London: The Fan Museum

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Puzzle fan

With its fan-tastic (literally) and ever-changing displays, the Fan Museum is one of the many attractions of Greenwich. Although Greenwich is kind of a pain to get to from Southwest London, there’s enough to see (and eat) there to make it worth my while, so I’ve headed out there a few times since it’s (sort of) warmed up.  I can’t lie; one of the main draws is the Brazilian churro stand in Greenwich Market.  Brazilian churros have far more in common with Mexican churros than with their inferior Old World cousins, and these ones are fried to order, rolled in cinnamon sugar and filled with your choice of dulce de leche or thick chocolate sauce (go for the dulce de leche, or at least the half and half, you won’t regret it).  Glutton though I am, once I consumed a churro, I was ready to head off in search of other amusements, and the nearby Fan Museum fit the bill.

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The Fan Museum is on Crooms Hill, a short walk away from both the market and Cutty Sark station.  It’s not terribly large, but the £4 admission charge seemed reasonable.  Apparently, they’re famed for the cream teas served in the Orangery, but as I’d just wolfed down a churro, I decided to stick with the museum only on this visit, which is split between four rooms on two floors of a Georgian house.  There’s already a decent amount of accompanying text for the permanent displays, but I found the free guidebook I was offered was even more informative, so do take advantage.

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The permanent collection offers a good introduction to the history and making of fans, with examples of all the different types, as well as fans in various stages of production.  I know a bit about the old language of fans, but I’d never really given that much thought to them otherwise, save for purposes of cooling (like those ineffective paper fans we used to make at the end of the school year when it got really hot, and we couldn’t wait to leave our sweltering classroom for the summer), so it was nice to have some background on them.

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Progressing upstairs (past the portrait of the rather formidable lady on the right), we entered the temporary exhibit, which was what I was most keen on seeing, as “curiosities” and “quirky” are obviously two words that draw my attention.  I wasn’t disappointed – many of these fans were truly bizarre.  For once I’ll shut up and let the pictures do (most of) the talking.

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Cigar fans and revolver fan.  Also note the twig fan next to the cigar fan, which was a particular favourite, because it looked like a crappy stick, but surprise, a fan!

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Advertisement for the cigar fan, and dagger fan, which I want for myself.  My boyfriend suggested it would be even better if the dagger fan was actually made up of small blades, and I’m inclined to agree.

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Devil fan.  Excellent.

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This was a surprise pervy fan.  The front looks totally innocent, but the back gets a bit Kama Sutra, if you get my drift…

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Velvet mask fan. I suppose that makes it multi-purpose, like many of the other fans we saw, though most of those were slightly more functional, incorporating things like combs and makeup containers.

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Instructions on how to use the ear trumpet fan.  Finally, a stylish Victorian hearing aid!

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And lastly, these fans, which converted into small parasols.  I think I’ll stick to the SPF 50+, thanks, as I doubt these provide enough coverage for the current state of the ozone layer.

The temporary exhibit took up two small rooms, and included a video of someone demonstrating all the functions of the fans, so you could see their novelty uses.  There was also a violin fan, which I didn’t get a picture of, and quite a few others.  Heading back downstairs, there’s a gift shop that sells (you guessed it) fans and other miscellany, including a scroll on the language of fans so you can try it out for yourself.  The guidebook made several cheeky references to the excellence of the shop, which amused me.

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The Fan Museum was very quaint, but stopped just this side of twee (I think all the weapon-themed fans helped with that).  I found the special exhibit enjoyable, and the permanent collection, though small, was interesting.  I’ll give it 3.5/5, though I would imagine the experience varies depending on what the temporary exhibit is.  It’s a nice, quiet place, so would be perfect if you’re looking to avoid the crowds of the Cutty Sark or National Maritime Museum, and take in some fine examples of an historic art in a lovely setting.

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4 comments

    1. I get churros all the time, I’m sure I have pictures of them elsewhere! Plus I make disgusting faces when I’m eating. I thought you went to the Fan Museum when you were here though. At least, you said you were going.

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