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V&A Museum of Childhood

Watching my kids crank the back of a two-metre wind-up robot after checking out a woolly 18th-century bathing costume, I realize that we’ve all wound up on the right side of history. Sure, we can all appreciate the Jacobean rocking horse (one of England’s oldest surviving versions) among the other relics of childhoods past on display here. More fun for the budding equestrians in the lineup is a ride on its modern cousin in the museum’s makeshift paddock.

V&A Museum of ChildhoodPhoto: David Grandorge

The original 19th-century museum, built to bring greater awareness of Britain’s cultural heritage to East London – and to house collections left over from the Great Exhibition – changed its focus in the 1920s after a curator noticed that bored, noisy children were forever disrupting the proceedings. Gradually, he amassed child-friendly collections from across the country and the colonies – this before the days of eBay. Then, a decade ago, Canadian architect Adam Caruso, in partnership with Peter St John of London-based Caruso St John, built a new entrance foyer and opened up the space in the centre of the museum to make the shop and café – where the highchair to adult chair ratio is steady – more accessible.

Porcelain dolls and faded game boards are still mounted upstairs – along with a stash of action figures, teddy bears and toy cars going back to the 1600s – but now they’re accompanied by hands-on exhibits. Antiquated building toys like Minibrix and Lincoln Logs are displayed behind glass while a Lego table sits out in the open with buckets of bits to snap together. Dollhouses dating back to King George III overlook a play kitchen with mini copper pots. While I join other parents by the Victorian christening gowns, the kids play dress-up with bloomers, bonnets and capes. We nearly knock over the stand-alone puppet theatre with our dramatic zeal and play Studio 54 with the jukebox. And when my kids rip off their shoes and dive into the sandbox, I recline in a canvas deck chair and wonder why I ever spent a Saturday anywhere else.

Cambridge Heath Rd., 44-20-8983-5200

V&A Museum of ChildhoodPhoto: V&A Museum of Childhood

Fun Fact
A recent exhibition contained artifacts confiscated from 150 London schools over three decades, including friendship bracelets, Super Balls, playing cards and troll dolls.

Lunch Break
Bistrotheque, a converted warehouse, has a busy weekend brunch with Bellini pitchers for the adults and half-dishes for the kids. Disregard the white tablecloths; it’s casual enough for families, and a pianist plays pop tunes between noon and 3 p.m.

23-27 Wadeson St., 44-20-8983-7900

Souvenir
Noah’s Ark A5 Notebook, covered with a 1948 J H Birtwhistle design from the V&A Collections, £4 (about $7).

Tags

CHILDREN     FAMILY TRAVEL     LONDON     MUSEUMS    

Comments… or add another

NELSON CHEY

Friday, July 11th 2014 01:52
I would like to visit every museum in London, England.
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