My well-documented love of cake doughnuts was mainly what brought me to the Museum of Brands. You see, the museum is located in Notting Hill, which is not an area I frequent, mainly because Portobello Road is typically nightmarishly crowded. However, upon learning that there was a cinema that sold homemade cake doughnuts nearby, I set out to track them down the very next day. I’ve long bemoaned the state of doughnuts in this country (namely that there really aren’t any besides Krispy Kreme and horrible supermarket jam doughnuts), so I was almost unbelievably thrilled to find delicious frycakes in London (so much so that I gave myself the mother of all stomachaches after wolfing down four of them). Unfortunately, like pretty much everything else I end up liking here, the doughnuts are no longer available. I can only hope they re-open someday.
Nonetheless, none of this has any bearing on the Museum of Brands, which is definitely still in business. It’s another one of those places that I’ve known about for ages, via my beloved National Rail 2for1 brochures (seriously, grab one if you’re at a rail station around London. You’ll save loads!), but had never actually managed to visit. It’s located down a side street quite near to Portobello Road, in what I suspect are fairly new digs. I’d read descriptions of the museum in Weird Europe and More Bollocks to Alton Towers, both of which are rather out of date, and they described the museum as being spread out over two floors, in a small space. The current set-up is only on one floor, but the exhibits wind in a labyrinthine fashion throughout the building. Admission is £6.50, which is standard London pricing for a museum of that size.
One of the reasons I’d been slightly hesitant about visiting the museum was that the above books made it out to be some kind of nostalgia fest of products from the’ 60s-’80s, which I’ve nothing against; the issue is that all the products are obviously British, so they don’t have any nostalgic appeal for me. Fortunately, the Museum of Brands wasn’t devoted only to “retro” products. Rather, you began the museum with the Victorian era, which was where branding (with the rise of industrialisation) really took hold, and progressed through to the present day, with signage throughout to track the growth of advertising and trends in consumer products.
The entrance to the exhibits had the facade of a Victorian shop, which delighted me, given my fondness for “streets of yesteryear.” The museum was generally quite dark and narrow, which made it a bit awkward to look at things, as there were about eight other people who entered the museum at the same time as us, and anything more than two was indeed a crowd in the limited space. I got around this by skipping ahead and then backtracking a bit, a plan which was complicated somewhat by a large Russian woman who kept parking it in front of the display cases, and then refusing to move, but she eventually got bored of this and clomped off, leaving me free to peruse things at leisure. Each decade had its own section, with a description of the popular products on the market at that time, and objects grouped by type; usually food, toys, things pertaining to the Royal Family, household products, etc. My favourite sections were probably the Victorian (naturally) because I love the advertiser’s extravagant promises, and the 1940s, because they had some hilarious anti-Nazi merchandise (Shitler brand toilet paper with Hitler’s face on each piece? C’mon, that’s pretty funny). I also liked the chocolate bars and cereal through the decades, because those are two of my favourite foods, and I like to torment myself by looking at delicious sounding products that are no longer available (as per the opening paragraph on doughnuts).
As I mentioned before, the products in question are all British, so I didn’t see many things that made me sigh wistfully (save for a few things from the early 90s that appear to have made it over here from America), but I found walking through the museum enjoyable regardless. The museum does just what it says on the tin (ha! A bit of a pun, given the subject matter); it is a collection of brands, packaging, and advertising, which means you are just looking at a load of packets and boxes, but I appreciated the way they were organised, as well as the captions, which managed to neatly sum up the aspirational lifestyle of each era. I’m going to give it a 3/5, as it wasn’t amazing, but it was an amusing way to pass an hour. Shame there’s no longer any doughnuts in the area to tempt me back…