As a London tour guide, I meet people from all over the world and from all walks of life. They often ask me how I became a tour guide and where I am from. I love to reciprocate, asking where they are from and
what they do for work. Some are retired, but I am always amazed at the variety of occupations that my clients hold. Granted, not everyone wants to think about their work while they are on holiday, but many people have professions that can trace their roots back to this fabulous and diverse city and the guilds and tradesmen that shaped it. And over the years I have realised something extraordinary about London – we have numerous niche museums, many of which have connections to these professions. I’m always on the look-out for new or unknown places so that I can try to connect today’s occupations with the lesser-known and sometimes hidden museums of London. With that in mind, I started to play a game with my tour clients called, “What do you do/what do you like – we have a museum for that!”
The game is simple: I ask what they do and then offer at least one connection, a place they might consider visiting while in London. Ready? Let’s play.
“I’m a doctor”
The medical history of London is vast, with so many discoveries and experiments tracing their time back to the days of grave robbers and scientific experiments in hospitals. Check out London’s top pathology
museums: Gordon Pathology Museum, Bart’s Pathology Museum, and the Royal College of Surgeon’s Anatomy and Pathology Museum. All of these are perfect for medical professionals and students.
I also recommend the Hunterian Museum. In the 1700s, John Hunter was an anatomy assistant while his brother William was a physician and obstetrician. John went around collecting specimens for study. In this museum, among the 14,000 items and 500 different species, you can see a foetus in gestation for all nine
months, the skeleton of a giant (Charles Byrne was an Irish man who was 7ft 7in tall), various animals and human body parts, as well as Winston Churchill’s gold dentures. https://www.rcseng.ac.uk/museums-and-archives/hunterian-museum/
If you lean more to surgical practice, you will want to go to London’s Old Operating Theatre, located across from Borough Market. This is where you can see an old surgical theatre and witness the instruments used to conduct surgeries 200 years ago. Some have vastly improved in size and sharpness, while others look just as familiar as today’s instruments. www.oldoperatingtheatre.com
“I’m a dentist”
Make an appointment with the charnel house at St Bride’s Church to see the remains of skulls that the dental students of London used for study. You’ll see the wealthy had tooth decay because they could afford sugar, while the poor did not. www.stbrides.com
The BDA Dental Museum is run by the British Dental Association and has an array of dental art, instruments and tools, teeth and dentures, as well as anatomical models. www.bda.org/museum
“I’m a nurse”
The Florence Nightingale Museum is the hub for all those in the nursing profession.
This is where you can pay homage to the woman considered to be the Mother of Hospital Administration. While there, you can see her pet owl (now in taxidermy) and the uniforms worn in the Crimean War.
Notice they are white in order to show dirt so they could be changed often. www.florence-nightingale.co.uk
Nearby, you can pay homage to Mary Seacole at her statue, in front of St Thomas’ Hospital, just around the corner from the Florence Nightingale Museum. She was a British-Jamaican nurse and businesswoman
who established a convalescence home for servicemen in the Crimean War. Seacole also has a statue not far from Paddington Station, where she lived her final days. Sadly, not much remains of Mother Seacole, but many places are finally being named in her honour.
If the “FloMo” museum is closed, try the Royal College of Nursing Library & Heritage Centre. More uniforms are on display here, and many stories to tell of nurses of fame or otherwise. This can double as a stop for those doing some genealogy research. www.rcn.org.uk/library
The British Red Cross Museum tracks the history of the organisation and showcases equipment, uniforms and an extensive archive for researchers. www.redcross.org.uk/about-us/ourhistory/museum-and-archives
“I’m a psychologist”
Visit the famous couch at the Sigmund Freud Museum. This could apply to those working in human resource or talent management. Anyone who studies the mind or has to figure out who is suited for a job needs to have the skills of Freud. (Or Jung, but we don’t have his museum.) www.freud.org.uk
The first institute to specialise in mental care was Bethlem Hospital in 1247. “Bedlam” was the nickname that it received, and their idea of treatment back then is not aligned with today’s care practice.
