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Technology Intervention #8 – Sir Jonn Soane’s Museum, The Cartoon Museum and the Byron B-Rex burger

What’s the deal with the weather in London at the minute? As I left the house on Friday the sun was out across London, the sky was blue and everything was right with the world (it wasn’t, but you know what I mean). Spring is sprung, as they say. A few hours later I had the hood up on a coat so ineffectual in the rain I may as well have gone out wrapped in tissue paper. And it poured. For hours. Global warming, eh? I’m sure we’ll all be fine.

My first stop was Sir John Soane’s Museum in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, a short walk from Holborn (and across the square from The Hunterian).

Sir John Soane's Museum

John Soane was an architect who died nearly two hundred years ago. Starting out the son of a bricklayer, he rose through society, becoming Professor of Architecture at the Royal Academy and eventually receiving a knighthood. His best known work is the Bank of England, although he’s responsible for a number of other significant buildings around London.

In 1792 he bought the house at 12 Lincoln Fields (and eventually the house next door) and used it as his home, library and a space for entertaining. After (sadly) falling out with both of his children, in 1833 (four years before his death) he obtained an Act of Parliament to bequeath the house and his collections inside to the British Nation on the condition it be made into a museum of architecture after his death. With the Act of Parliament in place, the house has remained almost exactly the same as when he was alive. With this in mind, I wasn’t really sure what to expect.

On arriving you may have to queue for a short time. The house is (understandably) popular and there’s only so much space. Luckily for me, I didn’t need to queue. Entrance is free, but I picked up the tour guidebook for a fiver. Once inside you’re free to roam between the rooms and admire Soane’s collection of oddities. Pretty much every room has a curator and they all seemed pretty knowledgable, happy to chat and answer questions. Which was nice, because I was in a chatty mood.

Soane's Guide

To be honest, I was kind of overwhelmed by the shear amount of *stuff* Soane managed to collection. There is quite literally something everywhere you look. Everywhere. Personally I tend to head towards the minimal, but Soane was clearly a collector. Of everything. I spoke to one of the curators about it. He told me Soane had suffered from OCD – despite the huge number of things, he needed order, which was why it felt like everything had a place. And even with the busy-ness, it didn’t seem cluttered. Which I agreed with.

Soane designed the inside of his house in a curious fashion – some rooms practical, or a demonstration of architectural concepts, but a lot just unusual and interesting. One of the highlights for me was the Crypt, which housed the alabaster sarcophagus of Egyptian Pharaoh Seti I, covered in hieroglyphs. Soane purchased it for £2000 in 1824 and then had a 3 day party to display it. Who doesn’t love a 3 day party?! The museum also houses his pretty incredible art collection, which includes a number of Canaletto‘s and Hogarth’s brilliant ‘A Rake’s Progress‘. There’s also an amazing amount of antiquities, statues and bits of buildings and goodness knows what else collected from around the world.

Soane's Crypt

It was a fascinating stroll around a fascinating building and I’m glad I went. They’re in the middle of a massive (about £7m or something) renovation project to restore some rooms to their former glory – I look forward to going back and checking them out. Entrance is free and the museum is open from 10am until 5pm. Apparently they do candlelight events in the evening from time to time. I bet they’d be great. Anyway, go and have a look.

The sun was still out when I left, so I wandered over to the Central St Giles Byron Burger to check out their new ‘B-Rex‘ burger. Once again the Byron special doesn’t disappoint – inside the bun you’ll find pickles, finely shredded white onions, bacon, cheese, an onion ring, jalapeños, BBQ sauce and mayo – with the Byron patty, of course. It’s a beautifully constructed burger. One I’m looking forward to having again. Top marks, Fred.

Byron B-Rex

The rain had started as I left Byron. Not heavily, but the signs were ominous. I headed to The Cartoon Museum and shelter. You can find The Cartoon Museum on Little Russell Street. It’s £7 to get in, but not being supported by the government, this (and any donations) go towards running the place.

I’d been putting off the visit since January because I’ve been waiting for the current exhibition. I’m really glad I did. The main bulk of the collection on the ground floor has been moved to the smaller side room (which apparently usually hosts the exhibitions) in favour of ‘Spitting Image: From Start to Finish‘. This chronicles how the latex puppets came to be, shows how they were created, the drawings behind them and a whole load of other interesting (and often humorous) bits.

Cartoon Museum

Lots of the puppets were sold in an auction in the early ’00s, but you can still see Maggie, Diana and Gorbachev. Each puppet is created from a caricature of the person. After drawing, another artist would recreate it in clay. Amusingly, they have all the caricatures for the Stones on the wall except for Mick. For him, apparently the clay artists worked straight from a photo… There’s a load of other bits I’d love to tell you about, but it’d spoil it. So go and have a look yourself.

The rest of the ground floor of the museum shows you the history of British comics and cartoons, which fittingly, includes a section on Hogarth. There’s some wonderful cartoons and panels going from hundreds of years ago right up until now. And lots of them will make you giggle.

Upstairs there’s a big collection of artwork from more ‘modern’ comics and a display of some pictures that were created after the recent Lichtenstein exhibition at the Tate Modern (basically Lichtenstein copied/adapted the work of others, so they copied/adapted him). I chuckled my way around the comic panels – classics from Dennis the Menace and Bash Street Kids, etc.

Cartoon Museum

I left the museum with a big grin on my face. I suspect you will too. Go and have a look while they have the Spitting Image exhibition on, especially if you were a fan. The museum is open everyday from 10.30 (12 on Sunday) until 17.30.

It was pouring when I left – and continued to rain well into the evening. Thankfully I found myself in a bar with a few friends. At which point (and looking a little like a drowned rat) I was somewhat past caring…

Another successful Friday. Good times.

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