Tag Archives: London museums

Giant deserves a watery grave

The Hunterian Museum in Lincoln’s Inn Fields holds collections of human and non-human anatomical things as varied from a pig’s penis to the oesophagus of a whale, the museum also owns the skeleton of a famous giant. The skeleton once on display stood seven foot seven inches tall in its display case and towered over the rest of the museum’s collection. This is, or was, Charles Byrne, a genetic giant who suffered from the growth disorder now known as acromegaly.

The Hunterian Museum, currently undergoing renovation, and not set to reopen until 2022 has announced that “plans for all the displays in the new museum will be issued in due course”.

Which begs the question as to the museum’s giant who wasn’t meant to be there at all. Byrne didn’t want to spend an eternity on public display. From the rural Ireland of his upbringing to the streets of London, he had spent his whole life exhibiting himself. People paid to visit him in his London lodgings and he performed tricks in public, like using street lamps to light his pipe. After years of making a living from his remarkable height, he was desperate that his bones did not endure the same indignity. Byrne’s Will explicitly stated that he wished to be buried at sea in a heavy lead coffin.

The Hunterian has made no secret of the fact that they’d come by the skeleton illegally and against the man’s last wishes. The museum’s founder, the surgeon John Hunter, had followed Byrne closely when he moved to London. As the giant’s health deteriorated and he began to drink, Hunter moved in like a vulture. When Byrne contracted tuberculosis and died aged just twenty-two, it was Hunter’s men who waylaid the giant’s coffin on its way from London to Margate. The undertaker was bribed and the body returned to the surgeon.

Instead of the anonymity of the North Sea, the giant ended up immersed in Hunter’s grim cauldron, where the flesh was literally boiled off his bones. Once reduced, the skeleton was pinned together and put on display, black numerals stamped on it like a prisoner’s identification printed on bone. Byrne has endured the ignominy of his glass cabinet for over two hundred years.

Any scientific value the body once possessed has long since been quarried, DNA from the teeth analysed, and countless photographs and X-rays were then taken to document every inch of the skeleton. Even if the museum one day honours Byrne’s final wishes, you could say the damage has already been done.

Featured image: Choppy cold grey sea by coolwallpapers (CC BY-SA)

Disappearing ink

Before the advent of the digital age words were written on paper – imagine that dear reader – putting pen to paper to write a letter, a novel or sign an official document and Finchley was the epicentre of the inky business.

Prior to the invention of ink in about 1832 by Dr. Henry Stephens much of office life was spent mixing ink and cleaning nibs.

[S]tephens’ famous Blue-Black Writing Fluid revolutionised the process of writing and made his family’s fortune. When he commenced manufacturing what was described as:

. . . carbonaceous black writing fluid, which will accomplish the so long-desired and apparently hopeless task of rendering the manuscript as durable and as indelible as the printed record

Henry Stephens died suddenly in Farringdon Station and his son Henry Charles Stephens turned his father’s invention into a very successful business. Known as ‘Inky’ Stephens, he built a factory in Aldersgate which later moved to Holloway Road and then to Gillespie Road near to Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium.

Because the Blue-Black Writing Fluid was indelible he managed to get the British Government to make it mandatory that any ink used for legal documents and ship’s log books must be indelible, a requirement still in force today.


Inky Stephens bought Avenue House in North Finchley, with its 10 acres of ground in 1874 as his family home adding to the 1859 built property a coach house and stable block. It was said that ‘Inky’ Stephens was in the smoking room at the highest part of Avenue House when he looked out at the view and decided to fit the estate to the people of Finchley.

Stephens’ House and Gardens with an arboretum containing some of the most unique trees to be found in London, walled garden and a small museum containing antique ink bottles, drawing pencils with the history of the Grade II listed property, with memorabilia of Henry ‘Inky’ Stephens is open Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday 14.00-16.30.

Heading to the South Kensington Museums

In Kensington stands three of London’s finest museums: the Science Museum, the Natural History Museum and the V&A. Each has a different focus, and can be incorporated into a single visit, or visited separately for an interesting, entertaining school trip.

If you’re travelling inside London, it’s easy enough to hop on the Piccadilly, Circle or District London Underground line to get to South Kensington.

[W]ith its underground tunnel connecting the tube station to the museums you’re assured of a rain free day whatever the weather holds. If you’re coming from outside London, you can either get a train or hire a coach to London. There are dedicated coach drop-off points around the museums, so your class can be dropped practically to the door of your chosen museum for easy, hassle-free travel.