It is fascinating to see how this segment of healthcare has progressed over time. www.museumofthemind.org.uk
“I’m a musician”
The Royal Academy of Music is where Elton John went to school and Annie Lennox claims she skipped most of her classes. Meanwhile, they maintain a beautiful museum with Stradivari violins that still are played for special events. www.ram.ac.uk/museum
Composer George Frideric Handel and rock music legend Jimi Hendrix lived in the same house in London, obviously, many years apart. They have created a beautiful tribute to these musical geniuses by making the house a museum. It just closed for a refurbishment and will open back up in spring 2023. www.handelhendrix.org
Trying to keep up with trends is par for the course in the music industry. The Museum of Youth Culture aims to try and do that, as well as looking back at social trends, styles and movements over the last 100 years. www.museumofyouthculture.com
“I’m a teacher”
First stop is the Science Museum or the Natural History Museum, if for nothing else than the fact that they are excellent in displaying a variety of subjects. However, NHM gets extra props because they have
recently started to give new credit to former workers. When the building first opened, they employed many women to do the research and “grunt work”. Today, they are getting special mention for findings
that these women made, which have led to significant discoveries. www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/home
Victoria & Albert Museum has a special branch called the Museum of Childhood. It is excellent for teachers who want to gain a new perspective on their students. Currently under refurbishment, but keep it on the radar for later. www.vam.ac.uk/young
“I’m a lawyer”
The Royal Courts of Justice is the home of civil law, and you can take a tour inside. The building was designed by George Edmund Street. and is where many high profile civil lawsuits have gone down, including Paul McCartney’s divorce from Heather Mills and the recent “Wagatha Christie” lawsuit between Coleen Rooney and Rebekah Vardy. www.theroyalcourtsofjustice.com
The Old Bailey is the criminal courthouse, where visitors can sit-in to see cases being presented. Here is where many historic criminals were placed on trial or arraignment, including Emmeline Pankhurst and other suffragettes who caused damage to public items. www.old-bailey.com/oldbailey-insight-tour
Those still needing to get their fill of legal stuff can visit and explore the Supreme Court building, just opposite Westminster Abbey. www.supremecourt.uk/visiting/guided-tours
“I’m an engineer”
Engineers like design, and we have a museum for that. The Design Museum is only a few years old and is stunning both from a building perspective, as well as the items it houses. It is always worth remembering
that everything we use in daily life began as plans on paper and developed from one version to the next. This museum illustrates and extrapolates that. www.designmuseum.org
“I’m in the military”
Well, you are in luck! World War II is often called “our finest hour” and we have many museums dedicated to it, plus previous and subsequent wars. Start at the Churchill War Rooms, continue to the Imperial War Museum and then hop aboard the HMS Belfast. www.iwm.org.uk/visits/hms-belfast
You can soak up more information about uniforms and battles from the Household Cavalry Museum and the Household Guards Museum, both located next to St James’s Park and focusing on the guards and horse guards who execute the Changing of the Guard ceremony. www.householdcavalry.co.uk/museum and www.householddivision.org.uk/guardsmuseum
Of course, don’t stop there! Head north to Hendon for the Royal Air Force Museum, or even further to Bletchley Park to see where the Enigma code was cracked. www.rafmuseum.org.uk
“I work in IT”(Information technology)
You’ll also be enamoured with Bletchley Park where the code was broken, but while up there you can visit the Museum of Computer History. Yes, you must recall that Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web, and he was British! www.computerhistory.org
Pay homage to Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage at the new exhibit at the Science Museum. Lovelace is considered the world’s first computer programmer. She has a blue plaque marking her home in St James’s Square. https://www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/objects-and-stories/thinking-machines-stories-history-computing
In West Dulwich there is a small museum dedicated to all things wireless, meaning the early days of radio. It’s called the British Vintage Wireless & Television Museum and it is truly an Aladdin’s cave of wonderment. This might also be of interest to those who consider themselves professional YouTubers. www.bvwm.org.uk
“I work in marketing” (Also works for sales)
We have the Museum of Brands, Packaging & Advertising. You’d be surprised at how our taste in marketing moves over time, and what types of advertising can appeal to the various generations. Here
you will also tick the box for nostalgia as you see packages and ads that you might have grown up with.
“I work in finance”
The Bank of England has a museum where those interested in all things money can learn that the first pulp used in paper money was from the mulberry tree. There is a plexiglass box where participants can
“lift” a gold bar with their fingers in an attempt to “steal it”. Trust me, you can’t do it. www.bankofengland.co.uk/museum
One of the last “open outcry” markets in London is the London Metal Exchange, where attendees can view from a balcony platform as the trade men and women price and discuss future metal prices.
Exciting at times, it is the only remaining outcry market as the London Stock Exchange and others would consist of watching people click on their computers. Not as exciting. www.lme.com/en/trading/tradingvenues/the-ringhttps://www.lme.com/en/Trading/Trading-venues/The-Ring
“I work in food”
If you love to bake, or eat biscuits and cake, you can try to visit the Peek Freans Museum. It is fairly new and not yet well known, but it is treasure trove of biscuit tins, cake paraphernalia and delicious items of the past. The website www.peekfreansmuseum.co.uk is currently down, so call 07752 311 082.
