Nestled away in Bethnal Green in East London is the V&A Museum of Childhood. Having opened on 24 June 1872, the museum originally displayed collections from the Great Exhibition. The building then reopened as the Museum of Childhood in 1974 under then-director Roy Strong.
Before my first visit, (I’ve now been numerous times), I wasn’t sure if I’d enjoy the V&A Museum of Childhood. I was in-part expecting a museum for children, rather than a museum about childhood. However, I was not disappointed. The museum has a good balance of interactives and engagement for children; even a sensory playground, while maintaining a strong footing in social history. The galleries are an in-depth exploration of society throughout history and how childhood has been perceived within those histories. There is of course, a pretty vast collection of toys. The four main galleries: The Moving Toys Gallery, the Creativity Gallery, the Childhood Galleries and the Front Room Gallery are light and airy, with plenty of space between cases to explore.
What struck me most about the V&A Museum of Childhood is the public transparency of their contemporary collecting. One of the galleries has an Elsa doll from Frozen with label detailing the importance of contemporary collecting. This public explanation of museum practice in such an accessible way was not something I’ve noticed in a museum before.
The current temporary exhibition, A Pirate’s Life for Me, on until 22 April 2019, is the ‘first major exhibition to focus on fictional pirates and their influence in popular culture and imagination’. The V&A Museum of Childhood has a dynamic series of temporary exhibitions. Recently, I enjoyed visiting the On Their Own: Britain’s Child Migrants (Closed 12 June 2016) exhibition that told the stories of 100,000 British children who were sent across the world in the years of 1869 and 1970 on a number of migration schemes.
The V&A Museum of Childhood is one I would recommend to London visitors looking for something a bit different from the major tourist museums. The building itself is worth the recommendation, but the collection tugs at visitor’s nostalgia for the toys of their youth, while displaying a fascinating story of the social history of childhood.Contact Information:
Chloe Turner is the Visitor Services and Volunteer Coordinator at The Wiener Library for the Study of the Holocaust & Genocide, in which she assists with public programming and manages the volunteer programme. She is also the Volunteer Manager for Girl Museum. Chloe obtained her MA in Museum Studies from the University of Leicester, in which the primary area of research has focused on the social impact of museums.