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Tuesday 27 May 2014

The UK's Most Unusual Museums

Lace, elephant hearts, cuckoo clocks, we've got some very quirky tourist attractions. Hop in your car, put on your favourite holiday playlist, it's time to go on a very odd road trip. Here are the UK's most unusual museums.

Cuckooland, Cheshire
Who wouldn't want to see a giant collection of cuckoo clocks? This odd little museum in Cheshire houses over 600 authentic cuckoo clocks from the Blackforest region. You have to book in advance to visit this unusual display.

It's probably Margate's most famous landmark and is made up of 4.6 million shells that's said to have been discovered by accident in 1835. It's such an oddly beautiful museum but no one really knows what its purpose was. Make sure you stay in The Reading Rooms while you're in town.

This is such a special museum/art gallery (also pictured at the top of the feature). You walk around this 'abandoned house' in silence and it feels like someone has just left the room you enter. Like it's sort of frozen in time. You can visit any Sunday (and there are a few pricey candlelight tours each month) but it's particularly special at Christmas.

House of Marbles, Devon
What's more exciting - the world's largest marble run or a working glass blowing museum? The House of Marbles in Devon has both. And there's a fish marble that costs £800.

In a warehouse on an industrial estate is a secret door to your childhood. Where else can you play on old BBC computers until the plinky plunky music has driven you mad? You can play The Chaos Engine! And Day of the Tentacle (pictured, with a deliriously happy me just out of shot). On a computer that's 40 years old! Oh, and you can learn stuff about computers. Yeah, that too.

The Sewing Machine Museum, London
The crafty folk among you will like this one. There's a museum dedicated to sewing machines in south London that will have you itching to whip up an entire collection on your battered old Singer.

The Bakelite Museum, Somerset
Yes, a museum that's just about vintage plastic. No, it's interesting. Honestly.

The Irish Lace Museum, Co. Fermanagh
This might just be the prettiest and most delicate museum in the UK. It's a beautiful treasure trove of all things lacy and the shop is just as beautiful. Museum gift shops are the best.

Image from Lucy Downey on Flickr

The Pencil Museum, Cumbria
Is this the most famous unusual museum in the UK? Quite possible. After all, who doesn't want to see the world's biggest pencil? The museum is about much more than that, it turns out that the humble pencil has quite a history.

The Smallest House in Great Britain, Conwy
This tiny house in Conwy is officially the smallest in Great Britain, measuring just 72 inches across and 122 inches high. It was occupied until 1900, the last resident being local fisherman Robert Jones (who, rather brilliant, was actually 6 foot 3). Now it's quite the tourist attraction (for a handful of people at once) and it'll cost you £1 to visit.

Maeshowe Chambered Cairn, Scotland
Maeshowe isn't a typical museum. It's actually a Noelithic chambered tomb, built around 5000 years ago. It's a cavernous mass of passageways and caves, with a central tomb that Vikings broke into and graffitied in the 12th Century. Pesky damn Vikings. It's not easy to navigate and definitely not one for the claustrophobic - the tunnel to the entrance is a little over half a metre wide.

Avoncroft Museum, Worcester
Avoncroft houses The National Telephone Kiosk Collection which has 32 kiosks, including one that dates back to 1912. Of course there's a TARDIS in the collection. It's not the only telephone-themed museum. If you're in Wales, try and find the Telephone Kiosk Museum, a museum inside a phone box.

Image courtesy of Northampton Museums and Art Gallery

The Shoe Museum, Northampton
A museum dedicated to shoes! This is basically the dream, isn't it? The collection is huge and the museums regularly hosts special events. Want more fashion? Don't forget about the Fashion and Textile Museum in London (soon to finally have its own permanent exhibition) and there's a hat museum in Stockport.

Colman's Mustard Museum, Norwich
The mustard museum was only meant to be open for a year, but it proved to be so popular that it's now a permanent and very tasty exhibition.

Dog Collar Museum, Kent
The Dog Collar Museum is actually hidden in Leeds Castle and the collection now spans five centuries. At the moment this odd museum is closed but it's opening up again in summer. There's no word about whether or not dogs are allowed.

