I do hope you enjoyed last week’s exploration of the Museum of Childhood. I thought today I’d show you a few photographs from outside, and share a brief outline of the museum’s own story.
At the beginning no-one was really clear as to what the aim of the museum was, it was all a bit of a muddle. The outline concept was to bring cultural education, well remnants of the Great Exhibition of 1851, to the local East End population. Bethnal Green initially responded positively and welcomed the opportunity to have their own district museum, specially since three local leaders had been badgering parliament for years to have one.
In 1868 they were provided with a prefabricated iron structure to house it, and over the next four years a high flying architect, James Wild, redesigned it and they even got F R Moody (who created the ceramic staircase in the V&A) to design some glass panels for art students to create. The marble floor was laid by the inmates from the UK first purpose-built female prison, Woking Gaol.
However nobody, it seems, was commissioned to think about the contents! Initially items from the Great Exhibition were displayed here, along with randoms collections from the South Kensington Museums, the Royal Family and Sir Richard Wallace. By 1922 it was decided the museum needed a more focused purpose, and the curator – Arthur Sabin – elected to make it child friendly as he’d noticed the main hall was frequently filled with bored noisy children. He was assisted in his efforts in sourcing child related objects by a Mrs Greg of Leeds and also Queen Mary, who donated many of her toys and those of the Royal family. Apparently the Royal family around this time were known for using the museums as a storage facility. The collection became very popular and in 1974, under the V&A leadership of Roy Strong, the museum was renamed the Museum of Childhood. I suspect the renaming and reorganisation might have happened sooner, if it has not been for the museum’s life as a British Canteen during, and for a short time after, World War Two.