London is well-known for its many museums but there’s one museum that isn’t quite as famous as it should be. The Museum of Brands is a brilliant step back in time looking at the brands and companies that have helped to shape and mould life in the United Kingdom.
Despite living in London this was my first visit to the Museum of Brands. If I’m being entirely honest, I wasn’t really aware of the museum before I was invited to take a tour. Having been once, however, I will definitely be going again and next time I’m taking the kids.
Disclosure: I was a gust of the Museum of Brands for the purpose of this review. For more information, please see my disclosure policy.
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London’s Museum of Brands
The London Museum of Brands tracks the history of consumer culture from Victorian times through to the present day. It was started not, as you might think, by a company looking to follow the history of their branding through the ages but rather by a childhood collection. Robert Opie came from a family of collectors and one day decided to save a packet of Munchies from a vending machine in Inverness.
From one packet of chocolate his collection grew to include all manner of items. By 1975 he had enough material to hold his own exhibition, The Pack Age, at the Victoria & Albert Museum. This was the first exhibition of its kind at the V&A, which traditionally showcased art, rather than sweet wrappers. These days, of course, the V&A hosts all kinds of exhibitions but at the time, Opie’s collection was a novelty.
In 1984 the first Museum of Brands was opened in Gloucester. It moved to London 20 years later and into its present location in Notting Hill in 2016. The museum is currently housed at the London Lighthouse Building in Lancaster Road, formerly owned by the Terrence Higgins Trust.
The Time Tunnel
The bulk of the museum’s collection is housed in glass cabinets that form the Time Tunnel. Starting in Victorian times, the tunnel winds its way through the ages showcasing the objects and brands that have shaped consumer culture over time. What’s fascinating is seeing how British history is reflected in everyday packaging.
We start in the Victorian era where newspapers and magazines are displayed alongside song sheets, railway timetables and even a railway alphabet book. There are perfume bottles and toothpaste pots, which interestingly are being used again today as we look to make more sustainable choices.
Tobacco and cigarettes are on display alongside a wonderful show of tins for Colman’s Mustard and Cadbury’s Cocoa Essence. There’s even an old bottle of Lea & Perrins sauce, a company that was first established in 1837.
The next few cabinets house items from the Edwardian era. There’s a brief explanation at the beginning of each section detailing advances made during that period in history. During Edwardian times, for example, the Gillette safety razor arrived as well as milk chocolate and vacuum cleaners.
There are some wonderful postcards from this time as well as cardboard puzzles and memorabilia from the 1903 coronation of Edward VII. In total there are some 12,000 original items on display – and many thousands more stored in warehouses away from the museum.
From here we enter the 1910s, a turbulent decade that began with social unrest and saw the Great War break out in 1914. Food tins are decorated with allied flags and army leaders and from 1917, some products changed to card packets rather than tins to save raw materials to help the war effort.
Also on show are posters, games and books all reflecting that period in history.
The display cases for the 1920s are bright and colourful with fashion journals, brightly patterned tins, a wireless set and a full tub of Mackintosh sweets.
The 1930s bring lots of chocolate bars that are still around today including Toblerone, Crunchie and Milky Way bars. Even though some of the packaging has changed over time, the brands are still instantly recognisable. That’s one of the best things about the Museum of Brands, no matter your age there will be something here that you recognise and will invariably evoke an emotional response or a personal memory.
One of my favourite sections in the Time Tunnel is the example of a chemist shop from the 1930s that advertises ‘Nervous Pills’.
And so the Time Tunnel continues sharing everything from early travel posters and travel guides to women’s magazines celebrating the women’s war effort during WWII. There’s a case dedicated to the wedding of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philipp, which feels all the more pertinent now, filled with newspapers, playing cards, colouring books and a paper doll set.
The evolution of toys along the Time Tunnel is fun to watch and is something that kids in particular will enjoy. The 1950s brings with it Dan Dare and the Thunderbirds. Later on, Star Trek and Star Wars memorabilia dominate the shelves alongside dozens of board games and the first home computers.
In the final few display cases the are Spice Girls dolls and several shelves dedicated to One Direction. The movie Frozen also makes an appearance.
The collection is so huge that you could come back multiple times and see new things on every visit. It’s a fascinating look at how brands have played such an important role in our lives and a wonderful trip down memory lane, regardless of your age. I can’t wait to go back.
Visiting the Museum of Brands
The Museum is located in West London. The nearest tube is Ladbroke Grove.
Address: 111-117 Lancaster Rd, London W11 1QT
- £9 Adults
- £5 Children
- £7 Concessions
- £24 Family Ticket
- £17 Annual Ticket
- £32 Annual Friend Ticket
The museum has a family trail for kids to follow. There are also regular themed trails based on seasonal and historical events.
10 am – 6 pm / Mon-Sat
11 am – 5 pm / Sun & Bank Holidays