Top 10 Hidden Museums

Camden's best small museums

We all know that the Borough of Camden is home to some of the most-visited museums in the country, including the British Museum and the Wellcome collection, but what if you want to escape the hustle and bustle and try somewhere new, off the beaten track? Well, as luck would have it, Camden is host to a vast array of small yet delightful museums, and we’ve rounded up some favourites for you to explore!

1. Grant Museum of Zoology

Grant museum, brain coral
© Matt Clayton

Part of University College London (UCL) this treasure trove of animal specimens was founded in 1828 and retains its ‘cabinet of curiosities’ feel. Highlights include one of the rarest skeletons in the world – that of a ‘quagga’ which was a type of South African Zebra, extinct since 1883. These objects are sure to spark debate and raise questions, such as why would eighteen moles be packed so tightly into a single jar? And why does brain coral look like a brain?

2. The Cartoon Museum

Release your inner graphic-novel-geek at the Cartoon Museum, just a stone’s throw away from the British Museum. Dedicated to collecting, exhibiting, promoting and preserving the best of British cartoon art. Whether you’re interested in the inspirations behind Pop Art or you fancy a bit of light-hearted nostalgia, the museum’s changing exhibitions are sure to spark your interest. And don’t forget to marvel at the 900+ books and graphic novels in the museum shop.

3. Royal College of Physicians' Museum and Gardens

RCP
© Royal College of Physicians, photography by Mike Fear

We don’t just have the discovery of blood circulation to thank William Harvey for, as it turns out that through donating his collection in 1656 he created the Musaeum Harveianum; the earliest named ‘museum’ in England. Here you can discover 500 years of medicine, history and art in one of London’s most important post-war buildings. The museum collections have been gathered over five centuries since RCP’s foundation by Royal Charter of Henry VIII in 1518. Don’t forget to check out the ‘most interesting garden in London’ home to 1,300 plants used as medicine.

4. Petrie Museum

Petrie artefacts

 

William Flinders Petrie excavated dozens of major sites in the course of his career, including the first true pyramid, at Meydum, where he uncovered some of the earliest evidence for mummification. He amassed a huge collection which was sold to UCL in 1913 creating one of the largest collections of Egyptian antiquities outside of Egypt. The collection is uniquely important because so much of it comes from documented excavations. Look out for the world’s largest collection of Roman period mummy portraits and be awed by the earliest piece of linen from Egypt (about 5000 BC)!

5. The Foundling Museum

Foundling Museum Internal

 

Did you know that the Foundling Museum was the UK’s first children’s charity and first public art gallery? The building at 40 Brunswick Square was constructed in the 1930's on the site of the Foundling Hospital, and incorporates many architectural features from the original eighteenth-century Hospital building. This dynamic museum celebrates the ways in which artists of all disciplines have helped improve children’s lives for over 275 years.

6. Sir John Soane’s Museum

Having recently completed a £7 million restoration project you can now explore even more of Sir John Soane’s incredible dwelling. Soane was one of the most inventive architects of his time, and of course his own house is no exception. This stunning building was not just his home and office, but also housed his vast collection of antiquities, furniture, sculptures, architectural models, paintings (the likes of Hogarth and Turner, no less!), and over 30,000 architectural drawings. The Museum has been kept as it was at the time of his death nearly 180 years ago.

7. The Charles Dickens Museum

Charles Dickens museum exterior

 

Referred to as ‘My House in Town’ it’s clear that this was an extremely important place for Charles Dickens, not only was it where he wrote Oliver Twist, but also where his eldest two daughters were born. The Museum houses the world's finest and most comprehensive collection of material relating to Charles Dickens with over 100,000 items including furniture, personal effects, paintings, prints, photographs, letters, manuscripts and rare editions. Events include Dickensian Walks and book clubs.

8. Keats House

Keats House exterior

 

We can see why this house and museum was awarded Highly Commended for ‘Best Hidden Gem’ in 2016 (Hudson Heritage Awards). The former home of Romantic poet John Keats became a museum and literary centre in 1925. A grant from the Arts Council in 2014 means that even more of the house’s collection is now accessible to the public. Retrace the famous poet's footsteps and explore his sources of inspiration, or perhaps be inspired to pen a poem yourself.

9. The Library and Museum of Freemasonry

Chair and Portrait, Museum of Freemasonry

 

Freemasonry is one of the world’s oldest and largest non-religious, non-political, fraternal and charitable organisations. It teaches self-knowledge through participation in a progression of ceremonies. This museum is a great way to discover how freemasonry developed from the 1700s into a significant social institution and explore how modern freemasonry fits into today’s world. Explore items belonging to famous and Royal Freemasons including Winston Churchill and Edward VII or why not book a tour of the Grade II listed Freemasons’ Hall?

10. Pollock’s Toy Museum

Regress to childhood and explore a vast array of vintage toys, from tin toys to puppets. This family-run museum is spread over six small rooms and winding staircases in a historic building in Fitzrovia. Look out for the Egyptian clay mouse from about 2000 BC!