From the quirky and nostalgic to the extraordinarily niche, there’s no shortage of wonderfully unusual museums to explore in Britain. Here are five top picks.
This article was first published in the May/June 2023 issue of IQ, the magazine exclusively for British Mensa members. Words: Katie Cutforth
1. The Museum of Brands, London
Advertising buffs could while away hours exploring this quirky museum in Notting Hill, London, which is home to more than 12,000 items. The Museum of Brands displays objects of consumer culture from the Victorian era to the present day, including groceries, toys, household items, posters and more.
Arranged in chronological order, the collection of seemingly mundane objects offers a fascinating view into the lives of ordinary people over the past two centuries and the way brands reflect society’s evolution over time. If you’re after history, nostalgia or design inspiration, the Museum of Brands has a bit of everything.
2. Derwent Pencil Museum, Keswick
Located in Keswick, home of the world’s first pencil, the Derwent Pencil Museum celebrates the history of this most useful device. Keswick made its mark on the pencil industry owing to the large amounts of pure graphite found in the area. The first pencil factory was opened in the town in 1831, growing over time to become the Derwent Cumberland Pencil Company.
Today, visitors can enter a replica of the graphite mine that fuelled the pencil industry over 300 years ago. The museum also displays one of the world’s largest colouring pencils, which is yellow, measures 7.91m in length and weighs 446kg.
3. Dog Collar Museum, Kent
This truly obscure collection is (perhaps unsurprisingly) the world’s only museum of dog collars. Located in Leeds Castle, Kent, the Dog Collar Museum comprises over 130 items of neckwear spanning five centuries.
The collars on display make the canine fashion of today look truly bland: from spiked German iron collars from the 16th century and ornate golden neckpieces of the Baroque period to more recent examples crafted from plastic and beads. An eccentric and unique assemblage, the Dog Collar Museum gives insight into the remarkable relationship between people and their canine companions over the past 500 years.
4. House of Marbles, Devon
Your inner child may well delight in a visit to the House of Marbles. Located on the edge of Dartmoor National Park, it contains four quirky museums, a toyshop and an operational glassworks. The Marble Museum houses exquisite glass marbles from across the ages, as well as earlier examples crafted from stone and clay. There you can learn all about the history of this classic toy, which is thought to date all the way back to the Roman empire.
Visitors young and old can also try out the museum’s interactive marble runs, including the giant ‘Snooki 2000’, which is believed to be the largest permanent marble run structure in the UK.
5. Surgeons’ Hall Museums, Edinburgh
If you’re squeamish, look away now. Surgeons’ Hall Museums in Edinburgh is home to one of the oldest and largest historic pathology collections in the world, taking visitors on a fascinating tour of the history of medicine in the western world.
Fans of the macabre will relish wandering the grand halls of this museum, which is filled to the brim with curious, bizarre and sometimes gruesome artefacts. Discover dental pliers from the 1700s, preserved gangrenous fingers and even a wallet made from the skin of the infamous body-snatcher William Burke.