One of the many things London is well-known for is its museums. In particular the large and very interactive Natural History and Science Museums are popular amongst tourists and locals alike. However, nearby to these museums, almost opposite them in fact, is the Victoria and Albert museum. Slightly less well known than the other two, this museum houses remnants of human cultural history, including exhibits related to architecture, theatre, and art to name but a few. It’s a massive collection of artefacts that documents very well the last few hundred years.
Named after Queen Victoria, who opened it in 1857, the museum has been going for over 150 years and was built as a rebranding of an already large collection, owned by Henry Cole. The collection had previously been housed on a different site. The name was not actually changed to the Victoria and Albert Museum, or V&A until 1899 however, since this was when Queen Victoria made her last public appearance, at the laying of the foundation stone of the new Aston Webb building. At the time, Queen Victoria actually wanted it to be called just the Albert Museum, as a tribute to her husband. Early in the museum’s life, it was kept open late into the evening in order to attract the greatest possible audience and it was the first museum in the world to use gas lighting in order to stay open later. It was also the first museum worldwide to include a restaurant for its visitors. This restaurant had first, second and third class menus in order to cater for everyone’s price range. Originally, London’s Science Museum was also part of the V&A, until in 1909 it was given separate museum status.
There are so many collections at the museum today that it caters for all interests. Amongst my favourites are the theatre collection, which features costumes from some of the west-ends best shows and a variety of designs for stage sets, and the architecture section which features some amazing models and a look at the materials used in different buildings throughout time. Within this section, there are also some model rooms to walk through designed to show you the typical architecture and design of rooms through history. The fashion, furniture and textiles sections too offer a very in-depth look at culture throughout time as you walk through rooms crowded with unique objects. If there’s a museum in the UK that even comes close to giving a history of the human race, this one is it.
Currently the museum has several extra exhibitions being displayed. These include ‘Fabric of India’, a more in-depth look at materials from India, their production and their cultural relevance, ‘Luxury’, which considers how our definition of luxury changes throughout time, and what it means to own luxury items, and ‘Shoes – pleasure and pain’, which looks at how shoe design has changed throughout time. The museum also offers a learning centre, and several learning trails for younger children, or those young at heart, which offer a more hands-on experience.
Your interest in this museum will certainly depend on what kind of things you generally enjoy, but considering it covers many different aspects of human life, and across many different cultures, hopefully you’ll find something that catches your interest. More than anything, I’m just impressed by the sheer scale of the place and the amount of objects it has to offer. This museum makes a great day trip, and if you want to see a good overview of the exhibits, then you’ll certainly need the whole day, but another option is to spend half the day here and half the day in one of the other well-known London museums, which should be easy with two of the best just next door.
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