
1.The Clink Prison Museum
Built upon the original site of its namesake, the Clink Prison Museum takes you on a harrowing journey through its 600 years of being operational. The experience includes handling torture devices used on its inhabitants, and tales of the misfortunes that befell its captives. Not interactive enough? Take advantage of the museum’s partnership with Haunted Happenings, and spend a night of paranormal sleuthing as you attempt to contact prisoners who are still serving their sentences, even in the afterlife…
2. Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garret
Considered the oldest operating theatre in Europe, this surgical space treated its female patients before the practice of using anesthesia. The Old Operating Theatre hacked, sawed, and bled its poorly in front of an audience of medical students, and was in use from 1822 until 1862, when the current St. Thomas Hospital was built in Lambeth.
3. The Horniman Museum and Gardens
Originally a collection of curiosities by Victorian tea trader Frederick John Horniman, today the museum hosts over 80,000 pieces, all boasting national and international importance. One of its most famous artefacts is the overstuffed walrus, smooth and wrinkle free due to an oversight by Horniman’s taxidermist. To be fair, not many Londoners in the late 19th century had ever seen a real walrus!
4. The Royal London Museum
Dedicated to the history of the hospital that came before it, the Royal London Museum was once home to Joseph Merrick (the Elephant Man), and now showcases a forensic science exhibit related to the ‘Jack the Ripper’ murders. Adding to the museum’s rich collection are artefacts that revolve around x-ray, pediatrics, nursing, and surgery.
5. The Hunterian Museum
Considered a figurehead in the scientific surgery community, John Hunter first curated his collection of specimens and plants in the 18th century. Today, the museum holds the oldest zoological and anatomical collection in the nation. Visitors can put their stomach’s to the test by ogling over the pock-marked back of a pickled Surinam toad (a species whose spawn are hatched from the mother’s back, delightful!), a condom made of sheep intestines, and making perfect sense, the bisected head of a cockerel with a human tooth in the comb.
6. Pollock’s Toy Museum
Both creepy and nostalgic, this six-room time capsule of Victorian toys might be better suited for anyone who’s never seen Dolls (1987). However, once you get over the penetrating stare of its specimens, the museum’s teddy bears, tin toys, dolls and dollhouses have an antiquated charm that speak to the joys of childhood innocence. Awww.
7. The Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archeology
For the keen eyed adventurer in all of us, the exhibits in this 19th century museum holds tidbits utilised by the ancient egyptians. Jewellery, pottery shards, primitive tools, and even a 4,000 year old skeleton found in an earthenware pot, make this world of everyday items brought once more to life. Some of the pieces come from a scandalous past, as they were once part of Tell al Amarna, the city created by the renegade and heretic, King Akhenaton.
8. The Freud Museum
Feel like unleashing your subconscious? Then swing by what was once the family home of the father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, and take a gander through his 2,000-deep collection of antiquities and personal insights. His study is the nucleus of this posthumous museum, and his famed couch still invites passersby to recline, and spill the beans on that recurring dream of being naked at work…
9. The HMS Belfast
Avast yer wanderin’ ya landlubbers! It’s time to leave the safety of your concrete jungle, and see how you fare on water. But don’t be faint of heart; the HMS Belfast actually has nothing to do with pirates, and is safely moored on the River Thames. This historic warship provides insight into naval life from WW2 up until 1963, and is also a memorial to Allied and British soldiers.
10. The Grant Museum of Technology
The last of its kind, this university zoology museum allows you to examine the length and breadth of the Animal Kingdom through its collection of 67,000 specimens. Highlights of the museum include the incredibly rare skeleton of a Quagga, a type of South African zebra that went extinct in 1883 (only seven skeletal remains exist in the world today), a large jar of tightly packed moles (most likely a forgotten relic from a long ago anatomy class), a brain collection, and other items that intrigue and unnerve.