Museum of Child­hood

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On Saturday morn­ing I did a zine work­shop for the Brighton Popu­lar Educa­tion Collect­ive who run a day of free classes and lectures on things like bike mech­an­ics, sewing and local history one day a month. It was the same work­shop I’ve done loads of times, and it always seems to go down well. This time I had both a lady in her 50s and a very enthu­si­ast­ic boy of about 7 there.

They didn’t pay me to do the class, but they did buy me the train tick­et. I ended up back at Victor­ia at lunch­time, and decided I should do some­thing in London on a whim. I didn’t really have any money so I decided to go to a museum because they’re free and I love museums.

I haven’t been to the Museum of Child­hood in Beth­nal Green since 2003 and they’ve had a big refit and changed the displays since then. I really enjoyed it then before the refurb, and I enjoyed it again after­wards. I’m not one of those people constantly yearn­ing for their idyll­ic child­hood, but I am fascin­ated by the history of toys and pack­aging design, and there was plenty of inter­est­ing stuff in the museum. I hadn’t real­ised how many toys I had from the 60s and 70s. I’ve got about a million cous­ins, and no-one in my family ever throws anything away and a lot of them are obsessed with second-hand bargains, so there was a lot of hand-me-downs and hand-me-arounds going on. My parents had a big house (we used to rent out two of the bedrooms) so there was plenty of room for junk. Look­ing at the museum I real­ised that I had loads of 60s Sindies and Barbies, but they just hung around in a box until they were given to my cous­in Sarah because I didn’t have the slight­est interest in dollies, only ponies and dino­saurs. I wonder what happened to them. I used to have this rather elab­or­ate Sindy house sitting on the land­ing that came off my cous­in Jasmine (her of the infam­ous Burberry push­chair and daugh­ter named Paris Tallu­lah). I really didn’t have the slight­est interest in it. I was busy putting sticky backed plastic on toilet rolls and going round the garden with a micro­scope. There was also a hand­made doll­s­house at my grand­par­ents’ house that my grandad made for me to share with my young­er cous­ins Lauren and Jody. Again, I really wasn’t inter­ested, although it was a very nicely made house.


At the entrance to the museum they had two art exhib­i­tions. The first one was a kind of art exchange between local artists and ones in Bangladesh and India. I really liked the colours and textiles




My favour­ite was this huge detailed collage piece by Thurle Wright



The second was giant photo­graphs of odd look­ing dolls from the museum’s collec­tion.


These two partic­u­larly caught my eye.


All the better for eating you with my dear.


I star­ted with the optic­al toys, because they fascin­ate me.


I wish film strips had still been a common thing when I was a kid, but I guess them seemed a little point­less with video play­ers being so common in the 80s.


“polar­oid” camera for toddlers, card­board pictures included.



Zoetrope strips of birds, bears, and fold­ing travel pirates.


I love this kind of crap.


I also love toy theatres and dioramas. After I went to the museum I went and had a look in Benjamin Pollock’s in Covent Garden, a fant­ast­ic toyshop that special­ises in toy theatres. As I was coming down the stairs there was a very plummy older couple in front of me. The woman was wear­ing what I can only describe as a daytime opera cape in fleece and the man was hold­ing his phone in front of his face in that way only older people who don’t under­stand mobiles and need stronger glasses do. He answered the phone, had a brief conver­sa­tion of 2 sentences or so, and then told his wife “It’s Peter, he told me he’d pick up Edmund and meet us at the station at 6”. I think they might have been the Narnia parents, and I couldn’t bring myself to say that their chil­dren were going to die in a horrif­ic train crash, all except their lipstick-loving hussy of an older daugh­ter.


Look at this fant­ast­ic mermaid and two-headed lion filled toy theatre. I want. It was huge.


No mini­ature shell bras here.


I liked some­thing about the crap­pi­ness of this castle. It looks like a cheap comic become 3d.


Want this puppet.


The Soup Dragon’s lizard broth­er.


Asian shad­ow puppets are also amaz­ing.


I didn’t spend much time in the doll and doll­house section, because there was other stuff I wanted to see more. I love this doll’s ward­robe though, look at the detail.


I could’ve sworn there was a sylvani­an famil­ies house you could get that looked exactly like this (I had the sylvani­an famil­ies log cabin. I also drew on the mouse’s face with cray­on and then got upset when it wouldn’t come off the flocked finish). This is a hand­made victori­an one though.


Toy flesh.


Sindy. Nicer face than Barbie.

kenner blythe

70s Blythe. I make an excep­tion for Blythes. I haven’t got a 70s one, but I have got three modern ones, one brunette, one redhead, and one with pastel pink hair.


I tried and failed many times as a kid to do magic tricks. Once me & my cous­in Chris decided to put on a magic show for his sister and mum with a Paul Daniels kit he’d got for christ­mas and a book of knock knock jokes. The magic tricks didn’t work and the jokes weren’t funny. They were polite and clapped though.