“I’m in politics”
The obvious choice is the Houses of Parliament. Tours are available and are often booked up, so reserving in advance will avoid disappointment. https://www.parliament.uk/visiting/
The City of London is governed by its own system, including the Lord Mayor who lives at Mansion House. There is a tour of the Mansion House, including the regalia and other important items used to install the mayor each year. www.cityoflondonguides.com/tours/mansionhouse-guided-tours-tuesdays
“I’m a librarian”
Paying a visit to the British Library is a must, if nothing else just to look at the King’s collection. There are always exhibits on, so check to see what treasures can be discovered. www.bl.uk/events/generalguided-
tour Charles Dickens lived and drank in many places around London, if you believe all of the blue plaques that are dedicated to him. Of course, he has a whole museum to cover his life and items, too.
“I’m a firefighter”
Sadly, the Museum of London is about to undergo a major renovation, so you won’t be able to visit their exhibition on the Great Fire. However, you can climb to the top of The Monument, which is just a few feet from where the fire began. www.themonument.org.uk
London Fire Brigade has a good museum in their headquarters, but it is currently in virtual mode as the building is being redeveloped. Still, you can explore the history of the fire engines, opening of fire stations, and historic fire-related events including the Great Fire and World War II. www.london-fire.gov.uk/museum
“I’m a police officer”
There are two police forces here in London: London Metropolitan Police and the City of London Police. Both have small exhibits you can visit. The Met has a window display at their new HQ on the River Thames, just down from the Houses of Parliament and their London Police Memorial is near the Horse Guards parade. www.thepolicememorialtrust.org/the-national-police-memorial and www.met.police.uk › about-us › about-the-met
The City of London Police Museum is very small, and currently at risk of permanent closure due to lack of funding. Sadly, their prized possession of a scarf related to the Jack the Ripper crimes was stolen a few years ago. The Bow Street Police Museum is newly opened in Covent Garden and explores policing and criminal justice in the area. www.bowstreetpolicemuseum.org.uk
There is a phrase “thrown in the clink” that refers to when someone is put in jail. Ever wondered where that comes from? Well, there was a notorious prison in London from the late 1100s until the late 1700s called The Clink. Today The Clink Museum showcases the history of this place. www.clink.co.uk
In addition, you can also make reservations at The Clink Charity, restaurants in prisons run by those who are serving time. The project is excellent for job skills training for when prisoners finish their sentence
and return to society. The food is delicious! www.theclinkcharity.org
“I work in fashion”
Down in Tooting there is the Sewing Machine Museum, where once a month you can see a variety of old sewing machines, including one that belonged to the daughter of Queen Victoria. They are adjacent to a fantastic fabric store, so be sure to plan for a purchase or two. www.craftysewer.com/acatalog/London_Sewing_Machine_Museum.html
London Fashion & Textiles Museum focuses on contemporary fashion and textile design. It was opened in 2003 by Dame Zandra Rhodes and there is always a fun and innovative exhibition to enjoy.
“I work from home” or “I’m a parent”
We have an entire museum dedicated to what homes have been like throughout the centuries. The Museum of Home (formerly, The Geffrye Museum) takes a look at how we use everyday apparatus like vacuum cleaners, types of sofas and even how we decorate for Christmas as the years go by. www.museumofthehome.org.uk
The Foundling Museum in Bloomsbury is dedicated to orphans. When women were not able to take care of their children, the Foundling Hospital was a place to deposit a child without question. Often a piece of cloth from the woman’s dress was the only marking or identifying object provided that might allow for the woman to claim her child back once her life had been turned around.
“I’m a graphic artist”
The Cartoon Museum looks at the political cartoons of the 1700s and how this genre evolved over time. Making fun of politicians isn’t new in the world of drawings, and here you can see some historic originals
poking fun at kings, aristocrats and ministers alike. www.cartoonmuseum.org
Mina Lima is the graphic artist team behind all of the Harry Potter movies. Their designs and work are now highlighted in their shop on Wardour Street. Here you can see some old and new work by the team. www.minalima.com
“I’m a gardener”
The Garden Museum takes you through the history of gardening, and is based in the former church of St. Mary Lambeth, just across the river from the Houses of Parliament. The church was saved in 1976 by Rosemary Nicholson, who read in an article that John Tradescant (the man who brought the pineapple to England) was buried here. Devastated that it was about to be knocked down, she rallied support to
save it. Here you can see Britain’s oldest watering can and a glass cucumber straightener. www.gardenmuseum.org.uk
Follow that with a visit to Kew Gardens, a UNESCO World Heritage site where you can view 50,000 living plants, large Victorian glasshouses, and discover tons of plants that you never knew existed. The lily pads are huge! www.kew.org
“I work in construction”
I remember first going to the London Transportation Museum to study for my Westminster tour guiding badge. I thought, “this might be boring”. Wow was I wrong! Learning how they dug up London to create the underground system is fascinating, from the methods they used, to how they improved over time. Plus, you see the evolution of the double-decker bus from a horse-drawn wagon to today’s air conditioned model. www.ltmuseum.co.uk
If roads aren’t your thing, the London Canal Museum will beguile you with how coal, goods and people navigated the canals to transport from Limehouse to Camden and beyond. You’ll discover how a
lock works, how narrow boards were pulled by horses, and more. www.canalmuseum.org.uk
Isambard Kingdom Brunel, a man with an amazing name, is considered one of the most prolific engineers in history. There is a museum dedicated to his life and accomplishments in Rotherhithe.