Whether you’re looking for a trip in time, visiting the arts or finding out just how things work, there is something suitable for everyone. Read on for which sections and exhibits are recommended for a school trip and other helpful hints and tips, such as where to go for lunch afterwards!

The National Science Museum


The Science Museum contains a huge range of interactive science displays and artefacts relating to a vast variety of science topics. From the human body to outer space to the science of technology, the Science Museum is brimming with things to see and do. The IMAX 3D cinema is a hit with all children, and there are lots of games and ways to get involved with the displays to make learning more fun.

There is always a new and exciting exhibit on for the children and other visitors to learn more about themselves and the world around them. The current exhibit is based on the Apollo lunar landings of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. With 3D computer animation that ‘sends you to the moon’ and realistic sights and scents of the atmosphere, it is a trip to space not many are likely to forget for some time.

The Natural History Museum


The Natural History Museum is perfect for Geography and History trips. Learn about everything from the way rocks are formed to what the different dinosaurs look like and everything in between. There is an exciting earthquake simulator to shake everyone up, and there are often fascinating nature photography exhibitions. Your class will love the moving demonstrations of how natural processes work, such as how ripples appear in rock, and there is an amazing display of crystals and rock formations, including an exquisite amethyst geode.

Staying with the special theme alongside the National Science Museum, currently, the Natural History Museum is showing Michael Benson’s ‘Otherworlds’. Hailed as a realistic flyby tour of the universe, it is a journey through space designed to highlight and explore the beauty of our solar system. For kids and classes of any age, it is not to be missed.

The Victoria & Albert Museum


The Victoria & Albert Museum (otherwise known as the V&A Museum) is a museum focused on art and design, with exhibitions ranging from fashion to furniture design. With art from around the world and one of the biggest ranges of artistic design products. This isn’t a conventional art gallery; your class can expect to find mesmerising pieces of jewellery, jaw-dropping architectural plans and some intriguing physical art pieces, such as dances and plays. This would make the perfect trip for an art or design class, either to learn more about the history of art or to make some sketches for a project.

For secondary school kids and college classes, why not put a bit of fun into your trip by visiting the exhibit; A Brief History of Underwear? Designed to highlight the relationships between underwear and fashion and what part it plays in defining sex, gender, and even morality, it is a controversial exhibit guaranteed to make you think. A little risky but perhaps very educational for the older students.

Plus there are a wide range of shops and restaurants nearby, although if you are really stuck for options you can always hop on the tube to nearby Earls Court or Shepherd’s Bush, where there are a huge selection of shops and restaurants where you can buy food. A lunch box is often recommended for school outings, but you never know when you might need to get to a restaurant.

Whatever topic you’re looking to cover on your school trip, the Kensington Museums are your best bet for something the children will be talking about for the rest of the year. They’ll learn and be entertained; what more can you ask for?

Article provided by Mike James, an independent content writer working together with Best London Coach Hire; the transport group’s specialist coach service covering London and the whole of the UK.

Deep Blue Cafe in the Science Museum by Heather Cowper (CC BY 2.0)
Entrance Hall Natural History Museum by Heather Cowper (CC BY 2.0)
Sculpture Gallery Victoria and Albert Museum by Heather Cowper (CC BY 2.0)


CabbieBlog-cabThis is a sponsored guest post for which CabbieBlog has received a fee. Proceeds from these articles help keep the wheels turning on this site offering free content for anybody with an interest in London. All links here conform with guidelines set out in Write a Post.

Shelling out for Easter-II

[P]art of the London’s treasure trove certainly rests in its supreme network of quixotic museums and art galleries. We all know about the Science Museum and Tate Modern but how about these small repositories of the wacky, weird and wonderful?

In our second selection of London’s hidden gems:

Old Operating Theatre

Old Operating Theatre

The only remaining 19th-century operating theatre in England sitting at the top of an old church. Inside you can watch demonstrations of surgical techniques and volunteer the kids to be ‘operated on’. The smells emanating from the herb garret which originally used to store and cure medicinal herbs just add to the atmosphere. In addition to the theatre, the museum contains exhibits and artifacts on early (and rather grisly) medical practices.
9a St. Thomas’s Street, London Bridge SE1 9RY
Every day 10.30-5


Bank of England Museum

Entered via a side door, this museum is housed in a replica Sir John Soane interior, the largest of its kind in the world. Child-friendly attractions, the museum tells the history of the Bank and our currency and for Dad there’s lots of stuff about forgery. The best exhibits are a gold bar you can pick up and a full set of NatWest piggy banks circa 1983.
Bartholomew Lane, Threadneedle Street EC2R 8AH
Monday to Friday 10-5. Admission free

