An affectionate look at some of Britain’s quirkiest collections. Bored with the big hitters on the museum circuit? Maybe it’s time to take the family to one of Britain’s many weird museums, where you never get quite what you bargained for. Anyone with an interest in the unusual will love this collection of places specialising in the curious, the cool – and the downright peculiar. These are under-the-radar collections of artefacts where you come with an open mind and leave having learned something unexpected or having seen something amazing, strange, intriguing or hilarious. Written with humour and a great deal of affection for the bizarre side of Britain, the book takes an in-depth look at this neglected subject, winkling out some of the strangest and most fanciful museums this country has to offer, such as the Baked Bean Museum in Port Talbot or the Lawnmower Museum in Merseyside. So, whether you have a penchant for fans, windmills, teapots or canine neckwear, if it’s weird and there’s a museum dedicated to it, you’ll find it lovingly described within these pages.
Secret London – An Unusual Guide (third edition) – Jonglez Publishing
28th November 2019
Secret London – An Unusual Guide, written by Rachel Howard and Bill Nash, is the third edition of this quirky guide to our amazing capital city, from the ever inspiring Jonglez Publishing.
We hope that through its guidance you will, like us, continue to discover unusual, hidden or little-known aspects of the city. Some entries are accompanied by historical asides or anecdotes as an aid to understanding the city in all its complexity. The guide also draws attention to the multitude of details found in places that we may pass every day without noticing. We invite you to look more closely at the urban landscape and to see your own city with the curiosity and attention that we often display while travelling elsewhere…
At a launch party at Waterstones in Covent Garden, Bill Nash explained how they aim to add 15-20 new entries to every updated edition of the guide. But the challenge remains to uncover and write about secret and unusual places in the city, rather than predictable tourist magnets like the Tower of London or the Cutty Sark.
Bill read us excerpts from a few new entries in the guide, to give a tantalising flavour of what has made the cut this time around…
The Musical Museum – Brentford High Street
‘Music is something we take for granted these days; the stuff pours out of headphones, video games, restaurant toilets and lifts. This purpose-built museum is full of the baroque miracles that got us here. Founded by Frank Holland in 1963, this is one of the world’s foremost collections of automated music systems. This means machines you might be familar with – musical boxes, pianolos, iPods – and machines you might not. The Hupfield Phonoslizst-Violina, anyone?’
‘Working highlights include a rudimentary German jukebox the size of a Transit van, a coin-operated violin player and king-sized gramophones. And an orchestrion, designed to replicate the sound of a small orchestra using actual instruments, and sounding like twenty musicians trapped in a box.’
Richard Burton’s Mausoleum – North Worple Way, Mortlake
‘Richard Burton is buried in a tent in East Sheen. No, not that Richard Burton – the film star is still buried in Switzerland. This is the far more interesting, far stranger Richard Burton, the Victorian explorer, geographer, translator, writer, soldier, orientalist, cartographer, ethnologist, spy, linguist, poet, fencer, diplomat and reputed speaker of at least 29 languages.’
‘The design of his Mausoleum is supposed to reflect Burton’s deep ties with the Arab world. It is (very) loosely modelled on a Bedouin tent, and is decorated with a frieze of Islamic stars and crescents, as well as a crucifix and Star of David.’
Crossness Pumping Station – Belvedere Road, Abbey Wood
‘There aren’t many opportunities to make to make a trip to a sewage farm, but Crossness Pumping Station – opened in 1856 by Edward, Prince of Wales – offers the chance.’
‘The Pumping Station was part of legendary engineer Joseph Bazalgette’s innovative sewage system for London. By the mid-19th century, London’s exploding population meant the Thames had effectively become an open sewer. The contaminated water caused cholera outbreaks that killed over 30,000 Londoners.’
‘Crossness Pumping Station is an incredible place. The Beam Engine House, home to four steam-driven pumping engines, contains some of the most spectacular ornamental ironwork in the capital. At the heart of the building is the Octagon, an exuberant framework for the engines, made of brightly coloured iron columns and screens. This is characteristic of the Victorians’ love of Gothic adornment in the unlikeliest places.’
There are more than 200 entries in this engaging guide, split into nine separate geographic areas:
- Westminster to Camden
- Temple to Angel
- Tower Bridge to Shoreditch
- Marylebone to Shepherd’s Bush
- Westminster to Hammersmith
- South Bank to Brixton
- Whitechapel to Woolwich
- Greater London (North)
- Greater London (South)
How does something qualify for entry into ‘Secret London – An Unusual Guide’? ‘See something differently.’ It might be a small detail somewhere well known, like the Triforium at St. Paul’s Cathedral, a weird space that offers an insight into Wren’s construction and where you’ll find a floating staircase used in one of the Harry Potter films. Or how about the Antique Breadboard Museum in Putney, where one room in Madeleine Neave’s home has been devoted to lovingly made wooden breadboards. Entrance to this, erm, fascinating micro-museum includes a cream tea!
You get the idea. The latest edition of ‘Secret London – An Unusual Guide’ will help you see aspects of the city that you never knew existed, all written in an entertaining and educational style. ‘Hidden treasures for those who know how to wander off the beaten track.’ And how much more will a date respect you for taking them to a sewage farm than the Tate Modern!
Andrew for the TripFiction team
Read about Secret London – unusual bars and restaurants in this TripFiction post.
Look out for new Secret Edinburgh and Secret Glasgow guides in 2020.
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Touch Wood – The Story of Sheffield’s Breadboard Makers
About this Event
A talk and handling session investigating the fascinating history of Sheffield makers of breadboards with examples of Sheffield bread knives from the Hawley Collection. By Madeleine Neave from the Antique Breadboard Museum, Putney, London with Nick Duggan from the Hawley Collection.
N.B. Admission free but if you wish to view the main museum galleries before the talk normal admission charges will apply.
Madeleine’s book of board talk
Madeleine Neave, curator of The Antique Breadboard Museum, has published a book describing her extensive collection of boards, butter knives and butter churners.
It also includes memories of her late mother Rosslyn, a Portobello Road dealer and restorer. She started the collection after growing up on a farm, milking cows and making butter by hand.
In the new book, Madeleine tracks the history of decorative ‘bread-platters’ from their Victorian origins to the present. It features 100 colour images and is available for £16.
Visitors to the Putney museum are served cream teas on a board their choice and may book a visit with details via the website below.
Karel came from Paris and took some wonderful shots of our recent book launch at Putney Library. Our thanks go to him for making such a precious record. Also hearty hugs go to Charlene Coleman for hosting, Catheryn Kilgarriff of Prospect Books for supporting with wine and books, Tom for displaying his beautiful pieces of art in wood, Marie for preparing such a delicious spread, Martin for bringing his knowledge of forestry and our guests for making it such a fun evening.
Sheffield artists created beautiful boards for our daily bread
Feeling quite jittery here, with Catheryn Kilgarriff, of Prospect Books, my publisher, waiting for the Summons! But Jo put me at ease. The chat starts at 107:32 minutes in after an amazing story of resilience and love between twins.
Copy and paste the link into your browser. Available till end October!
Hidden gem no longer!
So. We are officially quirky!
Our thanks to Jeff for noticing this and scanning it over. It was a fun day introducing our collection alongside Tom Samuel and some of his beauties. I loved the mincers too.