“I’m an artist”
You could spend all your time at the National Gallery, the Victoria & Albert Museum, The Courtauld Gallery or even the Wallace Collection to discover beautiful art. The Wallace Collection is where the
television show Portrait Artist of the Year is filmed. www.wallacecollection.org Travel to Greenwich and discover the Fan Museum. Yes, fans. Those things that you fold open and wave in front of your face to keep you cool. Be surprised and intrigued at the intricate detail and care that went into creating such everyday objects. www.thefanmuseum.org.uk
Still want some paintings? Visit Apsley House, the former home of Arthur Wellesley, the 1st Duke of Wellington. They have transformed this residence into a museum and here you will see a painting of a quagga. What is a quagga? A subspecies of zebra that went extinct in the late 19th century.
“I’m a priest/pastor/rabbi/Ishtar”
You’ll want to visit St Mary Woolnoth in the City of London. It is the church where former clergy John Newton preached. Inside there are a few banners to explain his life, as he was a slave trader but gave up
this profession to take holy orders. He wrote about his change of life in his famous hymn, “Amazing Grace”. www.stml.org.uk
Museum of Methodism is small but interesting, as it explores the life of John Wesley and his development of this church. It also covers the church today. www.wesleysheritage.org.uk
Bevis Marks is one of the oldest synagogues in the City. www.sephardi.org.uk/bevis-marks
You can explore ancient manuscripts and printed Bibles at The Museum of the Book. Remember, the King James Version of the Bible was done here in London by scholars from Westminster, Oxford and Cambridge. www.museumofthebook.com
“I work in sports”
London is famous for the annual tennis tournament in Wimbledon every July. There, you can explore the Lawn Tennis Museum all year to see the history behind this sport. Of course, visitors to Hampton Court Palace can see the tennis court where King Henry VIII played. www.wimbledon.com/en_GB/museum
Many football fans will encourage you to visit their team’s stadium, where you can often see some of the club’s memorabilia. Chelsea, Tottenham and West Ham all have places to visit, but the Arsenal Museum is rather large and includes access to the grand stadium. www.arsenaldirect.arsenal.com/tour/home
“I’m an interior designer”
Painter and sculptor Frederic Leighton created an astonishing house in Kensington that is now open to the public as part of the Leighton Samson Museum. Leighton’s paintings were often made at his home, where you can spot Turkish inspired interiors. www.rbkc.gov.uk/museums
19 Princelet Street was home to Huguenot weavers in the 1700s. One way to describe this place is “a time vault”. www.19princeletstreet.org.uk
“I work with dead people”
The way we bury our dead and the rituals of a funeral have evolved over time. You can see a bit of this history at the Museum of Funeral History, located in the basement of Dignity Funerals. www.dignityfunerals.co.uk/about-dignity/history
“I travel for a living”
Well, if so, you might have a large collection of souvenirs at home. In that case, visit the former home of Sir John Soane, which is now a museum. He also loved to travel the world and collect things. They are all still on display in his former home here in London, and this includes many statues, columns and the paintings of William Hogarth’s The Rake’s Progression. www.soane.org
There you have it. Of course, I could not cover all occupations, because that would be impossible. Also there are often so many short-term exhibits or displays that come and go. Sometimes, I throw a wildcard out there with the Museum of Neoliberalism, The Magic Circle (magician’s museum), Pollock’s Toy Museum, Dr B.R.r Ambedkar’s House (social reformer), or the Wimbledon Windmill Museum. Meanwhile, it is satisfying to say that Samuel Pepys was right when he said “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life. For there is in London all that life can afford.” I suppose that includes what we do for a living.
Amber Raney-Kincade is the American Tour Guide in London, offering walking tours and private hire to those looking to explore on foot. Find out more at www.AmericanTourGuideInLondon.com or
follow her on Twitter @AmericanLDN.
This article is taken from the Jan-Feb-March 2023 issue of the FOCUS magazine