I can’t decide if this is creepy or amaz­ing and if I want one or not. I don’t dare google “play sack”.


OWL SACK! The beak shape is a hole for the face.


I was very much into spiro­graph and I’ve still got some (small) bits now which I used to decor­ate issue 8 of my zine. Whirly wizard is an even better name and box design though.


I would defin­itely have been into this as a kid. I was never into stamp collect­ing though, it seemed too precious. I prefer to use stamps to send people letters. I’ve always really liked the 1960s pre-decim­al­isa­tion pennies with the modern­ist ships on them, they feel a bit like Blue Peter money or some­thing.


A chem­istry set was one of the few things I wasn’t allowed, much to my chag­rin (I was very into science, I had a micro­scope I loved and I devoured books about evol­u­tion and how to produce your own slides and make plaster casts of anim­al foot­prints). My older sister caused havoc with hers and managed to cause this indelible brown stain on the kitchen ceil­ing that would slowly ooze through any paint. I’m not sure what exactly she did to cause that result. It double burned, me not being allowed one, because my favour­ite book was about kids who get a magic chem­istry set and get into all kinds of amus­ing and surreal scrapes. (I would still recom­mend the book)


I like to imagine these two owls have a fraught marriage. Speccy owl is always leav­ing marmalade on the Tele­graph and Frowny owl cooks horrible worthy things with boiled lentils.


Can never have too many owls.



Bear with a balalaika. What more can you ask for?


I used to have a very simil­ar satchel, except made out of plastic. I wish I still had it. I’d like to get a satchel, but they’re all leath­er, and I don’t use it. I still have a canvas army bag from my schooldays that I contin­ue to use. I remem­ber having a debate with my friend Chloe aged 6 or so. I claimed my satchel was better because it was shini­er and not made out of anim­als (wasn’t yet allowed by the parents to be a veget­ari­an, but I wished), she said her leath­er one was better because it was biode­grad­able (except explained in 6 year old terms of melt­ing). You can see what kind of recyc­ling, radio 4 listen­ing parents she had (I was all for saving the whales by buying body shop soap myself too). I also had a great Puddle Lane bag. It later went to a char­ity shop as I got older. When I was 15 or so I saw an indie girl around town with my bag. The exact one with the pen leak mark in the same place. I didn’t go up to her and say anything, because what do you do in that situ­ation? It was a good bag, anyway.


Want this mickey mouse shirt from the 70s, even though I don’t even wear white or red.


This swiss costume is made of lovely fabric.


Look at all the details.


This makes my type­set­ting student’s heart rejoice.


Dipthongs, dipthongs, dipthongs. It’s a good word.


Ideal for writ­ing ransom demands.

There are activ­ity stations in each section with hands on things like dress­ing up costumes, games and quizzes to keep young­er chil­dren occu­pied. I kept running into this glee­ful little girl dressed up as a potato, and kept wonder­ing if it was really a potato suit. It really was. They had a food exhib­i­tion with veget­able suits to play in.


I’m really obsessed with vintage food pack­aging. The fact that print­ing tech­no­logy meant that you had to use flat planes of colour for cost effect­ive­ness really gives them the design edge over the cluttered modern designs full of tacky colour gradi­ents and outside glow in letters.


I’ve got a few taschen books on the topic. My favour­ite two are the one on children’s food pack­aging design of the 50s and 60s and the one on east german product design.





Next time I have a party, I’m using Wombles plates, alright? I was a big Wombles fan. My older broth­er had been a big fan in the early 70s, and as I said before, noth­ing was ever thrown away. I had all the books, and all the albums on vinyl, and the cartoon was always being repeated on tv. I couldn’t quite decided if I wanted to be Orinoco Womble or Snufkin from the Moom­ins when I grew up ( in my spare time from being an archaeologist/​famous plas­ti­cine model­ler of course). I’m not sure what that says about me as a kid or now.

After going to the museum, I chased around the bit between Soho and Covent Garden fruit­lessly look­ing for the Photographer’s Gallery and wonder­ing why it used to be so easy to find. It turns out now to have both moved some­where else, and to be closed for refur­bish­ment. I did spot this magni­fi­cent second hand book­shop though, which special­ises in music hall regalia and books about the theatre.



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  1. This is all beau­ti­ful stuff! I found your site because, rather lazily, I was look­ing for the words to “Fanzine Ynfytyn” to put on my Welsh blog.Serendipity in action.
    Anyway, I've put a link to you on there, so expect an avalanche of at least 2 extra hits any time now.
    if you want to see some terrible photo­graphy, by the way, you could look at mostly­bird­ing­with­ray and feel super­i­or.
    Look­ing forward to read­ing more…. ray

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