Five unmissable small museums
Good things can come in small packages. We choose five of our favourite intimate museums and galleries across the UK.
From a tiny chapel celebrating a renowned artist to a Victorian home dedicated to local heritage, the UK offers a wealth of intimate museums ranging from the exquisite to the quirky.
Check out these five small venues with big ideas – all offering free entry with a National Art Pass (and Sir John Soane's Museum is free to all).
- East Sussex
The artistic community that was founded in Ditchling in 1921 by Eric Gill, Hilary Pepler and Desmond Chute attracted many artists and craftspeople to the village, turning it into an important centre for the visual arts. The museum now holds an internationally significant collection of work by Ditchling artists and also hosts a changing programme of exhibitions and contemporary work.
This Italianate house and park near the coast was built in 1865 and is now home to a stunning museum and art gallery dedicated to west Cornwall's unique cultural history. A changing programme of exhibitions showcases the permanent collection, with a particular focus on the Newlyn School – a colony of artists who worked in Cornwall from the 1880s to the early 20th century, including Elizabeth Forbes and Walter Langley. The museum covers 6,000 years of the area's history with a wealth of archaeological and natural history artefacts.
- Greater London
Sir 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. He filled his home with an eclectic collection of art and objects, from Egyptian sarcophagi to Peruvian pottery and paintings by Hogarth, Turner and Canaletto. Each room was arranged to inspire and delight, and the house has been kept as it was at the time of his death nearly 180 years ago.
Housed in two beautiful early Georgian townhouses in the heart of Greenwich, this is the only museum in the UK devoted to the art and history of fans. Changing exhibitions explore the different themes that have inspired fan-makers since the 11th century and across many world cultures. Once you've sampled the extensive collection, the muraled Orangery café overlooking the secret Japanese-style garden is the perfect place for a leisurely afternoon tea.
Three years after Stanley Spencer's death, this gallery opened in Cookham where he was born – a lasting memorial to one of Britan's greatest 20th-century artists. It occupies the former Victorian Methodist Chapel where Spencer worshipped as a child, which would come to have a huge influence on his religious paintings – he was well-known for depicting biblical scenes as if they happened in the village. Exhibitions explore different themes in his work and draw on the extensive permanent collection of paintings, drawings and personal items.