Museum Snapshots

The Button Museum? It’s fastenating.

During the spring of 2009 a running joke appeared in the letters page of The Guardian newspaper. Prompted by a double-spread photograph showing rows of antiquated toasters on display at the Toaster Museum in Kettwig, Germany, one reader wrote proposing that a visit to the Toaster Museum might be followed by a trip to the Bread Museum in Ulm or the nearby Cutlery and Salt museums. More suggestions followed as correspondents recommended the Egg Museum in Soyans, the Chamberpot Museum in Munich, Szentendre’s Marzipan Museum (with its life-size marzipan sculpture of Michael Jackson), Condom’s Condom Museum, the Mousetrap Museum in Eifel, and a penis museum in Husavik, Iceland.

Numerous other curious collections were mentioned until, after some two or three weeks, the letters began to take on an overtly playful tone. While purporting to recommend museums, these missives were actually an exercise in making puns. Allan Blunden started the trend by commenting that ‘those not too set in their ways’ might enjoy a trip to the German Cement Museum, Josie Greenwood followed suit noting that the ‘Button Museum in Ross-on-Wye is fastenating’, and Malcolm Jones thought the Spam Museum in Austin Minnesota ‘a good place to fritter away a few hours’. Other Guardian readers found the Dickens House bleak, The Fan Museum cool, judged Limerick Museum pure poetry, and Dartmoor Prison Museum quite captivating. The recommendations even began to began to reference other running jokes on the letters page including one, which would be impossible today, about uses for empty 35mm film canisters.

At the time the correspondence appeared, I was just beginning to think about writing a book devoted to small museums that concentrated on particular types of objects or single themes, and particularly the domestic, culturally marginal, or ostensibly insignificant. Almost all of The Guardian readers focused on museums that fitted this category and thinking that they may be useful at some point in the future, I copied the letters down. Here are the first half now, the second set is to follow:

Having showcased the Toaster Museum in Kettwig it might be appropriate to follow with the Bread Museum in Ulm. It is forever engraved on the memory of several nephews and nieces, as was the Cutlery Museum (next to the Wallpaper Museum) in Kassel. Though my sister and I found them strangely entertaining! The Salt Museum was more hands-on. Some holidays just happen that way – sorry kids!

Gaynor Lewis, Smallburgh, Norfolk 4/04/09


Gaynor Lewis could link her visits to the Bread and Salt Museums with one to the Egg Museum in Soyans, in the Drome valley, France.

Robert Davis, London, 07/04/09


Readers hastening to Germany for the delights of Kettwig’s Toaster Museum, Ulm’s Bread Museum and the Wallpaper and Cutlery Museums should continue southwards for the Chamberpot Museum in Schloss Nymphenburg, Munich. Unmissable.

Kirsten Cubitt, Sheffield 10/04/09


No trip to Hungary is complete without a visit to Szentendre’s Marzipan Museum with its life-size model of Michael Jackson carved in marzipan.

Ian Clark, Chartham, Kent 11/04/09


Germany does not have a monopoly on unmissable museums. While on honeymoon in 2001, we went to the Musée du Cartonnage in Valreas, Provence. Cardboard has not been the same for us since.

Nina Young, Nottinghamshire 13/04/09


Then on to the Condom Museum in Condom

Jane O’Mahoney, Launceston, Cornwall 13/04/09


Don’t miss Neroth, in the Eifel region of Germany, where the Mousetrap Museum traces the development of a local cottage industry – making mousetraps from bent wire, sold by travelling salesman throughout Europe.

Anthony King, Bristol 16/04/09


Visitors to Koblenz it he 1960s will have unforgettable memories of visiting the ‘Binns’ Museum in the Ehrenbreitstein fortress, devoted to the processing of pumice and the manufacturing of breezeblock.

Jane Caplan, St. Anthony’s College, Oxford 17/04/09


The Whip Museum in Killer, Germany, takes some beating.