The Fan Museum, London
Some of the exhibits in The Fan Museum wouldn't look out of place in the V&A. It's located in a beautiful residential street in Greenwich and is a beautiful place to visit. They also serve afternoon tea which is well worth planning your trip around. If only to nose at the beautiful fan-shaped garden.

The Bubble Car Museum, Lincolnshire
Oh these little cars are so cute. They were powered by 700cc engines and there are 50 on display at the Bubble Car Museum. You can have a ride in one for a tenner.

The Bell Museum, Loughborough
It's all molten metal and fire and basically a museum of loud bashing noises and burning stuff. Frankly that sounds like a great day out. There's also a bell foundry in Whitechapel, should you happen to be nearer east London.

Image from Glen Bowmen on Flickr
The Museum of Witchcraft, Cornwall
Possibly the creepiest museum in the south, the Museum of Witchcraft has been open for the last 50 years and covers all aspects of witchcraft. Yes, that is a Oiuja board in the photo. We watched The Craft, you don't play around with those.

Brrrr. Still such a good film.

Grant's Museum of Zoology, London
One of the museums hidden in UCL's campus, this is the quirkiest of the bunch. Where else will you see a jar of moles and an elephant's heart in the same collection? You can also 'adopt' any of the exhibits, which is rather brilliant. Admission is free of charge but you can only visit between 1-5pm Monday to Saturday. Visit John Soane's Museum and The Hunterian for more creepy London exhibits. Keep an eye on the events at Barts Pathology, the museum isn't open to the public but you can still see the collections at the events, often sponsored by Hendrick's Gin.

Any more? Check out London's Museum of Brands and Packaging, Teapot Island in Kent, the Gnome Reserve in Devon, the British Lawnmower Museum in Merseyside, Kelvedon Hatch (a secret nuclear bunker in Essex), Verdant Works in Dundee (a museum all about erm... jute), the Pram Museum in Rugby and Wycombe Museum, in erm... Wycombe - fondly known as the chair museum.


  1. Love this list! Lots of days out to be had. Where is the top image from? Is it Dennis Severs too? You'd think I'd remember.

    1. Yes it is! We went at Christmas, so it looked even more magical.

    2. Ah, I was distracted by all the Christmas. That explains it!

  2. What a great collection of museums! That's my summer months sorted out!!!

  3. Last paragraph are all faves of mine! You might like this book- Molly basically has my dream job

    1. When I was in South Tyrol I went to an art installation spread over four disused war bunkers. It wasn't finished when I went and it was the most chilling museum I've ever been to.

  4. Barometer World ( in Devon is pretty awesome too; we detoured on holiday once cos we saw a sign and thought it sounded amazing/ridiculous! You have to ring a doorbell to be let in and there's a chap in charge who likes to tell you about how he lets the leeches drink his blood. Nice!

    1. Oh I haven't heard of that one! Devon does seem to have more than its fair share of odd tourist attractions.

  5. Two words: Horniman Museum. Not only does it have a chucklesome name, it also has the most bonkers random collection of stuff, including an inaccurately stuffed walrus (who doesn't have a name, but who I like to call Trevor).

    1. I very nearly included it, I did. But as quirky as it is, I think there are others in London (and indeed the UK) more unusual.

  6. And how about the wonderful Quilt Museum in York?

    1. That sounds excellent. Quilts are snuggly.

  7. I am a museum geek and get to work in one everyday so of course I like to spend my free time in them too! I urge you to read Hunter Davies book 'Behind the Scenes at the Museum of Baked Beans: My Search for Britain's Maddest Museums'

    1. Ooh thanks Anon, I'll definitely check that out. Which is your favourite museum? One on the list or another one we haven't mentioned?

  8. Wow - got to love a gnome museum haven't you!? Need to arrange a trip to take in many of these gems...

    1. I know! I love how special the tourist attractions are across the country. I'm sure there are enough that I didn't mention for a sequel post.

  9. I've been to the Lawnmower Museum in Southport. Fantastic. Upstairs in a lawnmower shop! They have the lawnmowers of the last hangman in the UK, Hilda Ogden and Richard & Judy, amongst many others.


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