Secret London: V&A Museum of Childhood

London is a city full of inspiration for artists and designers, but often that inspiration lies in slightly unusual or hidden places.
Of course there’s the major attractions, the British Museum, National Gallery or the V&A. However, there are also plenty of much smaller but equally interesting museums dotted around the capital, one of which is the V&A’s smaller sister museum, the Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green.
The Museum of Childhood is home to one of the world’s finest collections of children’s toys, doll’s houses, games and costumes, all housed in a beautiful iron structure.
The museum’s origins, like so many others in London and the V&A itself, date back to the Great Exhibition of 1851.
Surplus items from the Great Exhibition were held in an iron framed building in Brompton, which became known as the South Kensington Museum. However, when this museum was redeveloped, the iron structure was offered to various London districts in order to assist in the formation of district museums. Only Bethnal Green took up the offer and in 1872 the building was moved east.
The impressive iron structure is now surrounded by a red brick exterior which display beautiful murals designed by F W Moody and created with the assistance of female students of the South Kensington Museum Mosaic Class. Inside, there is a fish scale marble floor, which was laid by female inmates of Woking Goal.
For fashion enthusiasts, there are over 6000 children’s garments and accessories, highlights including a war time patchwork dress, a highland suit and a stunning 18th century Chinese silk dress.
Whilst there is a dedicated display for clothing, there are clothes dotted all around the museum – and not just for people. The museum also holds the largest collection of dolls in the UK, which feature beautiful miniature outfits.

My favourite collection though, has to be the puppets, which have been sourced from across the world. There are amazing bunraku puppets, dating from the later part of the 19th century which feature beautifully embroidered, traditional Japanese costumes.

You wouldn’t necessarily think of somewhere like the Museum of Childhood when looking for design or fashion inspiration, but there is so much here to explore.
It’s one of London’s lesser known attractions, but nevertheless a wonderful place to wonder round and best of all, it’s free.