A Visit to the London Sewing Machine Museum

London Sewing Machine Museum T A Rushton shopfront

If I had to choose, I would say that the best aspect of blogging for me has been getting to know other bloggers and the inspiration that I draw from them. Back in January, the lovely Sy from Sy's Prints (& Stuff) blogged about a visit to the London Sewing Machine Museum in Wimbledon. I tweeted about her visit which resulted in a very positive response and a large group of us arranged to visit the museum one Saturday morning in April.

Following the Second World War, Thomas Arthur Rushton began to retrieve sewing machines from derelict homes and restored them. You can a replica of his original shop front above, which was at 185 Merton Road. Rushton was skilled in sewing machine service and repairs but it was not always easy – the Singer company tried to destroy the second hand sewing machine market and began to retrieve machines too and would destroy their bases to prevent resale.

London Sewing Machine Museum sign

Rushton’s son Ray used to drive around on his bicycle to collect the machines and they later bought a van. It is Ray who has started the museum based on his own private collection of antique, vintage and modern sewing machines that he has amassed over the years.

London Sewing Machine Museum Victoria Sewing Machine

Some of the pieces in the museum are quite spectacular. When Ray Rushton bought the Queen Victoria sewing machine (pictured above) for £23,500 it was the most expensive machine ever sold. This 1865 Pollack & Schmidt machine was given to Queen Victoria’s daughter on the occasion of her wedding. Please excuse the quality of the photograph, the machine is naturally behind glass!

London Sewing Machine Museum retro Alfa Stitchline machine

Housing over 600 machines, the collection is quite extensive and features machines from all eras, including the very first Singer model.

London Sewing Machine Museum vintage receipt

Almost as interesting as the sewing machines was the collection of vintage memorabilia such as the original receipt above which dated back to 1929.

London Sewing Machine Museum custom made shoes

We learned that the ornate stitching on the shoes above would have required a special type of machine. I don’t think I’ll ever look at a pair of custom made shoes again in quite the same way!

London Sewing Machine Museum

Our visit to the museum kept us entertained for well over an hour, especially as the manager was so happy to talk to us and answer all of our questions.In the foreground of the photo above, you can make out a charity box – visits to the museum are free and all they ask is that you make a donation into one of the charity boxes.

London Sewing Machine Museum - vintage signage

London Sewing Machine Museum antique machine

London Sewing Machine Museum - bobbin

The London Sewing Machine Museum is highly recommended and well worth a visit. Do take note that it is only open on the first Saturday of every month from 2pm to 5pm. I contacted the museum prior to our visit and they were super speedy and helpful with their replies. The museum is situated above the Wimbledon Sewing Machine Co so keep that in mind for all craft and sewing requirements.

London Sewing Machine Museum
Wimbledon Sewing Machine Co Ltd
308-312 Balham High Rd
SW17 7AA
Website: London Sewing Machine Museum
Email: wimbledonsewingmachinecoltd@btinternet.com
Telephone: 020 8767 0036

Have you ever been to a quirky or unique museum? Can you recommend any to me in London?

Ten Things To Do in Johannesburg, South Africa

It’s a story I’ve told before: the reason that I am an eternal tourist is because I spent so many years believing that there was nothing to do in my hometown of Johannesburg. I was wrong and this realisation lead to my commitment to explore as much in my daily life as I do when travelling.

Naturally, this epiphany is only useful if I pay it forward and so I present my top things to do in the City of Gold, Jozi, Jo’burg or whatever term you adopt for the city of Johannesburg.

Johannesburg is a landlocked city and the nearest coastline is a good four hour’s drive away. It is a green city and is known as the largest man-made urban forest in the world. In the 1990s and 2000s, the inner city of Johannesburg experienced significant inner city decline and now we are finally beginning to see some much needed improvement there.

