Vegetarian cafe and museum of childhood

We are having an in-town day after our trip yesterday to Portsmouth. We started the day in leisurely fashion and then went out to catch the 394, the small bus that traces a very complicated route from the Angel to Bethnal Green. Tigger was keen to revisit the Gallery Cafe, a vegetarian and vegan eatery that we had seen on a previous ramble. We found it and had brunch there.

Down the steps to the Gallery Cafe
Down the steps to the Gallery Cafe

It was an interesting experience and I would like to be able to compliment a pure vegetarian establishment, but there were just a few too many "toos" for wholehearted approval: service too slow, food too cool, price too high for the quality of the food. While I appreciate that a specialized outlet has to tread a thin economic line, especially in an area that is not very affluent, we shall probably not return.

York Hall leisure centre, Tower Hamlets
That wedding gets everywhere: York Hall, Tower Hamlets

We moved on to our next destination, which is quite nearby. We had come to visit the V&A Museum of Childhood. I have seen other museums on the topic but none as large and impressive as this one and we spent several hours there.

The Museum of Childhood: main hall
The Museum of Childhood: main hall

Run by the Victoria and Albert Museum, it is sited in a huge building that is worth seeing for its own sake. I don’t know what it was originally designed for but it consists of one great open space with a basement and side galleries which run around three sides of the building, open to the main hall. The ground floor accommodates the museum shop, the information desk and the museum cafe. And yes! unrestricted photography is allowed!

Main hall and side galleries
Main hall and side galleries

Just inside the entrance to the museum was an exhibition dedicated to the colourful and fascinating artwork of Tapan Das, a rickshaw painter from Dhaka.

Colourful rickshaws painted by Tapan Das
Colourful rickshaws painted by Tapan Das

A prolific – even compulsive – painter, Tapan Das paints not only rickshaws but practically anything else that comes to hand. Previously a painter on metal surfaces, Das has been influenced by his stay in Nottinghamshire and has started painting on canvas as well.

Set of smaller paintings on card
The village Portrait
Set of vignettes, with enlargements

This set of vignettes, of which I have enlarged two, show Das’s style and use of colour. His work, it seems to me, admirably combines a popular “naive” style with a sureness of touch that brings his subjects alive.

Predominantly a glass-case museum
Predominantly a glass-case museum

Perhaps because this museum attracts families with young children, the greater part of the stock is kept safely behind glass. This is predominantly a glass-case museum but in my view, none the worse for that. There are a few play areas and hands-on exhibits for when the children start getting bored. Reflections on the glass do sometimes make photography a little difficult, though.

Puppet theatre (18th cent) from the "Pushes and Pulls" section
Puppet theatre (18th cent) from the “Pushes and Pulls” section

The first gallery, a little higher than the ground floor and accessible by steps (though there is a lift serving all floors), exhibits children’s toys from about the 1800s, with a few earlier items, to modern times. These are divided into a number of large sections by type.

Microscope kit from the "Look See - Lenses" section
Microscope kit from the “Look See – Lenses” section

Those perennial favourites, teddy bears
Those perennial favourites, teddy bears

The next gallery is about childhood. This means that in addition to some more toys there are also pictures relating to childhood, costumes – both actual costumes worn by children over the last 2 or 3 centuries and play costumes, e.g. nurses’ and bus conductor outfits – and other objects loosely connected with the theme.

Pictures and uniforms: a corner of the Childhood gallery
Pictures and uniforms: a corner of the Childhood gallery

In comparison with the others, the topmost gallery is the least furnished. Perhaps it is still being developed. I recall that one theme there is Food, glorious food. There were also other temporary exhibitions such as one on Judith Kerr’s The Tiger Who Came To Tea and another about Living with autism.

A play area for bored toddlers (and rest area for tired adults!)
A play area for bored toddlers (and rest area for tired adults!)

During our visit, we stopped for tea in the cafe area and there observed this 1851 sculpture by John Bell, entitled The Eagle Slayer. Quite apart from its gruesome theme, it doesn’t seem particularly relevant to children or childhood and I wonder why it is there.

The Eagle Slayer (1851) by John Bell
The Eagle Slayer (1851) by John Bell

Today was the warmest so far and it was very hot in the museum. There is no air conditioning though we did discover an electric fan in a corner and stood in front of it for a while!

Walkway, top gallery
Walkway, top gallery

Because of the heat, we needed to make frequent pauses as we explored the museum, either on seating provided for general use or in the cafe.

Mosaic tile floor, Museum of Childhood
Mosaic tile floor, Museum of Childhood

Emerging from the museum around 3:30, we felt that in view of the heat and the tiredness from our busyness of the last few days, we had done enough for today. Accordingly, we took a bus to Liverpool Street and changed there to a bus to the Angel and the best hotel – home!

Beautiful gates at  Bevis Marks Restaurant, City
Beautiful gates at Bevis Marks, The Restaurant

Copyright © 2012 SilverTiger, https://tigergrowl.wordpress.com, All rights reserved.

About SilverTiger

I live in Islington with my partner, "Tigger". I blog about our life and our travels, using my own photos for illustration.
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2 Responses to Vegetarian cafe and museum of childhood

  1. WOL says:

    The Museum of Childhood building kind of looks like a repurposed train station, or maybe an airplane hangar. I do like the mozaic floors though. Interesting design. The rickshaw painter certainly has a colorful style.

    • SilverTiger says:

      I finally did the obvious thing and looked on the museum’s Web site to see if the history of the building is given. It is. Apparently it was built as a museum and opened in 1872.

      More details may be found here.

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