diamond geezer

 Sunday, October 25, 2009

An alphabetical journey through the capital's museums
Twickenham Museum

Location: 25 The Embankment, Twickenham TW1 3DU [map]
Open: Tue, Sat 11am-3pm (& Sun, 2pm-4pm)
Admission: free
Brief summary: historical riverside Richmond
Website: www.twickenham-museum.org.uk
Time to set aside: less than half an hour

There are several small local museums sprinkled around the London suburbs, each telling the story of their neighbourhood to anyone who cares to pop in. Southwest London has a fair few, including historical hideaways in Richmond and Kingston-upon-Thames. But I went to Twickenham, purely because it started with the letter T. It was either there or to the tiny Twinings Museum in the Strand. I might have misjudged.

Twickenham MuseumTwickenham Embankment is a very pleasant spot. It's located away from the High Street, down by the river, facing the midstream boathouses of white-gabled Eel Pie Island. This is a great place to feed the swans, or to watch the pleasure cruisers chug by, or to sit outside the Barmy Arms for an alfresco post-rugby ale. There's even a cascade dripping with sculpted naked ladies in the gardens of York House, which isn't something you see every day. As for Twickenham Museum, that's to be found in a Grade 2 listed townhouse up winding Church Lane, with proper Georgian windows and a pale green door. Occasionally a blue sign appears on the door, and another on the wall alongside, bearing a boldly welcoming "OPEN". Ten hours a week, the museum's volunteer curators await someone to chat to.

I earned a cheery hello from the jolly retired lady behind the desk, then walked into the alcove behind her desk to take a look at some photos of old Twickenham. There were a lot of photos of old Twickenham in the museum, and of Whitton, Teddington and the Hamptons. Each panel showed some buildings how they used to look, then how they look now, with some meaningful words inbetween. They're no doubt fascinating if you live hereabouts, but I don't, so I nipped round the alcove a little briefly. A grey-haired bloke walked in through the front door who I thought looked suspiciously like very-local inventor Trevor Baylis. Alas not, I was assured, just another volunteer popping in to say hello. Official visitor numbers for the day remained in single figures.

There was only the one room downstairs, bedecked with more old/new photos and a cabinet of TW1 curiosities. Programmes for Twickenham's Charter Day, old bits of printed paper, that sort of thing. Beneath the stairs a diving costume tableau provided a reminder of underwater stuntman 'Professor Cockles', who entertained riverside crowds here from the 30s to the 70s. Museumfolk reconstructed one of his dives a few years back, managing to retrieve a bunch of keys and an eel from the murky depths of the neighbouring Thames, because they're inventive like that.

Twickenham MuseumAnd there was only the one room upstairs. More history and more bygone photos - again rather more on the walls than in the cabinets. The whole northern-Thames-side stretch of Richmond borough was covered, including various elegant village-ettes I've never personally visited. Depressingly little on Eel Pie Island, I thought, given that it was a fascinating location and only 100 metres away. While I was investigating upstairs another couple of visitors nipped into the museum, and nipped round, and nipped back outside again. But I still had time to make one further discovery about the house itself, which is that 25 The Embankment had once been owned by Thomas Twining, the legendary 18th century leaf importer. My museum trip had come up trumps, as I bagged an unexpected two for T.
by train: Twickenham

OK, I confess, I was wholly underwhelmed by the Twickenham Museum. I couldn't fault the enthusiasm of the volunteers, and the old house had a bit of character, but the former hadn't really filled the latter with much interesting "stuff". Words and pictures yes, but you don't need to walk through the door to see those, they're just as easily absorbed on the museum's website. And the website's detailed, and fact-packed, and excellent. So go there instead.

T is also for...
» Tower Bridge Museum (I've been)
» Tower of London (I've been)
» Twickenham Rugby Museum

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