On Wednesday afternoon, quite by chance, I went to a place in London that I have long wanted to go and really should have gone before. The place was the home of the Last Tuesday Society and the Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities in Mare St, London E8. It is one of the weirdest places I have ever seen – and believe me I have seen some weird places.
The reason I was wandering London’s East End before coming across the museum was sadly a serious one. I had gone to visit an old friend who was in a hospice, but who I had lost touch with until I was told that she was ill. I spent some time with her, glad to have come but ashamed I had not visited her sooner. When I left, her husband offered to show me to the bus stop. It was very kind of him, but as I had got lost on the way there I was grateful.
Glancing across the road from the stop, I saw the Last Tuesday Society sign and couldn’t help exclaiming that I’d long wanted to visit the place. Again, very kindly, my guide offered to take me around it. Despite feeling guilty for keeping him away from his wife’s bedside, I let him.
The museum is surreal. As the guidebook I got there states, it:
...presents an incoherent vision of the world displayed through wonder enclosed within a tiny space, no attempt is made at classification and comprehensiveness, instead the museum focuses on the pre-enlightenment origins of the museum as Wunderkabinett – a mirror to a world so suffused with miracles and beauty that any attempt at categorization is bound to fail.Crowded into cabinets, on shelves and hanging from the ceiling are all sorts of strange things. There are skeletons and skulls, mummified animals with extra heads or limbs, artfully crafted mythical creatures and curiosities including a giant hairball and some dinosaur poo. Alongside these are artwork and ephemera relating to the bright young dandy Stephen Tennant and other colourful characters, including clothes and pictures. The museum also contains a large number of items relating to witchcraft, magic and the occult, not least of which is a big collection of paintings and drawings by occultist Austin Osman Spare.
It costs £5 to go around the museum, which is in the basement. On the ground floor is a bar and cafe, which is open from Wednesday to Sunday from 11am-10:30pm serving cocktails, and a gallery at the back, sponsored by Hendrick’s gin. It currently has an exhibition of pictures by Spare on display.
There’s plenty of weirdness on the walls of the cafe too, so you can just pop in for a drink and enjoy the atmosphere without the extra expense of going round the museum. Oh and if you fancy a rather peculiar private party you can hire a table in the museum, including one that is wonderfully called The Devil’s Table and costs £45 for an evening.
The Last Tuesday Society was founded in 1873 in Harvard, according to the website, but opened its London venue only 10 years ago. It calls itself a “pataphysical organisation”. The website states:
“The society is dedicated to subverting life, the universe and everything bored of the life and world it sees around it seeks to create a new world filled with beauty, wonder and the imagination. The Society presents a veritable feast of experiences and productions.”It hosts lectures, storytelling evenings and workshops on weird and wonderful topics, including regular lessons on how to stuff animals, arranged via the British Academy of Taxidermy. I’ve frequently listed Last Tuesday Society talks on the events page of my blog as they have included many subjects relating to witchcraft.
I didn’t spend very long at the museum on Wednesday. I looked around, took the photos you can see on this post, then left to get that bus home. In the circumstances, I wasn’t really in the right head space for something quite so surreal. Although, thinking about it, maybe I was. Maybe I was in just the right head space to want to believe in miracles and magic and the outright impossible.
And now I know where the Last Tuesday Society is, and what bus stops right outside, I will certainly come back there and hear a lecture or two in the future.
You can visit the Last Tuesday Society website here: http://www.thelasttuesdaysociety.org/
Links and previous related posts