The Fableists recently hit up the Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green. It’s great to have such a fab museum on the right side of town! Parents rest assured, it is literally steps from Bethnal Green station – and it’s free. For locals, it is an ideal place to take kids on a rainy day. There is plenty to keep their attention but also several interactive and play areas that allow them to roam free and get stuck in.
The Museum of Childhood houses the Victoria and Albert Museum’s collection of childhood-related objects and artefacts, spanning the 1600s to the present day. The building was purpose built as a museum and was opened by the Prince of Wales as the Bethnal Green Museum in 1871. It was built as a second, East London outpost of the Brompton-based museum that had been opened some years earlier to house the Department of Practical Arts and the collections of the Museum of Manufacturers, the School of Design and items from the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nations of 1851.
Although it was meant to promote awareness of Britain’s cultural heritage to the East End, it had no specific purpose. Members of the royal family began housing excess items in the building and it was then closed during the Second Word War to keep those items safe.
When the museum re-opened, the curator noticed that it was often full of noisy (and bored) children. So he began to fill it with items to amuse them. Queen Mary (the wife of King George V) donated several of her own toys, as did other people who were interested in the project. Slowly, the collection of childhood-related items grew until, in 1973, it became the Museum of Childhood.
I arrived with two tired kids, so I wasn’t sure how long we’d last. They immediately perked up at the large, welcoming space. There is plenty of space for kids to explore on their own and anything they can’t touch is behind glass. Phew!
There is currently an exhibition in the entrance area called ‘Confiscated Cabinets’, a display of artefacts confiscated in 150 London schools over the last three decades and collected by artist and teacher Guy Tarrant. The homemade games, keepsakes, toys, weapons and other forbidden objects fascinated my kids and fired my nostalgia. The display opened at the V&A Museum of Childhood on 9 November 2013
and runs until 1 June 2014. It’s well worth the visit.
Upcoming events include Daydreams and Diaries: The Story of Jacqueline Wilson, Daydreams and Diaries: The Story of Jacqueline Wilson and Toy Stories, which looks at the role and function of toys in the lives of children around the globe.
The benugo Café is located at the heart of the open-plan space. Fresh, healthy meals are served with lots of kid-friendly items on offer. There is an area outside with picnic tables, if you bring a packed lunch. The Museum also features a quiet room, buggy park and free WiFi throughout the building.
There are daily free activities, including arts and crafts, storytelling and treasure hunts, so it’s definitely worth checking out the times before heading out. The museum has a private party space available for hire as well as a shop.
Open from 10-17:45 daily. Free of charge. Bethnal Green tube. www.museumofchildhood.org.uk