September 24, 2018

East London Museums: The Best You May Not Have Heard Of

London is well-known for its wonderful array of museums and there’s no better place to get your culture fix. But if you head away from the tourist hotspots, you’ll find some fascinating and less well-known East London museums.


But if you’re sick of visiting the same old tourist hotspots, it’s worth heading east to discover some real hidden gems.


Read on to find out more about the best East London museums you can enjoy this autumn.


1. Ragged School Museum, Bow


Step back in time with a trip to the Ragged School Museum in Bow, where visitors can experience first-hand what it was like to be a poor pupil in the Victorian East End.


The canalside museum is on the site of a ‘ragged school’, the first of which was set up in 1867 by Thomas Barnardo to ensure all children could gain a free basic education. The buildings were threatened with demolition in the 1980s but saved by passionate local campaigners, who then set about creating one of the most fascinating East London museums open today.


Children and adults alike can take part in a lesson – led by an actor in full dress – in the museum’s reconstructed Victorian classroom, including writing on chalkboards and learning by rote.  


Visit the Ragged School Museum.


2. Royal London Hospital Museum, Whitechapel


Visiting your doctor isn’t usually too exciting but the Royal London Hospital has something special up its sleeve. One of the more gruesome East London museums, it provides an enlightening insight into medicine through the ages.


A replica skeleton of the Elephant Man Joseph Merrick can be found alongside original documentation from his own stay, as well as displays featuring frightening surgical instruments and dentistry equipment from the past.


The museum also celebrates the lives of significant figures, including Edith Cavell who worked at the hospital as a nurse before travelling to Brussels to play her heroic part in the First World War.


Visit the Royal London Hospital Museum.


3. East End Women’s Museum


It’s not technically a museum as yet – the project is aiming to open its permanent home in Barking in 2019/20 – but there are already lots of things to discover.


The public project aims to share and record the stories of local women, and while you’re waiting for one of the newest East London museums to open, there are a number of exhibitions and events to whet your appetite.


Find out more about the East London Federation of the Suffragettes at the Women’s Hall project housed in Tower Hamlets Local History Library, where there are also various workshops and events taking place from now until October.


Visit the museum’s website for more details.


4. Hackney Museum


Has Hackney always been hipster? To find out more about the borough’s history, visit the Hackney Museum and learn all about its earliest residents.


As well as permanent displays revealing the changing face of Hackney, the museum hosts various temporary exhibitions – next up is Roots, Rhythms & Records where you can learn more about the role of African and Caribbean music in the area.


Visit the Hackney Museum.


5. V&A Museum of Childhood, Bethnal Green


For a real nostalgia hit, there’s no better way to spend an afternoon than meandering around the Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green.


Packed full of children’s toys and games from the 1600s to the present day, the venue offers a real insight into childhood through the ages – and you might even be able to spot your own favourite toy.


If you’re looking for the best East London museums for young ones, this certainly fits the bill thanks to the free activities on offer, including arts and crafts, tours and storytelling. From October, a major exhibition on fictional pirates will take pride of place in the museum and looks well worth a visit.


Visit the Museum of Childhood.


East London Museums: See for yourself


There’s no denying that Central London is home to some of the capital’s – and the country’s – best attractions, but to experience something a little bit different, venturing just slightly further afield and experiencing these East London museums will certainly pay off.


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