David Hemsworth, Haywards Heath, West Sussex 18/04//09


Once you’ve visited le Musée du Pruneau in Agen you’ll want to go regularly.

Don Jackson, York 18/04//09


Husavik in Iceland boasts a phallological museum exhibiting the penises of most of the islands mammals. It doesn’t yet have a human penis, although a local farmer is reported to have donated his – upon his death.

John Land, Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk 20/04/09


For those not too set in their ways I recommend a visit to the German Cement Museum. It’s situated on the windswept outskirts of Henmoor on the road to Cuxhaven.

Dr. Allan Blunden, Liskeard, Cornwall 21/04//09


Visitors to the south-east of France should take their hats off to Le Musée du Beret in Nouy, between Lourdes and Paris.

Tim Nokes, Kendal, Cumbria 21/04//09


Why go abroad for unusual historical collections when you can visit the Prickwillow Drainage Engine Museum in fenland Cambridgeshire.

John Loader, West Wilton, North Yorkshire 22/04/09


I am quite a fan of The Fan Museum in Greenwich. It is so cool

Tom Frost, London 22/04/09


The Button Museum in Ross-on-Wye is fastenating

Josie Greenwood, Worksop, Nottinghamshire 23/04/09


Have the courage to visit the Bottle Museum – run by the wonderfully named Codswallop Trust – at the Elescar Heritage Centre near Barnsbury.

Stuart Currie, Barnsley, South Yorkshire 24/04/09


Does the Baked Bean Museum of Excellence in Port Talbot set the pulses racing?

Alan Paterson, Cambridge 24/04/09


None of them are a patch on the Quilt Museum and Gallery in York

Steve Bradley, York 24/04/09


Surely after the Bottle Museum the next step would be to see the Flessenscheepjes (ships-in-bottles) Museum in Enkhuizen, Holland. And while you’re there, you might as well look in the Sigarbandjes (cigar band) Museum in Volendam

Willem Mejs, Birmingham 27/04/09


The Sewing Machine Museum in South London left me in stitches

Tom Bolger, Woodbridge, Suffolk 27/04/09


Since this series is going to run and run, I suggest you find time for the clock museum at Upton Hall near Newark.

Rev. Tony Bell, Chesterfield, Derbyshire 28/ 04/09


I went to the Idaho Potato Museum in Blackfoot Idaho. Who could resist the strapline ‘Free baked taters to Out-of-Staters’. They had the original Dan Quayle ‘potatoe’ and some potato ice-cream that I would not recommend.

Neil Skilling, Loanhead, Midlothian 28/04/09


Anyone visiting Dumfriesshire might find interest in the Savings Bank Museum at Ruthwell

Neil Forrest 29/04/09


The Dickens House is bleak

Jan Pitt, London 29/04/09


Why not whip along to the leather museum at Walsall?

Ian Joyce, Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire 30/04/09


I’m sorry Jan Pitt found the Dickens House Museum so bleak. She shouldn’t have gone with such great expectations.

Phillip Stephenson, Cambridge 30/04/09


I’ve heard that the Museum of Country Life near East Kilbride is the best in its field

Colin Montgomery, Edinburgh 01/05/09


The Lawrence Sterne Museum in Coxwold is xxxx xxxxx x xxxx

Patrick Wildgust

Shandy Hall, Coxwold, N. Yorkshire 01/05/09


To say nothing of Waregub’s “Museum which ought to be in a Museum”

Geoffrey Pogson, Gillingham, Dorset 01/05/09


Always a popular starter – Arnay-le-Duc’s Soup Museum

Bob Johnson, Durham 02/05/09


The Colour Museum in Bradford should be on any list of buildings to see before you die.

Cliff Challenger, Bradford 02/05/09


None of the museums can cut it like the Mustard Museum in Mount Horeb, Wisconsin, USA

Dave and Moira Emmett, Leeds 04/05/09


The Museum of London is just capital

David Joss Buckley, London 04/05/09


Only a blip on the map, but the Radar Museum, Neatishead, Norfolk is well worth a visit.