1. Maboneng


The gentrification of the Main Street area in Johannesburg city centre has been so successful that Jo’burgers are beginning to refer to the ‘Mabonengisation’ of their local neighbourhoods whenever new developments and restoration occur. You can work or live in an overpriced apartment in the Maboneng Precinct but visitors will be more interested in the fantastic restaurants, trendy boutiques, Arts on Main gallery and the Market on Main Sunday market.

Location: corner Main and Kruger Streets, Johannesburg

2. Constitution Hill

The Constitutional Court is the highest court in South Africa and protects the Constitution which is founded on principles of equality, human rights and justice for all. It is there to right the wrongs of the past and protect the future. Constitution Hill is home to the Constitutional Court and the Old Fort. The Old Fort features the Women’s Gaol, where Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and Albertina Sisulu were detained and the notorious Number Four where Mahatma Ghandi and Nelson Mandela were detained in deploring conditions.

Location: 11 Kotze Street, Braamfontein, Johannesburg.

3. Orlando Towers

Orlando Towers Johannesburg

I’ve discussed my rather unique approach to curing vertigo when I told you about confronting my fear of heights at Orlando Towers. If you are adventurous you can bungee jump, power swing or base jump off the towers of the old Orlando Power Station in Johannesburg. Orlando Towers is open every Friday to Sunday from 10am to sunset. I won’t lie, as crazy as my first experience was, I definitely intend to return in December.

Location: corner Chris Hani Road and Dynamo Street, Orlando, Soweto.

4. Melville

Melville is where you will head to eat, drink or dance 24 hours a day. It might seem strange to include an entire neighbourhood in this list but Melville definitely deserves to be here. In my entirely unbiased and objective opinion, Melville is home to the best restaurant on earth, Catz Pajamas and not a day goes by that I don’t miss their Cajun Chicken Nachos. You might also want to try the chocolate ganache cake at De La Creme Patisserie on 7th Street.

Location: the main strips are located on Main and 7th Streets in Melville, Johannesburg

5. Apartheid Museum

The Apartheid Museum, Johannesburg

Many people know a little bit about Apartheid in South Africa but I can confirm that it was worse than you could imagine in your wildest nightmares. The Apartheid Museum is one of the best historical museums that I have visited in the world and it gives a superb multimedia display of Apartheid media and legislation, life under Apartheid and the long, long road to freedom. The museum is so good that I have been twice and will happily go again.

Location: Northern Park Way and Gold Reef Rd, Johannesburg

6. Maropeng and the Cradle of Humankind

Recently I expressed surprise when they discovered evidence of human habitation in Britain dating back almost one million years but I did know that hominid fossils have been discovered in the Cradle of Humankind dating back 3.5 million years. This makes this area northwest of Johannesburg the accepted seat of humanity. The Cradle of Humankind is Johannesburg’s only World Heritage site and I would highly recommend a day trip to the area if you’re in Johannesburg. The Maropeng Visitor Centre focuses on ancient human history and development and in the nearby Sterkfontein Caves you can see important fossil finds and San cave paintings dating back 10,000 years.

Location: R563 Hekpoort Road, Sterkfontein

7. Market Theatre Precinct

The Market Theatre, Johannesburg

U2 spoke about rebel songs and Bob Marley spoke about songs of redemption. Well, the Market Theatre was the home of thespian protest during the Apartheid era. Even today, the plays at the theatre are often political, topical or controversial in nature and feature some of South Africa’s top writers and actors. The precinct is also home to the Bassline, Johannesburg’s top jazz club as well as the Sophiatown Bar Lounge. You can read more about jazz and protest in this area of Johannesburg.

Location: corner Bree and Miriam Makeba Streets, Johannesburg

8. Emmarentia Dam and the Johannesburg Botanical Gardens

Emmarentia Dam

Emmarentia Dam played such a big part in my upbringing from Saturday afternoons spent playing in the river while my mum read a novel in the shade of a tree, to long days spent basking in the sun with my high school friends, to gorgeous picnics with old friends where adults, toddlers and puppies all climbed onto a huge blanket and whiled the afternoon away.

