To my shame I’ve never visited what was the Bethnal Green Museum of Childhood and is now the V&A Museum of Childhood. Tom informs me – as we step into the large open hall, with the shop and café in the middle, and exhibition space in the raised areas, on two floors, either side – that this place has changed a lot. I can imagine it has, and the exhibits are laid out in a modern, approachable and attractive way.
We dive right in to the left of the entrance, with books and bricks, dolls and action figures, sacks to dress up in and elaborate puppet theatres. One thing that feels very clear to me is the endurance of play – whether someone has a single, simple doll, or every item they could wish for: they still play. In this gallery frequently it is the simple things I’m drawn to – wooden building blocks in bright primary colours; a crude but clearly much-loved doll. I’m also enchanted by the ‘Toy Cube’, originally from the Millennium Dome – filled to overflowing with every imaginable plaything.
We move on to Movement, and see train sets and robots. Sadly, most of the machine-operated models are waiting to be repaired. Someone may have underestimated the wear and tear they’d undergo under the button-pressing excitement of swathes of kids. Stereoscopes and various animation devices are enchanting for their simplicity, and how well they work.
Upstairs there is an exhibition charting the rise and recent rise of board games. We play Snakes and Ladders and I feel proud to win despite knowing it’s a game of total chance. Opposite, there are dolls’ houses; high chairs; cupboards of pots and pans in which to play Home; early interlocking building bricks that may have preceded Lego.
I think one afternoon probably is enough to see most of the exhibits, though it looks like they have an active out-of-hours workshop programme, so I’ll definitely be back.
A museum is a place where one should lose one’s head – Renzo Piano
Ease of play: 6/10
Resemblance to play: 5/10
Potential frequency of play: Low