“Blow Football!” squealed one of a trio of vocal pensioners in delight. “We had one just like that at home.”
Moving on to the next case she stopped and sighed wistfully.
“Ooh. I used to love Fry’s Chocolate Cream.”
If there is one thing that London isn’t short of, it’s museums. However, if you are looking for an unusual London museum that is also a heady nostalgia trip, look no further than the Museum of Brands.
How the museum was born
The Museum of Brands is a collection built out of a passion.
In 1963, at the tender age of 13, Robert Opie started to fanatically collect curios from the past. The story goes that, returning from a trip to Inverness, he felt peckish. Being a Sunday in the 1960s, the only shop that was open was the railway station kiosk. Its offerings were limited, and he ended up satisfying his hunger with a packet of Ginger Nut biscuits and some Munchies. After consuming their contents, he held on to the packaging, which can be seen on display in the museum.
Today, 12,000 of 500,000 items in Robert Opie’s private collection is displayed in the Museum of Brands.
What to expect from a visit to the Museum of Brands
The museum is curated as a time tunnel, charting a chronological path from the Victorian era to the present day, and reflecting societal changes over this time period. It chronicles how changes in tastes, fads and fashions and evolutions in technology and design have shaped consumer products.
Amongst its many treasures, the Museum of Brands displays boxes and cartons, memorabilia marking key historical events and toys & games.
Boxes and cartons
The first evidence of brands comes in the shape of items used by Victorian domestic servants, such as Colman’s Starch and Hudson’s Carbolic Soap.
Packaging from household products from every era is represented here. But what struck me is how little the brand design of many of these products has changed over the years. Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, Brasso, Guinness, Golden Shred, amongst others, are instantly recognisable. I guess if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.
The Museum of Brands holds an extensive number of items linked to key historical events. These include the two world wars and royal weddings, coronations and jubilees. There is an entire case dedicated to the Great Exhibition of 1951.
With a more contemporary resonance, there are items relating to the referendum of 1975 for the UK to remain in the European Community (EC).
“Vote No to secure your future
“Before you make your mind up consider why you should stay in Europe
In 1975, 67% voted to stay in the EC. In 2016, 52% voted to leave the European Union. Now, in 2019, the UK is reeling from that vote.
Jigsaws or ‘dissected puzzles’
The museum holds an extraordinary collection of jigsaws. Originally known as dissected puzzles, in Victorian times these were used to teach upper-class children geography. Their transition from educational tool to entertainment came with the introduction of cheaper, die-cut cardboard puzzles.
Toys and games
Children’s playtime is well represented in the Museum of Brands.
For aspiring Jamie Olivers in Victorian times, there is a fully-functional mini range that is fuelled by methylated spirits. And for Edwardian little boys (or girls!) nursing ambitions of being a train driver, there are a few immaculate Hornby locomotives.
Woe betide the Victorian child who dared to play marbles or spin tops on the pavements of Great Yarmouth. A stern notice from William Brogden, the town’s Chief Constable warns against this ‘public nuisance’.
But my favourite toys were the ones that brought back fond memories of growing up. For example, there’s a Six Million Dollar Man doll in perfect condition and a Chopper bike (my brother had both). And there’s an original, demonic-looking Spacehopper from the 1970s (the same brother was terrified of that).
It was obvious that many believed that there was money to be made from spinning a TV series into a jigsaw puzzle or a board game. If only I’d known that there was a George & Mildred dice game back in the 70s!
I loved this museum but what I really loved was revisiting my own past, seeing where I slotted into history. Wrapped in a warm fuzzy cloak of nostalgia, I joined the trio of pensioners in the café.
Visiting the Museum of Brands
- The Museum of Brands is in Notting Hill in West London at 111 – 117 Lancaster Road, W11 1QT. It is two minutes’ walk from Ladbroke Grove Tube station.
- The standard adult entrance fee is £9
- The museum has an excellent, award-winning courtyard café set in the grounds of what used to be Terrence Higgins’ Lighthouse.
- Photography is not permitted anywhere in the museum, with the exception of the café.