The site is also home to the Johannesburg Botanical Gardens which is free to enter from sunrise to sunset and features beautiful special gardens including the Shakespeare Garden, the Rose Garden and the Herb Garden.

Location: a massive site, recommended parking in Olifants Road, Emmarentia, Johannesburg.

9. Gold Reef City

Gold Reef City is a theme park dedicated to the gold mining heritage of Johannesburg and was opened in 1986, Johannesburg’s centenary year. The park is great for children and features numerous rides, restaurants, bars and a heritage experience. Definitely allocate most of a day to your visit because you’ll struggle to tear your children away!

Location: Shaft 14, Northern Parkway, Ormonde, Johannesburg

10. Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum

The Hector Pieterson Memorial Museum

This is going to read like a strange way to recommend a place but I’m going to tell it like it is. I was so moved by my visit to the Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum that I could barely speak for two days afterwards. The only museum I can compare it to is the 9/11 Memorial Centre in New York City. Like the centre, both museums are dedicated to one terrible day in history and the horrific loss of life.

The Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum focuses on the events of June 16, 1976 when police opened fire on school children protesting against the decree forcing them to take tuition in Afrikaans. Thirteen-year-old Hector Pieterson was the first casualty but many more children and adults died that day and in the resulting riots. No matter how difficult the subject matter, I highly recommend this superb museum.

Location: 8288 Maseko Street, Orlando West

Super Helpful Map

I’ve devised a super helpful map to assist you in planning your time in Johannesburg. I would recommend combining Orlando Towers with the Hector Pieterson memorial, the Apartheid Museum with Gold Reef City and dedicating a day trip to the Cradle of Humankind. This map is best viewed full screen and on a PC.

This post was written as part of the giffgaff Top Things to Know About Your Hometown campaign and I received a box full of Fizzers, Tennis Biscuits and Tex Bars in exchange for participating (i.e. my favourite South African chocolates and biscuits).

Did you take part in the campaign or have you written a similar post about your hometown? If so, be sure to link to it in the comment section.

Dartford’s Vintage Car and Steam Rally

1930 Morris Commerical One Ton

1930 Morris Commercial One Ton RF 7818

This weekend we attended the Steam Rally and Dartford Remembered Live weekend in Central Park, Dartford. It was so nice to see so many people turn out on a windy and occasionally rainy day to see such a fine collection of vintage cars, trucks, bike and steam engines. There was simply so much to see that I’m going to break my ten photo rule and share a whopping 26 photos. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Trucks and Commercial Vans

Ford Thames 5 vintage truck

Ford Thames 5 vintage truck WVS285

London Transport Vintage Bus GS15-MXX 315

London Transport Vintage Bus GS15-MXX 315

Richardson & Sons family butcher

Richardson & Sons family butcher

What I enjoy so much about events like this is how alive history is in England and especially Kent. In South Africa, if we saw vintage cars or vans, they were very much museum pieces. While this is true of the vintage London transport GS15 bus, businesses such as Richardson & Sons are very much part of our present day heritage in Dartford.

Alas, the story of Richardson & Sons is one that fills many hearts with sadness in Dartford at the moment. It is a well known fact that Bluewater mall and the economy lead to the steep decline of Dartford’s central shopping area but Richardson & Sons carried on trading in Lowfield Road. Now, after 100 years of trading, the butcher was forced to close to make plans for a new Tesco development.

Ford Thames Trader 300E Commercial Van

Ford Thames Trader 300E Commercial Van

Harris & Sons Scrap Metal Merchants vintage truck HCO 988

Harris & Sons Scrap Metal Merchants vintage truck HCO 988

Ford Standard

1950s Ford Standard

I think if I could go back to any time in history, it would be when these cars were racing around England as a matter of course, when they looked fashionable not vintage, driven by Londoners with their posh 1950s accents wearing their posh 1950s clothing. Yes, I know, I’ve been watching too much vintage Doctor Who again.

