Little Treasures: Small Museums in London

Small is definitely beautiful in this selection of unusual, bijoux museums in London.

It’s no secret that London is home to some of the biggest and best museums in the world, including the British Museum, National Gallery and Natural History Museum. But sometimes it’s nice to escape the crowds and head inside one of London’s smaller treasure troves.

Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising

Take a trip down memory lane inside the wonderful Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising, near Portobello Road Market. It might seem like a rather unusual subject for a museum, but few things evoke more nostalgia in us than the sight of a poster, ad, fad or fashion from our younger years. Inside you’ll find more than 12,000 original items including Rimmel cosmetics from the 1890s, First World War Oxo Cubes and a 1970s Chopper bike, plus a ‘time tunnel’ of consumer culture, from the Victorian era to today. The museum moved to larger premises in early 2016, and now boasts a charming garden with its own microclimate.

Museum of Brands, London, UK
You can see action heroes from your childhood—and much further back—at the Museum of Brands. (©Julian Hanford/Museum of Brands)

Leighton House

If you want to see what happens when a wealthy 19th century artist is left to create his own "private palace of art", then step inside Leighton House in Holland Park. This purpose-built former home and studio for Lord Leighton is a work of art in itself. Inside you’ll find a stunning collection of his works, plus the striking Arab Hall filled with his magnificent assortment of 16th century Islamic tiles and intricate mosaics on walls, ceilings and floors. Leighton lived alone here and you can visit his bedroom, upstairs.

Leighton House, London, UK
Admire the intricate artistry of Leighton House's Arab Hall. (©Will Pryce)

Cartoon Museum

Situated in the heart of Bloomsbury, this museum is home to British cartoon and comic art from the 18th century to the present day. Don’t let its small size deceive you—inside you’ll find more than 6,000 books and comics, a permanent collection with examples of the golden age of caricature. You'll see why Britain is renowned for its political satire, when you see its some of the treasures from its permanent collection. Enjoy original artwork from the founding fathers of much-loved comics, including David Law—creator of Dennis the Menace—and Frank Hampson—Dan Dare. 

Wellcome Collection

Named after its Victorian founder, pharmacist Sir Henry Wellcome, whose passion for medicine led him to collect more than a million objects, the Wellcome Collection is a curious attraction. Explore the history of medicine and its impact on our lives through exhibits spanning six centuries. Highlights include a Peruvian mummy and a robot used in the human genome project. There are also some eye-popping medical implements he collected from around the world, sure to make you relieved that they’re not in use any more!

Wellcome Collection, London, UK
Relax in the Wellcome Collection's reading room. (©Wellcome Collection)

William Morris Gallery

In the buzzing neighbourhood of Walthamstow in northeast London—easy to get to on the Victoria line—is the William Morris Gallery, a real gem. This 18th century Georgian building, in the lush Lloyd Park, is the former home of Morris, the famous Arts and Crafts designer. Its permanent exhibition is devoted to his life and works, with stunning examples of his designs. You may recognise his inspiration for textile prints in the department store Liberty. You can also see Morris’ political and philanthropic work as a socialist and activist, plus his poetry and beautiful calligraphic creations. 

William Morris Gallery, London, UK
William Morris Gallery is inside the family's former home, in Lloyd Park. (©William Morris Gallery)

Sir John Soane's Museum

When you head inside this charming house museum, your biggest dilemma is where to look first. His former home, a Georgian townhouse, is an Aladdin’s cave of treasures—every corner is crammed with treasures that the architect collected on his world travels.  Don’t miss his private collection of Hogarth cartoons, which a guide will show you. The first Tuesday of each month is the evening candlelight opening; be prepared to queue.