Five unmissable small museums

  • 16 May 2014

Good things can come in small packages – we choose our five of our favourite diminutive museums and galleries across the UK.

1. Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft, East Sussex
Free entry with National Art Pass

If a museum's staff is a measure of its size, then Ditchling Museum is as small as they come. Before its £2.3m renovation, the museum was run by two full-time staff members, although a period of expansion has seen that figure grow to five. Founded in 1985 by sisters Hilary and Joanna Bourne, Ditchling has been transformed into a cutting-edge museum dedicated to presenting the creations of local artists and craftspeople in the 20th century, in the environment that inspired them. Ditchling is a finalist for Museum of the Year 2014.

​2. Kettle's Yard, Cambridge
Free entry to all

Situated at the heart of Cambridge's university centre, this beautiful house was the home of Jim Ede, a former Tate Gallery curator. Today, the gallery is home to Ede's remarkable collection of modern art, featuring paintings by Ben and Winifred Nicholson, Christopher Wood, David Jones and Joan Miró, among others. Next door to the house, a modern art gallery hosts an ever-changing programme of modern and contemporary art exhibitions.

​3. Sir John Soane's Museum, London
Free entry to all

John Soane was one of the greatest British architects of the late 18th and early 19th centuries – his top-lit design for Dulwich Picture Gallery was a key influence on modern museum and gallery planning. Soane amassed an eclectic collection of art and objects, from Egyptian sarcophagi to Peruvian pottery. While some of his collection would end up in the British Museum, much of it remains on display in his former home at 12 Lincoln's Inn Fields.

4. Penlee House Gallery and Museum, Penzance
Free entry with National Art Pass

This Italianate villa near the coast was built in 1865 for JR Branwell, a wealthy merchant related to the Brontë family. It was taken over in the mid-20th century and transformed into a district museum. The main focus of the Penlee collection is on works by painters from the Newlyn School – a colony of artists who worked in Cornwall from the 1880s to the 1930s, including Laura Knight and Walter Langley. The gallery doesn't have a fixed art display, instead hosting a rotating exhibition programme featuring works from its permanent collection.

5. Stanley Spencer Gallery, Cookham
Free entry with National Art Pass

Three years after Stanley Spencer's death, this gallery opened in the village where he was born – a lasting memorial to one of Britain's greatest 20th-century artists. The gallery occupies the former Victorian Methodist Chapel where Spencer worshipped as a child, which would come to have a huge influence on his religious paintings. The collection spans across Spencer's religious paintings and portraits, along with drawings, letters and other personal items. 

Tags: What to seeMuseums and galleriesGreat days out