Don Baines, Malden, Essex 05/05/09


The British Lawnmower Museum of Southport is a cut above the Mustard Museum of Wisconsin.

Bob Mays, Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire 05/05/09



Tar for mentioning the Asphalt museum, Sacramento, California

Louisa Burville-Riley, Seveoaks, Kent


Limerick Museum, pure poetry.

Brian Hodkinson, Assistant curator, Limerick Museum, 05/05/09


Dartmoor Prison Museum – quite captivating

Johnny Ray, Dorchester, Dorset 07/05/09


Steve adores the Museum in Docklands

Moira Duhig, London 08/05/09


The Keswick Mining Museum in Cumbria is quite oresome

Chris Drinkwater, London 09/05/09


Wigan Museum has no peer

Eric Stanier, Macclesfield, Cheshire 09/05/09


The Discovery Museum in Newcastle is a great find.

Robin Campbell, Gateshead, Tyne and Wear 11/05/09


Missed the Oyster Museum while visiting Whitstable. Oh shuck.

Paula Evans,

Whitstable, Kent 11/05/09


Pull out all the stops and visit the St. Albans Organ Museum

John Bailey, St. Albans, Hertfordshire 12/05/09


It’s funny that no one’s mentioned the Museum of Humour and Satire in Gabrovo, Bulgaria.

Mike Whittaker, Rugby, Warwickshire 12/05/09


The sad news that all the Victorian exhibits are having to be sold off would suggest that the Shambles Museum in Newent is in a bit of a mess.

Max Perkins, Frome, Somerset 12/05/09


Maybe your readers would like to ‘get on up’ to the Sex Machines Museum in Prague.

Dan Adler, Farnham, Surrey 13/05/09


The Manx Kipper Factory and Museum. Smokin’

Steve Pinder, London 14/05/09


I’m rooting for le Musée de la Truffle, Périgord

Colin Virden, Mattlock, Derbyshire 14/05/09


Amsterdam has its Sheepvaart Museum but I wasn’t brave enough to go in.

Fergus Lang, Irby, Wirral 15/05/09


The River and Rowing Museum in Henley-on-Thames is more than just a load of old rowlocks.

Chris Whitehead, Hambledon, Oxfordshire 15/05/09


There used to be a Museum of Atheism in Shkoder, northern Albania, but I don’t believe that it exists anymore

Brian Ferris, Tunbridge Wells, Kent 16/05/09


You should try to squeeze in a Visit to the Concertina Museum in Derbyshire

Robert Bigio, London 16/05/09


The Helicopter Museum in Weston-super-Mare must be an uplifting experience

Julian Dunn, Great Haseley, Oxfordshire 18/05/09


Have a look through Sunderland’s glass museum

Chris Williams, Rufford, Lancashire 19/05/09


There is a Hat Museum in Stockport that has a rival in Narbonne in France. There is a lot of titfer tat between them.

John Banbury, Marple, Stockport 19/05/09


Kidderminster’s new carpet museum will take some beating

Clliff Wilmott, Bewdley Worcestershire 21/05/09


Hurry to the submarine museum in Gosport – there are fears it’s going under.

Clare Ash, Southsea, Hampshire 21/05/09


It’s good that the Hancock Museum is reopening after a £26million redesign and rebuild. Ought to be worth half an hour of anyone’s time.

Anthony Bramley-Harker, Watford 22/05/09


I found a visit to the Museum of Lifts in Brussels and elevating experience.

Pat Nicholls

St. Neots, Cambridgeshire 22/05/09


A visit to the Tinplate Museum in La Tour Blanche, Dordogne gave me unalloyed pleasure

Ian Churchill, Leeds 23/05/09


The Gustav Holst Museum in Cheltenham is on another planet.

