Perfect pocket guide to London museums & galleries
In our house, no trip to London is complete without a visit to one of the city’s many museums or galleries but we usually do the same old, same old. This is all about to change: I’ve just got my hands on a copy of the brilliant Museums & Galleries of London by Somerset author Abigail Willis.
This pocket guide has the inside gen on everything from cultural icons like the British Museum and the V&A to the smallest and most unusual places like 575 Wandsworth Road (ordinary house turned fretwork work of art) and the Hunterian Museum (where you can find those dentures). This 6th edition also includes the city’s newest offerings: have you heard of the Handel Museum’s new incarnation as Handel & Hendrix in London (composer GF Handel lived – and composed his Messiah – at 25 Brook Street; Jimi Hendrix lived at number 23)?
The first thing that struck me about the book is that it feels very good in the hand. It’s small – the same size as a standard paperback – about an inch thick and with a sturdy, fashionably matt-laminate cover which has fold-over flaps you can use to keep your page. You can just tell it’s going to be packed with useful info. Open it up and you won’t be disappointed.
The bulk of the book is given over to the city’s 150+ museums; there are 40 pages of the city’s public galleries and a smaller section devoted to commercial galleries; and all this across the width and the breadth of the capital, organised by geographical area. There were plenty I hadn’t heard of: the House of Illustration (opened in 2014 and the UK’s only public museum devoted to illustration); 18 Stamford Terrace (a time capsule of a perfectly preserved 19th century house); and the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology University College of London (does what it says on the tin).
Of course, there are at-a-glance practical details (address, opening hours, entrance charge, access, facilities, getting there, etc) at the top of each entry but the best thing about this guide are the descriptions which follow underneath. Elegantly written and packed with fascinating facts about the history, the collection, the context – you feel that Abigail knows each place intimately. This is information you can trust.
At the back of the book there’s a list of archives and libraries around London, useful addresses, a calendar of the main London art fairs, a regular index – and, very usefully, a subject index so you can find the museums and galleries which specifically interest you, or are, say, child-friendly.
The guide is well-designed, easy to use and illustrated with lots of enticing colour photos throughout. There are also floor plans for the main galleries. This is the sort of book you find yourself dipping into and reading – and then dipping into again – even if you’re not planning a trip up to London. Highly recommend.
Museums & Galleries of London by Abigail Willis, Metro Publications, 6th ed, 2016. £10.99.