London(er) Daytripping: The Victoria and Albert Museum


I hope this is a start to a new theme that I’d like to write about- travel within London as a Londoner. I’ve lived here three years and not really traveled outside of London much until recently. Of course part of that is being a student, money, other things going on etc. but a big part of it is that I never really saw the need to leave London to do something new.

There’s the obvious starting point of the big tourist-y museums, but I think it’s surprising how many born and bred Londoners have never been to a lot of them, at least since they were children. As an adult with a greater understanding of history, I find museums a lot more interesting than I ever did as a child. It’s definitely more interesting now than as a kid, which is why somewhere like the Tate Modern being packed with children makes absolutely no sense to me. Could you try to expose kids to a more opaque subject?

Photo sourced from the V & A website.

The Victoria and Albert Museum is a prime example of a big, touristy museum often ignored by Londoners and Tourists to some extent, preferring to prioritise the big must-see’s (ie. Rosetta Stone). This means that the V & A tends to be a little quieter than some other museums, especially as you get off the ground floor.

Despite it’s lack of a Rosetta Stone or a Da Vinci or any of those other things that so many people need to tick off the list (sometimes without any understanding of what the object actually means), this museum has a lot of really cool stuff from all over the world. It has a vast collection of textiles (clothes/fashion, cushions, tapestry) very large pieces of buildings (a massive window from a cathedral somewhere), furniture, ceramics (an amazing collection of Middle Eastern and Islamic tiles and other ceramics- so intricate!), and tonnes of other objects that may not be classified as traditional art, as we know it today, but still have a great story to tell and are really, really cool.

They’ve also done a good job of curating the wide variety of different objects so that it makes sense. There’s some kind of narrative or definite path to go through as you visit the museum. I’ve popped in to different areas one at a time or wandered across the museum and you don’t feel like you’re missing things or like you have to back track to see something you missed due to a poorly planned traffic flow.

What I liked most about the V & A was that you get to see a side of history that you don’t usually. It shows more of a social history, including history of ‘women’s work’, like textiles. I mean it’s still objects that were used by a certain class of people, but it shows a much different side to the life of the elite families. It’s much more ‘real life’ to me than paintings, which like today were never very ‘useful’ objects (theories about the Arnolfini portrait aside), but rather acted as status symbols, commodities, or investments. The objects in the V&A at least purported to have a use and to be used and handled by real people- and made by real people.

Did I mention the really, really cool stuff?

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “London(er) Daytripping: The Victoria and Albert Museum

  1. Nice blog. I’m reading a lot of praise of the v&a at the moment! I’m interested in your views about children in museums, because I can’t help but think that colouring in pictures of Matisse’s snail (for example) really miss the point; but would the galleries last without the visitor numbers? And are they offering more than art, eg- the space at Tate modern or the food? And is that wrong?

    • OwlKnitYou

      Thanks for reading and the comment! The V&A is fantastic. I can’t believe it took me so long to get to it!

      I’m really interested in your questions about museums and think I’ll write a full blog post on it soon. Here’s the short answer now though.

      Basically, because of funding and accountability demands, they’ve really had to draw in the visitor numbers. So the cafes (which I’m a huge fan of!), shops, and educational facilities have been stepped up in recent years. They probably wouldn’t last without the visitor numbers (and extra funds) that these other attractions bring in. I also think they really add something to the experience. You go see some art and then have a sandwich and a coffee by the Thames, for instance. It makes a really nice day out.

      Education and family-orientated programmes are massively important to keeping the museums up and running and they’ve been putting a lot of resources into this recently. I think it’s really really important to expose children to a wide variety of influences, but I temper this with I think kids will just get bored if they don’t really understand what they’re being shown. Really, how can they be expected to ‘get’ Duchamp’s work or some of the more obscure stuff they have there. I also think museums should offer more ‘adult only’ attractions. I had such a headache after going to the Tate Modern the last time!

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