What?: The first (and last) time I visited God’s Own Junkyard – a gallery-slash-museum-slash-shrine-to-its-creator, the late ‘Neon Man’, Chris Bracey – I don’t remember it being particularly child-friendly. This was back when I was footloose, child-free and unconstrained by concerns about infant-appropriateness. I probably thought that people with kids should just sit indoors until their offspring were old enough to be accepted into polite society around the age of 20 and I definitely wouldn’t have considered a neon-light warehouse an appropriate toddler playground. But childless me knew nothing, because this was one of the most successful days out we’ve had with Bab, and by far the coolest from a parental point of view.
Founded in 1978 by Bracey’s dad Dick and opened in its current site in late 2013, God’s Own Junkyard is a gallery like no other with its hefty hoard of neon – the largest in Europe; borderline-batshit Aladdin’s Cave vibe; and brilliantly named The Rolling Scones Cafe with its comprehensive, hearty and reasonably priced menu.
Many of the pieces on display were created by Bracey for Hollywood films such as Bladerunner and Eyes Wide Shut, and the artist claimed to have made 99% of Soho’s sex-shop signs over a 20-year period. Bracey was also a prolific collector of vintage signs and sculptures, and his pimped-up religious iconography, old US diner/motel signs and vintage Las Vegas paraphernalia sits alongside his commissioned works in a sort of farcical kaleidoscopic collage that becomes even more ludicrous when you add a toddler into the equation. In fact one of the highlights of our visit was positioning Bab in and around sleazy signs whose meanings she was hilariously oblivious to.
Now obviously all of the neon is mains-connected and the potential for lightbulb-unscrewing toddler urges is real, but provided your child has a relatively low attention span you can probably manage to bat them from one light source to another like some kind of deranged moth, never hovering long quite enough to successfully electrocute themselves. And if they don’t and you’re worried about the length of time little fingers are lingering between the bulbs then there’s always the drawing table with its enamel mugs full of felt tips and an enormous guest book for them to scribble on.
Our overall feeling was that everything here was child-friendly provided Bab didn’t spend so long playing with it that she found ways for it to not be. The neon signs, the colouring table that was too lofty for her so sit at so she had to sit on it, and the little water feature in the back garden: all potentially lethal but absolutely fine so long as we didn’t give her time to figure that out.
Where?: God’s Own Junkyard is located on the Ravenswood Industrial Estate on Shernhall Street in Walthamstow and is a 14-minute walk from Walthamstow Central (Victoria, Ginger).
Best Bits: Much more child-friendly than you’d imagine thanks to the tot-friendly menu, felt-tip table and surprisingly laissez-faire attitude to younger visitors. Plus the lush back garden is one of East London’s coolest and calmest spots to grab lunch.
Worst Bits: There is some serious wattage going on here, which is obviously a potential concern. I also doubt the concrete floor would mix well with a crawler.
What’s on the Menu?: Traditional afternoon tea, hot food, sandwiches, all-day brunch, cake, hot and cold drinks, alcohol.
Facilities: Toilets, step-free access to the gallery and cafe – though not the back garden.
Cost: Entry is free.
Would We Come Back?: Yes.
Bab colours at God’s Own Junkyard, Walthamstow.