London’s Secret Museums: Musical Museum

I was expecting jazz hands. I was expecting feather boas. I was expecting a chorus line. What I actually got was a look and listen around one of the world’s foremost collections of automatic musical instruments. So, yea, it is a museum-that-is-musical rather than a museum-of-musicals. I suppose the logo rather gives that away if you think about it. Have a look.

The Musical Museum, isn't the logo clever?

After being greeted by smiling front of house and fitted with an audio guide, my tuneful trip started with a quick demonstration from a self-playing-piano.  Clearly this is not a museum that insists on silence. Hurrah!

So, it turns out that automatic musical instruments were only really around for a short while in the early 20th century, but the Great Depression in 1929 rather killed off the industry. These self-players were really impressive feats of engineering as well as sort-of-proto-jukeboxes. In one of the galleries you can see all the cogs and whirligigs that make the music happen.

The one with the violins: a Hupfield Phonoliszt Violina. Not just pianos!

Although the most impressive pieces come from the large houses of the wealthy, there are plenty of examples from bars and cafes of the era. These remarkable instruments give a real insight into so many aspects of the time; the design, the tastes; even what types of music were popular thanks to the audio guides!

“What a shame this isn’t a video guide!” laments the guide as it leads you to a piece that, when it was working, boasted an array of features; flashing lights, waterfall effects, and other visual bells and whistles. These really were all about multi-sensual stimulation, so it is rather sad that they sit silent now. There are demonstrations, I’m informed, but wouldn’t it be something to see it working in its natural, somewhat boozy and exuberant natural setting?

Well, actually, you can kind of do that with the Musical Museum’s star piece; the mighty Wurlitzer. Installed in an upstairs 230 seater concert hall, it rises from beneath the stage to entertain visitors during special events. I bet *that* would be quite something indeed.


399 High Street, Brentford, Middlesex, TW8 0DU



Tuesday-Sunday 11.00-17.00


How Much?



Children (under 16s): Free.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Jack Kirby says:

    Wasn’t the industry was killed off by the more varied music available on the phonograph, gramophone and later radio as much as by the Great Depression? I have seen the mighty Wurlitzer rising from beneath the stage when I was at a conference there, sadly it wasn’t played for us. As a speaker I was then advised to avoid falling into the pit as I crossed the stage….

    1. Hi Jack, the cheaper (and less cumbersome) alternatives offered by phonograph, gramophone and radio probably had a big impact too, however, the audio guide only really emphasised the Great Depression as a key factor.

      O wow I bet that was a sight! Shame you couldn’t hear it! Did you avoid the pit..? 🙂

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