9 London Museums You Probably Didn't Know About

Laura Reynolds
By Laura Reynolds Last edited 10 months ago
9 London Museums You Probably Didn't Know About
Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum, The Clown Gallery, The Savoy Cocktail Museum and the British Optical Association Museum

Science Museum? Tick. British Museum. Of course. Natural History Museum? Duh — there are dinosaurs.

You've probably ticked off London's bigger and better-known museums, but how many of London's smaller museums have you visited? There are probably some you don't even know about — like this lot:

The Clown Gallery

Yep, London has a whole museum dedicated to clowns, and even better creepier is the fact that it's in the crypt of a church. The museum's curator, Mattie Faint, has had a career as a clown himself — including a stint as a clown doctor — and is now responsible for maintaining the collection in Dalston, as well as organising that clown church service that makes the news every February.

The museum only opens one Friday a month, and even then you're more likely to encounter a clown popping by for a cup of tea with Mattie than you are a bona fide tourist. If you do make it, you'll see clown posters, models, shoes, costumes, photos, awards... here's what we stumbled across on our visit.

The Clown Gallery, Holy Trinity Dalston, Beechwood Road (museum entrance on Cumberland Close), E8 3DY. Open on the first Friday of every month, noon-5pm. Entry is free, although donations towards the upkeep of the museum are encouraged.

The Fan Museum

Photo: Treble2309

That's coolly-downy fans, not screaming-obscenities-at-footballers fans. You'll find this museum about the history of fans and art of fan-making in a house halfway up a hill in a pair of townhouses in Greenwich — we wouldn't blame you if you've walked straight past it.

Little-known it may be, but items in the permanent collection date back to the 11th century with some very intricate, very beautiful objects on display. You'll go in with no knowledge about fans and come out with a new respect for people who make them.

We've heard pretty good things about that afternoon tea too.

The Fan Museum, 12 Crooms Hill, Greenwich, SE10 8ER. Open Tuesday-Saturday 11am-5pm, Sunday 12pm-5pm. Entry £4/£3.

London Sewing Machine Museum

Photo: See Wah Cheng

If you thought fans were niche, get yourself down to Tooting for a trip to the Sewing Machine Museum. The main attraction here is a sewing machine that was given to Queen Victoria's oldest daughter as a wedding present. That's just one of 600 machines that have been amassed over a 50 year period.

London Sewing Machine Museum, 308 Balham High Road, Sw17 7AA. Open first Saturday of the month, 2pm-5pm. Admission is free, but donations to charity are welcome.

The British Dental Museum

Photo: Londonist

This one's officially called the British Dental Museum, but we prefer to call it the Teeth Museum. It's a cavity of dentistry-themed gimcrack including all manner of painful looking tools and equipment, tooth-inspired satire, and enough of an insight into the techniques of dentists past to make you wince (and spend a minute longer than usual brushing your teeth tonight).

The British Dental Museum, 64 Wimpole Street, W1G 8YS. Open Tuesdays and Thursdays, 1pm-4pm. Free entry.

The British Optical Association Museum

Photo: Londonist

If teeth can have their own museum, then so can eyes. Focus is on the glasses at the British Optical Association Museum, with specs worn by Dr Johnson, Ronnie Corbett and the Queen Mother, and contact lenses worn by Leonardo DiCaprio and Joey off Friends all on display.

Interestingly, you can ogle more exhibits relating to Benjamin Franklin here than at the Benjamin Franklin House just a few doors down. Another little tidbit is that it's London's most central museum, its building rubbing up against Charing Cross station.

The British Optical Association Museum is at 41-42 Craven Street, WC2N 5NG. Entry is free but you must book in advance. You can also book onto a longer guided tour — we'd recommend it.

The Royal London Hospital Museum

Photo: Londonist

If you've not yet had enough of the medical and the macabre, get yourself over to this Whitechapel crypt for a room full of skeletons and serial killers. The Royal London Hospital Museum covers the history of the Whitechapel hospital, including medical advances that have taken place here, and its most famous patient, the Elephant Man — there's a replica of his skeleton on display.

The history of the local area is also squeezed in, with some fascinating images and maps of the area dating from when the hospital was surrounded by fields. Plus, this is Whitechapel — did you really think you'd get away without a mention of Jack the Ripper?  

Royal London Hospital Museum, Newark Street, E1 2AA. Usually open Tuesday-Friday, 10am-4.30pm. Entry is free, donations are encouraged.

The MCC Museum at Lord's

The Ashes urn. Photo: MCC Museum

A dead sparrow? It's just not cricket. Except it absolutely is — the unfortunate avian was killed by a cricket ball mid-match at Lord's in 1936, and now resides in the MCC (Middlesex Cricket Club) Museum at the ground, mounted on the ball that killed it.

The museum's most impressive artefact, though, is the original Ashes trophy, a 15cm tall urn which resides in the museum regardless of whether England or (more often) Australia currently hold the title.

MCC Museum at Lord's Cricket Ground. The museum is only open to people who have booked a tour of the ground, or on matchdays to those who have tickets for the match.

Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum

Photo: Wimbledon

For two weeks a year, Wimbledon becomes something of a national obsession as tennis takes over — but don't forget about SW19 the rest of the year, when you can visit the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum.

Those all important Championships Trophies are on display, as well as tennis fashions and fabrics dating back to the Victorian period, plus complete history of the Championships, from as far back as 1877. Plenty of players have donated memorabilia to the museum too.

The Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum can be visited as part of a Wimbledon tour. Tickets are £25/£21 and they take place daily, but need to be booked in advance.

The Savoy's cocktail museum

Here's a museum that caters to our liking, by not only allowing drinking, but encouraging it — the Savoy's shrine to cocktail-making.

It's not well-publicised — they don't want to encourage the riff-raff — but it's a pint-sized museum next to the hotel's world-famous American Bar inside the hotel. Exhibits include early copies of The Savoy Cocktail Book, and photos of its author, Savoy cocktail bartender Harry Craddock. The hotel as a whole is celebrated, with photos of various celebrities enjoying its hospitality.

This being the Savoy, several of the drinkable exhibits are actually up for sale, including a cognac that's older than the Savoy itself. If you ask the price, you're a braver person than us.

The Savoy's cocktail museum, open every day. Entry is free, but dress appropriately for The Savoy.

Last Updated 10 January 2018