What?: Gah. I really hate going to things and having to admit they’re shit, because I honestly want to love everything we do. Sometimes my admissions of shitness are met with such strong resistance from people who had a lovely day at the play cafe or museum or whatever I start to think maybe I’ve been a bit harsh. I was having this conversation with a friend last night after some comments about this museum on Instagram made me wonder if I was being a bit snobby about it since technically the kids had a nice time, but then she reminded me that most children would be happy playing with a leaf in a car park for ages and just because they didn’t have a terrible time it doesn’t mean the place deserves a good review.
So, London Museum of Water & Steam is a small to medium-sized museum exploring the history of water and steam in the capital. It’s not-for-profit and largely volunteer-run, which makes me feel even worse about giving it a bad review but, I’ve got to be honest, I can probably think of 100 museums I’d rather go to and the majority of them would be considerably cheaper than this one. The subject matter was pretty dull (ok so we kind of walked into that one, but I still think most of the exhibits could have been much more interesting than they were) and the various sections felt disjointed. For some reason I’d been expecting much more modern interactives than the ones we were presented with, and the general vibe was tired and meh.
The museum’s outdoor activities were definitely its forte but even these failed to grab us, particularly since the miniature steam train was only open to the visiting group of school kids and kept cheerfully chugging past as if to taunt us. Even the two big outdoor water-play features seemed a bit crap when compared with smaller ones Babu’s enjoyed in, for example, the Science and Docklands Museums, but maybe it’s just that she’s older now and kind of over water play. Who knows? They could definitely have done with chucking some toy boats in there though, and maybe making the large outdoor area into more of a playground. Also I definitely wouldn’t say no to an outdoor coffee cart of some sort.
We almost bypassed the cafe altogether but decided at the last minute that we didn’t have the energy to go elsewhere for sustenance. The lady who served us was lovely and I had a nice enough flapjack thing and an iced coffee, while Babu had a carton of apple juice some Pom-Bears because that’s kind of where we’re at with her diet these days (FYI they do serve actual food too). One of the staff members had hogged the sofa and I clocked him playing with the little train set table while we ate our lunch on the other side of the cafe, but once he’d finished his lunch break we swooped in and Babu settled down with a pile of kids’ books. We managed to kill a fair bit of time here before deciding to call it a day, but not before we’d watered the plants and checked out the cute little playhouse in the pretty garden on our way out.
Ok so, real talk, we had a nice enough day here, but £12 (plus £8 for a cafe snack) feels excessive for ‘nice enough’. I appreciate that visitor admission fees are put back into museum maintenance and conservation, but on a selfish level what exactly am I getting for my money? At best this was a slightly more interesting way to kill an afternoon than going to the local playground – although I think Babu would probably argue that the playground is more exciting. Her highlight was probably the squishy cat keyring she found in the gift shop, and I didn’t even buy it for her.
Where?: The museum is located on Green Dragon Lane in Brentford, and is a three-minute walk from Kew Bridge station. It’s open Wednesday-Sunday 10am-4pm.
Best Bits: The sign inside the toilet offering spare nappies, wipes, sanitary products and clothing for emergencies.
Worst Bits: I kept expecting to find something awesome around the corner, but it never came – with the possible exception of the garden, which just about saved it but not enough for me to want to come back.
Facilities: Buggy parking, baby changing, on-site cafe. It’s mostly step-free but I did have to lug the buggy up a few sets of steps and abandon it altogether when we went up to the top of the pumping station.
Price: Adults £12.50 on the door or £11.25 online; under-5s go free.
Would We Come Back?: No.
Babu explores the outdoor play area at the London Museum of Water & Steam, Brentford.