Too long ago - The South Ken experience when I was young.
By Francesca Fenn, Jun 10 2015 09:00AM
In my recent blog for mykidsy.com I mentioned that my love of London was probably engendered by our day trips there in the school holidays. This has set me a-thinking about those days out, and the special and particular memories that I have of them. Some things are just the same as they were then, and some are very different. Over our next blogs, I’m going to share some of those memories with you!
When I was in infant and junior school, at some point every school holiday my mum would pack up a picnic (all tupperward and plastic bags, the dreaded wet flannel in another plastic bag) and with her four children would set off for the station. Tickets from Seven Kings to South Kensington were 5/- (25p) for adults and 2/6d (12 1/2p) for children between 3 and 14 years. We had to buy tickets to a particular station – there were no travel zones or travel cards – and as you can see, children were charged half fare. Still, a day out for 12/6d was not bad value!
At South Kensington Station, the first delight was The Tunnel, complete with echoes, posters and buskers. The Tunnel is a Victorian subway which connects the station directly to the museums, with exits at various stages along it, depending which museum you are visiting. These days I much prefer walking above ground, but then we wouldn’t hear of it!
There are three main museums at South Kensington, the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum and the Victoria and Albert museum (the V&A), all glorious Victorian buildings. Today they are shown at their very best, but in my childhood they were black and grimy – I had no idea that the Natural History Museum is such a beautiful building! But back to my memories. There were always vans parked at the entrances to the museums, selling both icecreams and hotdogs at outrageous prices – we were never allowed anything from them, despite our pleading and nagging.
My parents always encouraged research and learning, and occasionally we would take objects or curiosities to the museums with us, and go to the information desk. We’d be seen by an expert in the relevant field and we were unfailingly given polite and patient explanations from curators, researchers or whoever was on hand.
When we got to a certain age – I think about nine – we were allowed to go off on our own, or with a sibling, within the museum, meeting up at a set place and time. I can’t imagine many parents would be comfortable doing that now, but we loved it.
I’ll be musing on what we saw, did and enjoyed in each museum in another blog, but lunch was always the same. In fine weather our picnic was eaten either in the grounds of the Natural History Museum, or in the quadrangle of the Victoria and Albert Museum (the V&A) across the road. This featured a huge Buddah, now removed, where, fascinatingly for us, Buddhists would occasionally come to meditate while we chomped on our sandwiches. I don’t remember much about the V&A, other than the quadrangle. (This is rather odd, as today I think this is my favourite museum!) I seem to remember the museums had ‘school rooms’ where we could eat our sandwiches in winter – they were underground, windowless and smelled of old packed lunches and I didn’t like them at all!
The great museums of London were, and still are, are a rich resource and a wonderful asset. I think we are so privileged to have such ready access to these world-class institutions.. We don’t take our Step Outside Guides into the South Kensington museums for two reasons. First, the museums are each a day out in themselves, and second, they all have excellent family information, guides and activities. Perhaps one day we’ll write a Step Inside guide for each of them! In the meantime, whether you are stepping outside with one of our guides, or stepping inside a museum or gallery, make sure you enjoy London and all the amazing things it has to offer!