Vintage Miniature Steam Engines

Vintage Miniature Steam Engine -William Foster & Co, Lincoln

Vintage Miniature Steam Engine - William Foster & Co, Lincoln

Patricia Lyn - William Foster & Co, Lincoln

Patricia Lyn - William Foster & Co, Lincoln

Dark Star - William Foster & Co, Lincoln

Dark Star - William Foster & Co, Lincoln

The miniature steam engines were a great hit with the children! They could climb all over them and play train driver for a short while. These are very cute indeed but don’t think you’ll be buying one any time soon – these little gems cost in the region of £50,000 each!

A Vintage Bus

A Vintage Open Top Bus

Vintage Open Top Bus D 8650

The weekend festivities continued to Sunday when locals could book a place on a vintage open bus tour of the borough. A wreath was laid at the resting place of Richard Trevithick, a steam pioneer, inventor and engineer who lived in Dartford in his final years and the engines gathered in the centre of town for a road run up East Hill.

Steam Engines

Eileen The Wallace Expansion Engine

“Eileen The Erring” BL 795 - The Wallace Expansion Engine

Nightmare Steam Engine

Fowler Road Locomotive - The “Nightmare” SV 8988 Steam Engine

Pierce Brothers Endeavor Steam Engine

Pierce Brothers Haulage “Endeavor” Steam Engine

The Foden Steam Wagon

Devon County Council - The Foden Steam Wagon - T8750

The steam engines were very popular and there were large groups of people examining and discussing the engines. I couldn’t help wondering what this man in the last photo was thinking as he stood gazing at the engine. I imagined that he had first encountered such an engine as a young boy and had probably grown up being intimately familiar with the inner workings of such steam engines.

Vintage and Retro Cars

Bond Bug 3 wheeler

Bond Bug 3 wheeler one door saloon BXD 75H

Morris Marina Coupe

Morris Marina Coupe AEL 508K

Morris Minor

Morris Minor GBP 358H

1930s Austin 16 Westminster Saloon

1930s Austin Sixteen Light Six PN 2115

1930s Austin Ten

1930s Austin Ten BPA 591

I suspect that I might have walked through the classic and vintage car display backwards because I started off by the futuristic, wedge-shaped retro cars and ended up by the gorgeous 1930s Austins. The nice men in the last car waved and smiled so nicely for me!

Out of all of these cars, I would most covet the Morris Marina although the retro car I would most like to own would be a second generation Ford Escort MKII. I just have this silly thing about cars getting me from A to B which is what precludes me from buying one.

A Vintage Fire Engine

Leyland Fire Truck

Leyland Fire Engine GKO 224

I love everything about fire engines and firemen. I would have loved to have seen one of these in action although I’d have also liked to have seen a horse drawn one like in Gangs of New York.

Collectable Motor Bikes

Retro Indian Motorcycle

Classic Indian Motorcycle

Classic Motorcycle Helmet

Classic Motorcycle Helmet

Hanging out at Dartford Remembers

Hanging out at Dartford Remembers

Police bike, Starsky and Hutch style

Classic Police Bike

Vintage Bikes

Classic Motorcycle

I know very little about bikes and unfortunately, the bikes were parked very close together which made it difficult to photograph them and learn about them. I definitely think they need more pride of place in next year’s festival!

We had such a great day out and I’m really glad that I marked it in my diary months ahead of time. I spend so much time in London that I often miss out on events in Dartford and this one was definitely worth staying in town for!

Must See: “One Million Years” at the Natural History Museum

Britain- One Million Years of the Human Story

It sounds like something out of a science fiction novel: a group of humans stand huddled on a beach in England, leaving footprints that will be discovered almost one million years later. Hundreds of thousands of years later, hippos and lions bask in the scorching sun at Trafalgar Square; human beings have not been seen in Britain for 100,000 years. 