Susan Davis, Cheltenham 25/05/09


© Fiona Candlin August 2017

Research Process

The Smallest Museum in the UK?

In 1983 the Museums and Galleries Commissions noted ‘many’ of new museums being established across the UK were ‘very small’ enterprises that had ‘been set up in an initial wave of enthusiasm and volunteer effort’. Surveying the sector in 1990, Victor Middleton thought that by far the majority were ‘very small’ and the historian Raphael Samuel, who wrote that ‘one of the most remarkable additions to the ranks of Britain’s memory-keepers was the multiplication of do-it-yourself curators and mini-museums’, corroborated his observations. Likewise, our research has identified hundreds of tiny museums, which has prompted us to ask: how small can a museum be?


In the museum profession, size has been and is measured in various ways. A common way of doing so is to consider visitor numbers. The problem here is that micromuseums do not necessarily keep a record of visitor numbers or publish that information. We do know, however, that the William Lamb Sculpture Gallery only received 350 visitors at their last count and that the Wessex Water Museum totalled a mere 252 visitors (Figures from Museum Association 2017)


Alternatively, size is judged according to income. The Arts Council, Museums Galleries Scotland, and MALD in Wales all stipulate that museums must be accredited in order to receive funding, and it is rare for micromuseums to have to capacity or the resources to reach the required standards and put in the applications. This means that they are reliant on ticket sales or donations. In a few cases the museum may be profitable, but for others the revenue is low or may even run at a loss. The 700 or 800 visitors who pay £2 apiece to visit Barometer World in Devon, generate some £1400 to £1600 a year, but the cost of printing and delivering the museum’s publicity material runs to some £7,500 per annum.


Staff numbers provide another measure of size. We know that there are numerous museums that have no paid staff. One such venue is the Ipswich Transport Museum, although they have numerous volunteers who collectively manage a relatively large-scale enterprise. In order to qualify as really tiny, a museum would have only a few volunteers.

Ipswich Transport Museum


A less common approach is to consider the floor space of a given venue. The Woolpit Village Museum in Suffolk is the smallest museum in the county but at 33m2, it is whopping in in comparison to the Mundesley Maritime Museum in Norfolk, which occupies the ground floor of a tiny building, the upstairs being taken by the local coast guard. It is a petite 15m.

Alternatively, size is assessed in relation to the extent of the collections. ICOM considers any museum that has a collection of less than 5,000 objects to be small, but making such estimations is problematic in the contexts of micromuseums who do not generally have a catalogue of their holdings or formally accession objects. This makes it difficult to decide what is part of the collection, and what is there to provide context or for decoration. Even so, the Alfred Corry Museum in Southwold must have a fighting chance for the title of smallest museum because arguably it has only one object in its collection – the lifeboat after which it is named – the other exhibits consisting of reproduced photographs. The lifeboat is, however, a very big object, and it is quite possible that there are museums with a single, rather small exhibit.

Alfred Corry Museum


Perhaps the smallest museum would be the one that scores minimally in all categories of visitor numbers, staffing, income, floor space, and collections size, in which case I would like to make a nomination for the smallest museum in the UK – the very splendid Raisbeck Dame School House in the village of that name, in Cumbria.

Raisbeck Dame School House


This redoubtable venue is a tiny stone building on two floors, each being some 9m2. Downstairs there are some five panels explaining that it was once a schoolhouse and was preserved as a museum in the 1982. The panels also record that local residents campaigned to save it and raised money to produce the information panels. Since then it has received no funding, and there is no admission charge. There are no objects on display beyond the building itself, it has no staff and no volunteers, although a nearby resident does act as an occasional caretaker, and the visitors’ book records the presence of around 300 people in three years. There may have been others who did not sign their names but given its rather remote location it is unlikely that it would have played host to crowds. By any measure, Raisbeck School is an exceedingly small museum.


Do you have any other suggestions for smallest museum in the UK? If so let us know what they are and why you think they qualify.


©Fiona Candlin July 2017