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Hard times as museums miss visitors

Charles Dickens, London Transport and Vagina museums appeal for donations

02 May, 2020 — By Richard Osley

IN Charles Dickens’ enduring novel Nicholas Nickleby, the eponymous adventurer exclaims: “The pain of parting is nothing to the joy of meeting again.”

It could just as easily be a quote of hope for these locked down times, not least at the museum in Bloomsbury dedicated to the Victorian writer.

Missing its visitors during the coronavirus closures, and this vital source of income, the Charles Dickens Museum, in Doughty Street, is appealing for donations from its supporters and his admirers.

Dr Cindy Sughrue, the museum’s director, said: “Unlike many other cultural organisations that receive ongoing funding from the government, the Charles Dickens Museum is an independent charity, conceived as self-funding from the start, 95 years ago. This means we need to look after Dickens’ house and the world-class collection that brings Dickens and his work to life. We rely on our visitors coming through the Doughty Street front door to ensure that the museum continues to exist.”

Dickens, who also authored classics such as Oliver Twist, The Pickwick Papers and Great Expectations, lived at the property – number 48 – in the 1830s, a time when his popularity was expanding. Although he also lived in Bayham Street, Camden Town, Doughty Street is his last serving London residence in bricks and mortar.

Dr Sughrue added: “While we have been forced to reduce to a skeleton staff, the museum’s work to preserve Dickens’ legacy has to continue, in spite of the fact we have no money coming in.”

The Charles Dickens Museum

The museum has 100,000 items connected to Dickens and in normal times holds talks and events for schoolchildren.

“When we were forced to close, it’s fair to say that we were in the middle of something of a purple patch,” said Dr Sughrue.

“We had just announced the acquisition of a wealth of Dickens rarities that we are eager to share. We had installed the eagle-eyed ‘lost portrait’ of Dickens in his study following its disappearance for 170 years, and we were on the verge of opening a new exhibition that would present the image and reveal the character of the man more vividly than has ever been possible.”

“Public interest in Dickens is as strong as ever, perhaps even more so now, as we seek solace in literature and the distraction of a great storyteller.”

Museums which are not supported by government funding across the country are now finding themselves in difficult financial situations due to the lockdown.

Many are providing online exhibitions or reaching out to supporters over social media, but this is not matching the income lost by having nobody come through the doors. The London Transport Museum, home to vintage buses and a wealth of underground memorabilia, has warned that 80 per cent of its income is at risk from the extended closure.

It said making a donation would “help us reopen our doors” after the crisis.

Meanwhile, in Camden Town, the borough’s newest museum, the Vagina Museum in Stables Market, has sent out an appeal for support. The groundbreaking museum opened in November after a crowdfunded collection and set out its aims to break down myths and taboos about women’s bodies. It is billed as the world’s first bricks-and-mortar museum dedicated to vaginas, vulvas and gynaecological anatomy.

“In just 18 weeks this little museum saw over 110,000 visitors with an ‘ovary-whelmingly’ positive reception,” the museum said in a statement. “The world needs a Vagina Museum. We’ve proved that.” Its market landlords have waived the rent on the site but organisers said they still needed £20,000 a month to cover costs.

“While we are closed, we know we’re going to struggle to make ends meet,” the museum said. “We need to make sure our workers are paid, we need to meet existing financial commitments and we need to make sure we are still a sustainable organisation.”

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