If the mention of a trip to the museum makes you think of stuffy exhibitions and school trips, well think again. This year Museums at Night in London is gaining an autumn edition (on the same weekend as Halloween in London, October 30-31 2015), with a series of after-hours events at some of the capital’s biggest museums and quirky attractions. Pick some new favourites from the events below and sign up for a seriously special one-off experience.
Bank of England Museum
The museum tells the story of the Bank of England, from its origins in 1694, as a national bank to fund the war with France, to the present.
As well as ancient coins and original artwork for British banknotes, the museum offers a rare chance to manhandle a real 13kg gold bar (closely monitored, more’s the pity, by CCTV).
‘Kenneth Grahame and the Bank of England’ is a permanent display commemorating the non-literary career of ‘The Wind of Willows’ author, who worked at the Bank of England for 30 years, and there’s a small exhibit exploring Handel’s financial dealings with the bank, as well as a reconstruction of Sir John Soane’s 1793 Bank Stock Office – Soane was the bank’s original architect.
The house where Benjamin Franklin – scientist, diplomat, philosopher, inventor and Founding Father of the United States – lived for nearly 16 years between 1757 and 1775 has recently been restored. It’s home to a centre for academic research concerning Benjamin Franklin and a science centre where school parties can replicate some of his famous experiments.
The house is not a museum in the conventional sense, but it can be explored as part of a ‘Historical Experience Show’ during which an actress in character as the daughter of Franklin’s landlady Margaret Stevenson conducts small groups around the Grade I-listed building, which is beautifully restored but unfurnished apart from the odd chair or desk.
Projections and recorded sound conjure up Franklin’s London years, recount his many achievements and flesh out his personal life. It’s a short, intense experience (the tours last around 45 minutes); you’ll come away with a strong sense of the man and the times in which he lived. As an alternative, tours on Mondays focus on the history of the building. Talks and family activities related to the house’s history are often organised.
Opening on Feb 19, this new museum promises a fascinating insight into mental illness, creativity and care for the mentally ill, stretching all the way back to the origins of Bethlem hospital (which became notorious as ‘Bedlam’) in 1247.
Bringing together the 40-year-old Bethlem Museum and Bethlem Gallery (opened in 1997) in a repurposed 1930s admin block, the new collection holds an extraordinary collection of art by people who lived with mental ilness – key works include Richard Dadd’s ‘Sketch of an idea for Crazy Jane’ (1855) and Louis Wain’s ‘Prenology’ (1911) – as well as some challenging artefacts: 19th-century manacles, chains, straitjackets; letters from visitors as far back as the 1700s.
Guarding the art deco staircase that leads into the museum are the statues of ‘Raving and Melancholy Madness’ by Caius Gabriel Cibber that flanked the gates of ‘Bedlam’ in the 17th century, when it was at Moorfields.
As well as permanent galleries, there will be a space for temporary exhibitions by ‘artists who have experienced mental difficulties’.
Dr Johnson’s House
Samuel Johnson’s home from 1748-1759 and the place where he compiled the first comprehensive English dictionary houses collections of pictures and period furniture.
Samuel Johnson released a critical edition of Shakespeare’s plays 250 years ago, and has been credited – along with his friend the actor David Garrick – with renewing scholarly and popular interest in the playwright in the eighteenth century.
This exhibition of prints, portraits and books from Dr Johnson’s House and private collections explores Johnson’s treatment of Shakespeare and the contributions of those in his circle. Teh exhibition is included in the price of admission.
Dulwich Picture Gallery
Lending weight to the idea that the best things come in small packages, this bijou gallery – the first to be purpose-built in the UK – was designed by Sir John Soane in 1811.
It’s a beautiful space that shows off Soane’s ingenuity with and interest in lighting effects. Dulwich displays a small but outstanding collection of work by Old Masters, offering a fine introduction to the baroque era through works by Rembrandt, Rubens, Poussin and Gainsborough.
It also has a fine programme of temporary exhibitions and live events and an appealing café.
The Fan Museum is dedicated to the history of handheld fans and the craft of fan making, with a collection of more than 3,000 specimens from all over the world, some dating from the eleventh century.
Housed in a pair of restored Georgain townhouses, only a small proportion of the collection is on display at any one time and it is rotated every four months or so. If you can come on a Tuesday or Sunday afternoon you can also take tea in the elegant Orangery.
Fan-making workshops and temporary exhibitions are also held at the Fan Museum –see the website for details.
The Freud Museum is in the house that was Sigmund Freud’s London home after he fled the Nazis in 1938. It is a time capsule, a small chunk of Hapsburg Vienna transported to Hampstead.
It contains the couch on which psychoanalysis was born, Freud’s study and library and his collection of Egyptian, Greek and Roman antiquities. Upstairs, a room is devoted to his psychoanalyst daughter Anna who lived and worked at the house until her death in 1982.
The Freud Museum is one of the few in London to have two blue plaques, one for Sigmund and the other for Anna. Films taken in the 1930s show Freud and his family at home and in the garden or walking the dogs.
What do you think about Museums at Night in London 2015?
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