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A history of growing up


Moving Toy, Creativity and Childhood Exhibitions
Temporary Exhibitions
Front Room Gallery
The Victoria and Albert Museum is one of the UK's most respected exhibitors of art and design. Bethnal Green's Museum of Childhood is the part of this organisation that focuses on growing up, and on the objects that are part of children's lives.
They've been collecting toys, dollhouses, games and costumes since 1872. It's been nearly a century-and-a-half since then, and there are now more childhood objects here than anywhere else in the country. There are three main galleries: "Moving Toys", "Creativity" and "Childhood".

Inside the V&A Museum of Childhood
Photo avail
The "Moving Toy" exhibition looks at the physics and mechanics of toys, in both the past and present. It starts with simple rocking horses and spinning tops, but soon gets more complicated with the springs and cogs of 19th century jack-in-the-boxes, and the circuits and motors of modern day machines. It's a night-and-day contrast between the rudimentary toys of old, and the remote control robots of the 21st century. The exhibit gives visitors the chance to try out both types for themselves. There are dozens of examples - some you may remember, but others you won't. Touchscreen games and quizzes are also scattered throughout the gallery.

Betta Bilda from the 1960's
Photo saschapohflepp
The "Creativity" area celebrates just how imaginative children can be. With a little suspended belief, something as simple as a cardboard box can be a whole different world. The items on display look at how children make stories, with dolls, puppets and action figures. There are other creative outlets too, like musical instruments, chemistry sets and sewing kits. The "Make It Happen" section shows the end result of these imaginative leaps, with a constantly evolving display of drawings, games and toys, created by real people.
Kids use playtime to develop their character, and the "Childhood" area highlights this effect. It starts at baby age, with rattles, pushchairs and hanging mobiles, before moving on to the clothes, games and holidays of later life. The exhibit shows how strong of an influence leisure time is on children's futures.
Beside the permanent displays are an ever-changing selection of temporary exhibitions and installations. In the past these have included looks at circus skills, children's books and famous characters. The Front Room Gallery, meanwhile, is a dedicated space for new, artist-led projects. They're always creative, and almost always interactive. This space is the first thing you'll encouter upon entering the museum.
The building's original structure, made from a basic skeleton of iron arches, dates from the mid-1800s. It was first erected in South Kensington, then dismantled and moved across town. At the time, many of London's most well-respected architects couldn't stand the sight of the place. One described it as looking like three boilers laid side by side, while another called it a "hospital for decayed railway carriages".
In the noughties, an extensive refurbishment helped to change these opinions. The museum was transformed into a light and airy place. The two upper floors look down on a huge central space, which runs the whole length of the building. It's a Grade II listed structure.
Visitor Information
The V&A Museum of Childhood is open daily 10am to 5.45pm. Entry is FREE. Cambridge Heath Road, London E2 9PA. Tel: 020 8983 5200

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