Culture24's top ten toy museums for summer holidays and half term

| 29 July 2013

Whether they possess tiny classic cars to make collectors obsess or vintage and modern miniatures to make the kids laugh, toy museums are a powerful mix of nostalgia and fun. Here are a few of the best...

A black and white photo of two children playing with toys on a lounge floor in the 60s
© John Heywood

Bowes Museum, Durham

Muffin the Mule and Andy Pandy were already residents of the ground suite of galleries at the Bowes, extended in playful fashion by the new Children’s Room in the Streatlam Galleries. Dolls, teddy bears, vintage robots and mechanical toys are drawn from the esteemed on-site collection and loans from partner museum the Beamish.

Brighton Toy and Model Museum, Brighton

Crouched in Victorian arches under Brighton Station, Brighton’s toy temple specialises in Dinky delights, Meccano marvels, steam engines, puppets and a furry menagerie including George the Steiff Bear. Its current exhibition and research project marks the 150th year of Hornby.

V&A Museum of Childhood, London

Opened more than 140 years ago, Bethnal Green’s museum became the cherubic branch of the V&A during the 1920s. Annual crowds near the half a million mark a century later, with daily tours, activities and storytelling sessions. Family Fun Fridays take different themes each week.

Sudbury Hall and the National Trust Museum of Childhood, Sudbury

This wing of Sudbury Hall was once a quarter for Victorian servants, so its combination of palpable time-travelling and hands-on graft seems appropriate. Travel down a Victorian mine tunnel in The Work Gallery, see what life was like during World War II in The Home Gallery and meet an extensive range of imaginary friends from across the generations in the dedicated toy space.

Museum of Childhood, Edinburgh

This much-loved 18th century Edinburgh venue aims to present all things childhood past, contextualising its toys against changing societal attitudes to issues such as healthcare and education for the young. Clothes and remnants from old schools stand next to a glorious gabble of miniatures, puppets, houses, vehicles and more.

The Hamilton Toy Collection, Callander

One of those museums where the tireless dedication of curators fills the corridors with enthusiasm. The shelves are crammed with toy soldiers, sci-fi artefacts from Daleks to Batman, Corgi and Dinky collectibles, an Edwardian nursery and much more besides.

The Mill Toy and Pedal Car Museum, East Sussex

Phil Collins, the owner of this museum in Northiam, recently entered the Guinness World Record Books for the largest collection of pedal-powered model vehicles on the planet (his favourite, he told them, is the E-type Jaguar representing his first purchase). An essential place for collectors, its century-old flour mill home has a picturesque setting and a tea room.

West Wales Museum of Childhood, Llangeler

Built in an 18th century farm a decade ago, Llangerler’s museum is the result of decades of collecting by a husband and wife curatorial team. Pinball machines, Action Man figures, film and television favourites and remnants of a lime quarry are among the quirks to look out for here.

Ilkley Toy Museum, Ilkley

Toys, bears and miniature figures from the mid-19th century dominate the collection at Ilkley. A mock-up of a 19th century terrace house, a Steiff bear once owned by a German Jewish refugee, a model fairground and an 18th century wooden doll also figure in a Yorkshire attraction dotted with games and jigsaws.

Pollock's Toy Museum, London

Declared “simultaneously creepy and mesmerising” by Lonely Planet, the Georgian townhouse buildings of Pollock’s make for an alluring home to six rooms of board games, tin toys, puppets and mechanicals. Many of them date from the 19th century, drawn from across the world. Two of the three staircases are devoted to folk toys.

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