The Science Museum then and now - but mainly then!
By Francesca Fenn, Jul 3 2015 07:53AM
As I write about memories of museums in London, I realise how significant it was that I went to them over and over again. To become familiar with such fantastic places was a huge privilege which I have always taken for granted, and it is only now that I am pondering on the whole experience, that I appreciate how lucky I was. Thanks Mum and Dad!
So, my last blog about museums is about the fabulous Science Museum. I loved going to the Science Museum! I loved the great hall with its huge engines and machines, and I especially loved watching the machines which were operating . I still love Victorian industrial machinery; the elegance in the design and pleasure in making working objects beautiful is something we have largely lost, and we are the poorer for it.
Anyway, I digress. Back to the Museum. Once we’d admired these magnificent beasts, we’d set off to explore. There were aeroplanes suspended high in the roof, space rockets and even a piece of moon rock. This was not in the least colourful or dramatic, but the knowledge it had been collected from the moon and brought back to earth made it awe- inspiring. There was floor after floor displaying everything scientific, from an old farm milking machine (complete with dummies working it) to models of ships through the ages – floor after floor of models, machines and demonstrations. There was a Foucault Pendulum suspended from the roof to the bottom of the central stairwell, which demonstrated the rotation of the earth. (I never really understood it, but I was impressed!). Once a day there was a high voltage demonstration, emitting a great flash and crash. Of course we never wanted to miss that.
My two top favourite galleries were the Children’s Gallery and the Coal Mine. The coal mine was in the basement, and was a mock-up of a real mine. The details have fuzzed with time, but the coal trucks, the rails and the safety door are still vivid, and the whole sense of adventure in entering the dark ‘mine’, and following the passage, has stayed with me. In reality, the coal mine probably wasn’t very large, but it seemed so at the time, and was always a highlight of our visit.
The Children’s Gallery was also in the basement and was an area devoted to introducing scientific concepts to children. Less ergonomic and colourful than the Launchpad of today, it still provided loads of fun with things to pull, push, press and generally fiddle with. It was very pleasing to be able to lift a ton – albeit very slowly – through the gift of gearing! There was sound frequency booth where we could test our audible frequency range – and where, more importantly, we could also make ‘alien’ sounds.
The Science Museum has changed considerably, as have both scientific progress and museum presentation. It is more colourful, more ‘user-friendly’ and more crowded. But it is still a fantastic experience, it is still free and it is still a wonderful place for children – and adults - to encounter all sorts of science in all sorts of ways.
And of course, for children - and adults - to encounter all sorts of London in all sorts of ways, you need a set of Step Outside Guides!
The coal mine exhibit remains a very powerful memory for me too. I wonder if anyone knows of any images of it, or any details about it still available?