The Victoria and Albert Museum of Childhood is the biggest museum of its type in the entire world. It has a mission to hold the childhood collections of the nation in trust as well as to be a global leader in the engagement of audiences in childhood experiences. Located in Bethnal Green, London, this fascinating collection has a long history and is named after one of the UK’s most famous monarchs, Queen Victoria and her Prince Consort, Albert. Albert was especially passionate about the educational value of museums and was instrumental in establishing many of the capital’s best known institutions. Established in the 19th century, this museum is just as popular today as it was in the past.
The History of the Museum
In the 19th century, urban society grew considerably and there was a change in the way in which people lived. Universal education was rolled out across the country and by 1880, schooling was compulsory for all children under the age of 10. The concept of “rational recreation” became widespread – i.e. the idea that the mind could be improved during leisure time through the visiting of galleries and museums. Prince Albert was a particular advocate of this and launched several museums in the South Kensington area of London.
Work began on the V&A Museum of Childhood in 1868 and it was opened in 1872, although at the time it was called the “Bethnal Green Museum.” Its original exhibits were food and animal products which had been part of the collection seen at the Great Exhibition of 1851. There was also a collection of 18th century French art and as time went on, gifts received by the Royal family were also housed here. It was not until 1922 that the museum started its journey to becoming the Museum of Childhood. The curator at that time noticed that it did not offer a very child-friendly experience, and therefore established a classroom on the premises, employing teachers and sourcing child-related projects. Queen Mary donated a number of her own toys and a collection of playthings were donated by Mrs Greg from Leeds. In 1974, the Bethnal Green Museum reopened as the Museum of Childhood and more acquisitions arrived from the BBC, toy companies, government funds and members of the public. Today, it is unrecognisable from its original incarnation, but offers a much more interactive and entertaining experience that is better suited to its original educational and instructional purposes.
Visiting the V&A Museum of Childhood
The V&A Museum of Childhood is open every day between 10 am and 5.45 pm and charges no admission fees. It offers changing exhibits throughout the year and runs courses and workshops for both children and parents on a range of fascinating subjects. Its collections include children’s clothing, construction toys, dolls, dolls houses, baby items, nursery furnishings, games, mechanical and optical toys, paintings, paper models, puppets, teddies, action figures and toy vehicles to fascinate and entertain visitors of all ages.