London's 16 Strangest Museum Exhibits

By M@ Last edited 34 months ago

Last Updated 20 July 2021

London's 16 Strangest Museum Exhibits

You've seen the Rosetta Stone, clocked the Crown Jewels, Insta'd the Elgin Marbles and done the dinosaurs of South Ken. What's left to see?

Try these 16 oddball exhibits, at 16 London museums — then let us know your own favourite oddities in the comments.

1. The David Tennant Banknote (British Museum)

I'm that kind of man.

The museum's Money gallery is sterling. It presents a potentially dry subject with invention and wit. A case in point is this fake tenner from an episode of Doctor Who. The show needed a scene in which banknotes flew out of an ATM. Producers decided it would be too risky and costly to use genuine notes, and it's illegal to print realistic money. The compromise was to design a tenner that would look convincing on screen, but is clearly fake when handled. Cue, this Photoshopped curiosity, bearing the likeness of Tenth Doctor David Tennant. Or it might just be psychic paper.

2. A chicken with opaque glasses (British Optical Association Museum)

This little-known Charing Cross museum is literally packed with spectacles, including those worn by Ronnie Corbett and Dr Johnson. You'll even find some contact lenses that once graced the eyes of Joey from Friends. Weirdest of all, though, is the chicken in the corner. Its beak sports a pair of opaque red shades, to stop it seeing rival roosters and turning aggressive.

3. Fragments of a flower left at Dickens's grave (Charles Dickens Museum)

We include this morbid object simply to show that hero worship is nothing new. The writer, who famously stipulated that no statue should be built to his memory, is buried in Westminster Abbey. This flower from a well-wisher was left soon after, and is preserved for a bemused posterity at his former house in Bloomsbury.

4. Captain Sensible's Beret (Croydon Museum)

Captain Sensible's distinctive headgear takes pride of place in this excellent local museum. The third-most-famous beret wearer (Che Guevara and Frank Spencer have no Croydon links, to our knowledge) attended Stanley Technical School for Boys in South Norwood and released a single called 'Croydon'. He's perhaps more famous for his number one cover of Happy Talk, and the theme tune to Big Break.

5. A jar of moles (Grant Museum of Zoology)

Bloomsbury's Grant Museum invites you to guess how many moles are rammed into its specimen jar. I don't know why. I've never bothered to ask. You can see their tiny toes and everything.

6. The Horniman Walrus's label (Horniman Museum)

The malstuffed pinniped who serves as mascot of the Horniman Museum certainly belongs on a list like this. But we hesitate. The creature is too famous. The shop sells stuffed toys, and the toothy mammal even appears in biscuit form in the Forest Hill attraction's cafe. So, we'd instead like to commend the label. For years, visitors were advised not to touch the walrus. This was recently extended to form a surely unique string of words: 'Please do not touch the walrus or sit on the iceberg'.

7. Wayne Rooney's grinning head (John Soane's Museum)

Shut up. It totally is.

8. Bumper Harris's walking stick (London Transport Museum)

Bumper Harris walking stick.

William 'Bumper' Harris was a one-legged man, employed by London Underground to ride its first escalator all day long, and thus reassure multi-legged passengers that the new machinery was perfectly safe. The story sounds so bizarre that, for years, it held semi-mythical status. But Harris's adventures did take place, and the evidence can be found in London Transport Museum in the shape of his walking stick and pocket watch.

9. A tiny protest (Museum of London)

Museum of London has an eclectic, some would say eccentric, attitude to acquisitions. It recently added a sample of sewer fatberg to its holdings, and even wanted to buy the inflatable Trump baby. A far more diminutive item of protest is already on show in its modern galleries. Here, a group of disgruntled Playmobil locals object to the march of developments surrounding the 2012 London Olympics, while soldiers prepare to shoot. It looks a bit daft now, but this could be a star exhibit in 2112.

10. Super-naked Noel Edmonds (Natural History Museum)

Oh. My. God.

Edmonds, perhaps most famous for his Crinkley Bottom, shows another side to his anatomy in the NHM's Human Body gallery. The host's heart, reproductive organs and partial digestive tract are all on show, yet only an empty box is to be found where we might expect a brain.

11. A fake merman (Science Museum)

A surprising number of museums harbour counterfeit merfolk, including the British Museum and Horniman Museum. These strange miscreations — usually made by sewing together bits of monkey and fish — were intended to dupe collectors. Our favourite is the specimen in the Science Museum. This charming man-fish is clearly modelled on Morrissey.

12. The great detective's khazi (Sherlock Holmes Museum)

An elementary museum in terms of content, the Sherlock Holmes house museum nevertheless has some diverting oddities — whether the gory model of a severed thumb or the awkward moment where Watson confronts Holmes about his necrophilic habits. Those searching for the detective's personal log should check out the porcelain toilet. Is it a prop from 'The Adventure of the Second Stain'?

13. A professor in a cupboard (Twickenham Museum)

This is Professor Cockles, a well-known 20th century character of the Twickenham area. Cockles was something of a hero, saving many people from drowning in the Thames. He was also fond of making home-made diving equipment from scrap metal. Cockles died in 1981, but Twickenham Museum celebrates his memory with this broom cupboard display.

14. Everything (Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities)

The eponymous Wynd has long been a collector of the strange, eerie and eccentric. His personal museum on Mare Street presents some of his prize discoveries, from Kylie Minogue's faeces to a double headed goat, via yet more examples of fake mermaids and the obligatory artwork of Austin Osman Spare.

15. Sex in a fruit (Wellcome Collection)

Sex in strange places is a bit of a hot topic on these pages. We've spoken to Londoners who enjoy sex on the tube, at iconic landmarks, or in the back of a black cab. None can compete with this adaptable couple, who have selected a series of hinged porcelain fruit for their carnal encounters. The curators at Wellcome Collection are unsure where the strange fruit comes from, or the purpose behind their saucy payloads.

16. The dummies (Whitewebbs Museum of Transport)

The (brilliantly) eccentric Enfield museum has much to commend it, including a collection of roundels, a model railway inside a train carriage, and a secret, gigantic well. But watch out for the unusual dummies, which seem to have been requisitioned from a long-closed fashion boutique. These include a New Romantic air-raid warden (top) and a drunken cross-dresser from the 1970s (bottom).

Share your strangest London museum discoveries in the comments below.