I have to admit it. We may never have discovered the London Museum of Water and Steam if we hadn’t been staying so close to it. Yet it turned out to be one of the best London museums for kids. Our Little Man loved it so much we went back there several times
The Museum of Water and Steam London is housed in an old pumping station at Kew Bridge, in the western outskirts of London. It’s only a ten-minute walk from Kew Gardens, and both could easily be visited in a day.
I didn’t expect to be so impressed with the Water and Steam Museum, but it was a wonderful surprise. Read on to find why I recommend it as one of the best museums for kids in London.
HOW DO YOU GET TO THE LONDON MUSEUM OF WATER AND STEAM?
As the meerkat says, simples. It’s a very short walk from Kew Bridge Overground station, which is on the line between Waterloo and Hounslow and Weybridge. It’s also on the 65 bus line from Kew Gardens, and the 237 and 267 routes from Hammersmith and White City in West London.
Some of the buses stop right outside or across the road from the Museum. The Museum tower is a very prominent West London landmark, around 200 feet high. Although it was formerly known as the Kew Bridge Steam Museum it’s actually in Brentford, London – just. This is the next suburb along from Kew Bridge.
WHY IS IT ONE OF THE MOST INTERESTING MUSEUMS IN LONDON?
It tells you the fascinating history of water in London. The site was opened as a water pumping station in 1838, replacing an earlier one in Chelsea. The buildings are like cathedrals of the industrial age, with two magnificent large engine houses and the aforementioned tower. The tower is very striking, Italianate in style. I had been past it hundreds of times without knowing what it was. It houses standpipes, and is unique in the UK.
I rate it one of the best museums in London because of the way it tells the story of water in London. House models illustrate the changes down the centuries quite beautifully. In medieval times, the concept of sanitation was a long way off. My Little Man found the model of a maid throwing a bucket of pee out of a window absolutely hilarious. He found it even funnier when I explained that people underneath would often get doused in it.
It was also intriguing to learn other water-related history. Taking high tea was one of the most important social events in 18th century Georgian high society. There was a simple, prosaic reason for its rise in popularity. Drinking boiled water was the one sure-fire way to avoid coming down with cholera, which was still widespread at the time.
WHAT CAN YOU ACTUALLY SEE THERE?
The first thing you see in the Museum is a wall filled with a massive array of water appliances. There are machines, buckets and taps of all shapes and sizes. Not to mention a vintage original Thomas Crapper toilet.
You also pass through a reconstructed Victorian (19th century) sewer before moving onto the two imposing engine houses.
These are home to the world’s largest collection of Cornish engines. These were developed in Cornwall in south-west England to pump water out of mine shafts. They were later used to pump drinking water for filtration.
The most impressive of these is the Grand Junction 90 -inch engine, which pumped water into the London mins system for almost a century. There are also other steam engines, diesel engines and a water wheel.
WHAT IS THERE FOR KIDS?
Apart from the often. Humorous aspects of the history of water in London, the Museum does a great job of getting kids involved. As with many of the top museums in London, the key to keeping kids’ attention is to have plenty of interactive things for them to try, and this is where the Water Museum does so well.
There’s a trail for them to follow, in the footsteps a cat which, inevitably, meets a rat somewhere along the way.
They can also dress up in 19th century clothing as steam engine drivers. Our Little Man requires very little persuasion to don a costume for a photo!
They can also take a short (400 metre) steam train ride around the grounds of the Museum. This doesn’t run every day – call ahead to check if the train is running when you intend to visit.
Our Little Man’s favourite part of the Museum is the collection of water-based play devices outside in the courtyard. He became completely engrossed turning the Archimedes screw on one and building dams on another, adding some of his toys to develop a storyline out of it.
For the Little Man, one of the most fun museums in London. It’s somewhere he wanted to revisit several times, so we ended up buying annual membership. This costs less than two visits.
And for Dad, a lovely surprise, one of the best small museums in London, and one of the best things to do in West London.
OUR OVERALL SCORE
David Angel is a British writer and photographer who has been travelling and photographing the world for over 25 years. His work is regularly featured in worldwide media including the BBC, the Guardian, the Times and the Sunday Times. His images are frequently used throughout the world by tourism bodies such as Visit Britain and Visit Wales.