Museum of Childhood
Cambridge Heath Road
London E2 9PA
TfL FareZone 2
The Museum of Childhood in the East End of London is a great place for both children and adults. It combines one of the world’s oldest and largest collections of toys and childhood artefacts with hands on activities.
The collection dates from the 16th century to the present day. It includes dolls, teddy bears, toy soldiers, train sets, model cars, puppets, rocking horses, costumes, board games and some of the first jigsaw puzzles ever made.
Adults will recognize examples of their own childhood toys with a pang of nostalgia and children get a chance to play with replicas of some of the originals.
This is a unique museum housed in a 130-year old red brick building with a modern façade. The beautiful Victorian iron, marble and glass interior has been restored and includes all modern facilities.
The museum is part of the Victoria and Albert family of museums and its official title is The V&A Museum of Childhood. It started life in 1852 as part of the V&A Museum in South Kensington. It moved to Bethnal Green in 1866.
The original interior of the South Kensington building was re-erected inside a red brick building and this is the interior that we see today. In 2006 a new modern entrance was added, improving access and creating a bright, inviting space.
The museum has four sections of permanent displays – The Front Room Gallery; The Moving Toy Gallery; The Creativity Gallery and The Childhood Galleries.
The Front Room Gallery
Showcases work created at the outreach programmes conducted in London’s East End.
The Moving Toy Gallery
Showcases toys that all move. They range from rocking horses, clockwork and battery-operated, steam and spirit driven to optical toys.
The ‘push and pull’ toys are mainly outdoor toys such as bicycles, scooters and ride-on horses. You can see a hop-pickers cart (early 1900s) and a child-sized Rolls Royce. There are lots of toys for children to try out such as rocking horses and making pictures by moving iron filings around with magnets.
The ‘springs and cogs’ toys feature early clockwork mechanical automata (1870-1880) such as singing and dancing monkeys, and an organ grinder. Children can play with Robbie the life-sized robot, adding cogs to make him move.
The ‘circuits and motors’ section features an operating Hornby model rail layout, and battery-operated robots and other weird creatures.
‘Look See’ has optical toys that trick the eye into thinking that something is moving. There are Fantascopes from the 1830s and a Zoetrope from the 1870s. Children can use a replica zoetrope to create a moving strip film or make a peepshow.
The Creativity Gallery
Divided into five interactive ections, the gallery encourages children and adults to express their creativity. Objects such as Burmese marionettes and Javanese shadow puppets, Smurfs, traditional costumes, Airfix sets and African wire toys and many other stimulating materials are on hand.
Replicas of the objects are available for children of all ages to use. They can dress up, imagine they are somebody else, be inspired to create fantasy, learn new skills and turn everyday household objects into toys.
The Childhood Galleries
The social history of childhood is divided into nine sections ranging from Babies, Home, Playing Outside, What We Wear; Who Will I Be; How We Learn; Good Times; Children in Trouble to the World in the East End. The displays allow visitors to compare their lives with what is shown in the displays.
The hands on objects include a play area where dolls can be babies, and you can play ‘house’, dolls houses, a sandy beach with deck chairs and seaside toys to recreate summer holidays, early computers and jigsaws. Hats and shoes children have worn over the last 300 years can be put on, and children can pretend they are adults with replicas of things like the Flymo Lawnmower and a Meccano Sewing Machine.
The galleries are a wonderful mix of formal museum cabinets and modern hands-on entertainment.
Opening Hours & Admission Costs
Go to the Museum website at Web: Museum of Childhood/ Visiting
Fully accessible. All types of disability are catered for. There is disabled parking at rear of building - telephone the museum to book a space before visiting.
The Benugo Café serves hot meals, salads, sandwiches, pastries, cakes, hot and cold drinks, wine and beer.
Open from 10:00 to 17:00 daily.
Packed lunches can be eaten in the outside garden area or the Summerly Room if available.
Contact & Further Information
+44 (0) 2089 835 200
TfL FareZone 2 Transport for London Journey Planner
To find the best way for getting to the Museum of Childhood, visit TfL Journey Planner.
- By Underground
Bethnal Green Station Central Line.
Less than a 5 minutes walk along Cambridge Heath Road to the museum
- By Bus
Busses D6, 106, 254, 309 and 388 stop outside. Numbers 8, 26, 55 and 48 stop nearby. We suggest that visitors go to the Transport for London website link above and use their Journey Planner.
- By Car
The nearest pay and display bays can be found on Cambridge Heath Road. The museum website has quite detailed ‘Getting There’ information Web: Museum of Childhood 'Getting There'
Google Maps - V&A Museum of Childhood