Musical Museums

Costumes worn from the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band displayed at The Beatles Story Museum, Liverpool.

Costumes worn from the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band displayed at The Beatles Story Museum, Liverpool.

Val Baynton explores the Capital’s musical trips for groups.

A fun way to take a look back at the past is through music and, although it seems unrelated to health and medicine, there is an interesting connection at London’s Foundling Museum, which stands on the site of the original Foundling Hospital.

The hospital was founded in 1739 by philanthropist Thomas Coram to care for and educate children abandoned by their poverty-stricken parents but one of its first patrons was the composer, George Handel.

Handel encouraged leading artists of his day to donate art works and it became the UK’s first public art gallery. Handel donated an organ and then conducted annual benefit concerts of the Messiah in the chapel.

The Foundling Museum, London – Gerald Coke Handel Collection.

The Foundling Museum, London – Gerald Coke Handel Collection.

On show alongside the Foundling Hospital Collection, the Gerald Coke Handel Collection is the world’s largest of Handel memorabilia. Running until 11th August is the Women of Note exhibition that highlights some of the female singers that Handel had in mind as performers when he composed his music. Group tours are available, for more than 15 people tour times are staggered.

You can learn more about the composer at Handel’s House in Brook Street, where he lived for 30 years. Later inhabitants of the house included a surgeon and several dentists! Next door is the flat where Jimi Hendrix lived from 1968 to 1969, and the permanent exhibition here reveals Hendrix’s place in the musical and social world of 1960s London.

Swinging 60s London bus tour.

Swinging 60s London bus tour.

Groups can really get to the heart of music in London in the 1960s by joining a Swinging 60s London bus tour from Music Heritage. From the moment your group boards the vintage Routemaster bus amidst a waft of patchouli, you’ll be transported back in time by this immersive sensory experience.

The tour will take you past legendary and iconic 60s fashion and music venues and you will listen to original music and jingles of the era supplied by Radio Caroline and MyGoldMusic, while excellent tour guides will add fun facts as you travel along. Tour options include 90-minute and three-hour tours such as the ‘Stones & Beatles in West London’ as well as customised trips that can include visits to one of several partner destinations such as The Vault Rock Museum, The Hard Rock Café and the Royal Albert Hall. You can choose an authentic double decker Routemaster with 72 seats, or a single deck with 39 seats.

The Musical Museum, close to Kew Bridge in West London, houses a collection of mechanical musical instruments and offers guided tours with musical demonstrations all year round. The Mighty Wurlitzer organ shipped from Chicago to the Regal Cinema in Kingston in 1929 is one of the star exhibits. To celebrate its 90th birthday, the museum is holding a concert on 16th June at 3pm, when Chris Barber, who has played at the popular Christmas concerts in recent years, will be at the Wurlitzer, supported by some talented young singers.

One of the galleries at the Musical Museum, London

One of the galleries at the Musical Museum, London

An exhibition about the Wurlitzer organ will be on display from late spring to early autumn. Other highlights at the museum include Donald MacKenzie, organist at Odeon Leicester Square, accompanying short Silent Film comedies on Sunday 19th May and a Halloween Silent in late October. Christmas Concerts with afternoon tea for groups run from mid-November to mid-December. Tea dances run once a month on a Saturday.

Several other musical collections in London can be visited by groups with an interest in instruments, scores, composers and more. The Royal Academy of Music Museum in Marylebone has three galleries and a temporary exhibition space. Look out for a Stradivari violin dating from 1709! Pre-booked tours are available for groups of up to 20 people.

The Royal College of Music in Kensington has a collection of some 25,000 items including the earliest known guitar, but the museum is currently closed and is due to reopen in 2020 following major redevelopment. Additional insights into musical heritage can be found at the Horniman Museum, the V&A Museum and the Royal Military School of Music Museum.

Nationwide Experiences

For those interested in the Beatles there is nowhere better to head to than Liverpool. Alongside The Beatles Story Museum you can find out more about the relationship between John Lennon and Yoko Ono at the Museum of Liverpool, where the exhibition, ‘Double Fantasy’, about the couple has been extended until 3rd November. The British Music Experience on the Liverpool waterfront tells the story of popular music in the UK through the display of costumes, instruments and other memorabilia. Artists featured include Freddie Mercury, the Spice Girls and Dusty Springfield.

Jerry Dammers in car used for the Specials Video for the song Ghost Town on display at the Coventry Museum of Music.

Jerry Dammers in car used for the Specials Video for the song Ghost Town on display at the Coventry Museum of Music.

Meanwhile, the Coventry Museum of Music, set up by local music lovers – Pete and Julie Chambers in 2013 – focuses on the music created in Coventry and Warwickshire. Going back to Roman times, the museum mainly concentrates on the popular music from Music Hall onwards including 50s Rock ‘N’ Roll, the 60s Beat Scene, 70s 2-tone and continuing up to the present day. With lots of colourful and musical displays it is a great way to step back in time! Special exhibitions and events this year celebrate the 40th anniversary of 2-tone music.

Elsewhere, museums have been created at the birthplace or longtime homes of three noteworthy composers, to tell the story of the person’s life and highlight their importance to the history of music. The Firs, Elgar’s Birthplace, is in Lower Broadheath, Worcestershire, The Holst Museum is in Cheltenham and The Red House in Aldeburgh, Suffolk was the home of Benjamin Britten and his partner Peter Pears for nearly two decades.