Fan Museum

The Fan Museum

One of London’s most unique museums is to be found in a quiet street away from Greenwich’s more popular attractions. Housed in a pair of restored 18th century houses, the Fan Museum is home to the world’s finest collection of fans, dating from the 11th century to the present day. This surprising museum also features a Japanese garden and spectacular orangery tea room with a gorgeous mural don’t miss the fascinating gift shop.
12 Crooms Hill, Greenwich SE10 8ER
Tuesday to Saturday 11-5; Sunday 12-5

Royal London Museum

Royal London Hospital Museum

This strange museum is in the crypt of the Anglican church of Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel. If your older children love the macabre and medieval medical equipment, Elephant Man displays, famous false teeth and bladder stones are your bag, give this little gem some of your time.
Newark Street, New Road, Whitechapel E1
Tuesday to Friday 10-5. Admission free

Museum of brands

Museum of Brands

It might sound boring but the frank truth is that the Museum of Brands represents one of the most curious, off-the-wall destinations in all London. Love kitsch? This is the place to be. The collection of over 22,000 items covers: retro brands, toys, food products, household goods, magazines and even games. The museum even has a ‘time tunnel’, with brands from the Victorian era to today.
2 Colville Mews, Lonsdale Road, Notting Hill W11 2AR
Tuesday to Saturday 10-6; Sunday 11-5

Shelling out for Easter-I

[E]aster is nearly upon us and there you are with the kids at home and trying to decide how to amuse them. Shopping? Oxford Street will be like a rugby scrum. Sport? It will soon be wall to wall coverage of the Olympics. A museum? Last time you went to the British Museum they were bored out of their brains, there’s only so many dusty artifacts a teenager can take.

Well you are in luck, London is probably the most off-beat, quirky and eccentric city in the world, and where the Capital really shines is in those quiet nooks and secret haunts where few mainstream tourists tread.

In this first part of Easter treats here are five hidden eggs:

Thomas Crapper

Pimlico Plumbers museum of sanitary ware

This small museum pays homage to the essential part that sanitation plays in our lives, brought to you from London’s most famous plumbers. There are examples from Thomas Crapper’s invention to Art Deco the only thing missing is an original garderobe. Just don’t use the facilities.
Pimlico House, 1 Sail Street, Lambeth SE11 6NQ
Open at reasonable hours. Admission free


The Cartoon Museum

If you loved the comics of childhood: The Beano, The Dandy and Topper you are sure to enjoy Bloomsbury’s Cartoon Museum. Opened in 2006 by The Duke of Edinburgh (who loves the cartoonist art so much, he has his loo decorated with cartoons depicting himself), this small museum is dedicated to preserving British cartoons, comics and animation from early Punch to current favourites like Giles and Ronald Searle. With due deference to the Queen’s diamond jubilee, ‘Her Maj’ currently celebrates 60 years of her reign.
35 Little Russell Street, Bloomsbury WC1A 2HH
Tuesday to Saturday 10.30-5.30; Sunday 12-5.30

Kirkaldy Museum

Kirkaldy Testing Museum

One of London’s stranger museums is a must for anyone with a love of machines and engineering. This small museum houses David Kirkaldy’s 350-ton ‘All Purpose Testing Machine’, once used to test the strength of everything from bricks to concrete. If your offspring have the ambition to invent ‘stuff’ this is for you.
99 Southwark Street, Southwark SE1 0JF
Open on the first Sunday of each month. Admission free


Sherlock Holmes Museum

Only in London would you get a museum devoted to a fictional character. With the excellent recent television adaption a visit might prove popular. Housed in a Grade II listed lodging house in – where else – Baker Street which has been furnished as the apartment of Conan Doyle’s famous fictional detective and his friend Doctor Watson. The museum features waxworks, Victorian ephemera and a gift shop selling Sherlock Holmes collectibles.
221b Baker Street NW1 6XE
Every day 9.30-6

Magic Circle

Magic Circle Museum

Sawing the fair damsel in half or the never-ending coloured handkerchiefs, see some of the magic world’s most important memorabilia. As if by magic you can see the handcuffs used by Harry Houdini, the props used by Prince Charles during his induction into the mysterious Magic Circle and the largest collection of magic books in Europe. You will have to pull the rabbit out of a hat to enter, it is by appointment only.

12 Stephenson Way, Euston NW1 2HD
To book a visit: 0844 006 2500