With so many large collections in the capital, sometimes its easy to miss the smaller finds: those tucked away in plain sight, in victorian townhouses, eccentric storefronts, on and off the beaten paths.
There is a gaggle of these gems in and around Bloomsbury. Strange neighbors, but it makes for a thought-provoking stroll and a fun day.
Start at the Wellcome Collection, labelled as the free museum and library for the incurably curious, this space focusses on how we all think about health. Opened in 2007, its centerpiece is Henry Wellcome’s (1853-1936) extensive collection of oddities. Sir Henry Solomon Wellcome: Pharmacist, entrepreneur, philanthropist and collector, was the first to create medicine in tablet form. His collection is vast and truly bizarre, and adjacent to the University of London Medical School which he helped to finance. His permanent collection, housed in the basement, is like a curiousity cabinet on steroids. Think the earliest of the earliest of medical objects alongside historical oddities: glass eyes, hand crafted jointed amputee helpers, backlit snuff bottles and jars, chinese foot-binded shoes, so delicate and beautiful you initially think they are for dolls, the brass corset above (from 1800)...you get the idea.
While there, make sure to visit the other permanent and traveling exhibits, and the Library, a wonderfully comfortable space to read, write, lounge and pause between galleries or your next destination.
Once you’ve soaked this all in, stroll on over to Pollack's Toy Museum, about 10 minutes away. The collection and small toy shop houses mainly Victorian toys from around the world. On display in six small rooms and two winding staircases are toy theaters, puppets, dolls and doll houses, teddy bears, tin, optical and folk toys. Exploring it is like walking into an eccentric but wonderfully historical victorian doll’s house.
A more traditional collection is nearby in Manchester Square, The Wallace Collection, a national museum displaying works of art collected in the 18th and 19th centuries by the first four Marquesses of Hertford and Sir Richard Wallace, the son of the 4th Marquess. It was bequeathed to the British nation by Sir Richard’s widow, Lady Wallace, in 1897.
Displayed at Hertford House, one of the family’s London properties in the 19th century, the collection includes works by Canaletto and Rubens, as well as a large collection of 17th and 18th century miniature portraits, furnishings, and medieval armor.
Each one of these collections could be a whole days exploration, or a light walk through depending on your time and interest. They each have a nice café on site, and are centrally located very close to The British Museum and The British Library...two more amazing places to visit while in London.
Photos: Header: Pollack Museum Sign; Venice, 1735, Canaletto, from The Wallace Collection; A brass corset, English, 1800, from The Wellcome Collection. Above from left: The Wellcome Collection: Acupuncture Figurine, English, 1800's; Set of Glass Eyes, English 1870-1920; Pollack's Toy Theatre, 1800's; The Wallace Collection: Egyptian Mosque Lamp, 1350; German Armor, 1525.