This is not our future, it is our past.

As incredible as it may sound, this is the history of human inhabitation in Britain, including the apparent absence of humans in Britain almost 125,000 years ago.

The Britain: One Million Years of the Human Story exhibition at the Natural History Museum is, without a doubt, one of the most surprising and interesting exhibitions I have ever attended. Let me start by saying how sceptical I was when I first found out about the exhibition because I was quite convinced that there was no human history in Britain dating back to that time. Naturally, I was wrong.

One million year old footprints in the sand, Norfolk

I wish I could show you a photo of how I looked, standing there with my mouth gaping open as I watched a video about how a set of footprints were discovered on a beach in Happisburgh in Norfolk last summer and discovered to be between 850,000 and 950,000 years old. What is most interesting about the video 'The Earliest Human Footprints Outside Africa Found in Norfolk' is how they managed to date the footprints back to that time and how our receding coastlines assisted in this discovery. (By the way, quirky British pronunciation alert, but Happisburgh is pronounced Hays-bro).

The Happisburgh Footprints were just the beginning of the exhibition.

Homo Neanderthalensis woman, Gibraltar, 50000 years old

We learned all about the homo heidelbergensis who were present in Britain between 500,000 and 600,000 years ago and the homo neanderthalis who colonised Britain between 400,000 and 50,000 years ago. The mask above is of a female Neanderthal woman and is based on remains found in Forbe’s Quarry, Gibraltar. In the background is a model of a homo heidelbergensis man based on remains found in Petralona, Greece.

Tooth from lion, Boxgrove, West Sussex

We learned that remains such as this lion’s tooth found in Boxgrove, West Sussex prove the existence of bears, lions and hippopotamuses in Britain.

Homo heidelbergensis skull

We also learned that contrary to former beliefs that homo sapiens (our species) had been unable to breed with homo neanderthalis, it has been discovered that most of us carry some Neaderthal genes in our DNA.

Neanderthal woman, skull

This skull of a Neanderthal woman was discovered in Swanscombe, Kent. It is about 400,000 years old. Between 180,000 and 60,000 years ago, a severe ice age forced humans away from Britain (their last remains were found in Crayford, near where I live) but they were unable to return when temperatures became warmer because melting glaciers had caused Britain to become an island.

Homo Neanderthalensis

Soon it was time to meet my super great grandfather. He is a homo neanderthalensis and would have had a more prominent brow and nose as well as being quite short and stocky. This model was based on actual 40,000 year old Neanderthal remains discovered in Spy, Belgium.

Homo Sapiens

I also met my super grandfather who is a homo sapiens. He would have been taller than a Neanderthal man and while equally as intelligent as them, homo sapiens were the first to display creative thinking (as evidenced by carvings and cave paintings). This model was based on 30,000 year old burial remains discovered in Paviland, Wales.

I would highly recommend this exhibition and suggest that you give yourself a good 1.5 hours to take it all in as it is information rich.

The Britain: One Million Years of the Human Story exhibition will run until 28 September 2014 and costs £9 for adults and £4.50.

Natural History Museum
Cromwell Road
London SW7 5BD
Tel +44 (0)20 7942 5000 / +44 (0)20 7942 5511
Tube South Kensington

Exploring Kent: A Walk Along the Cray Riverway

Entering the Cray Riverside

Earlier today, I posted some photos of the beautiful Kent countryside only for Stephen to protest rather loudly that I was deceiving my audience. As I looked at him in shock, he exclaimed that he happens to know the area in question because he walks home that way when he drops his car off for its service. “What have you done to all the rubbish?”, he asked.

Well, I’d love to tell you that the Cray Riverway has been magically cleaned up recently and that I didn’t see any plastic bags, beer bottles or underwear lying along the path but that would be deceptive.It’s just that I chose not to photograph it.

Around the back of houses

I will tell you what I saw though. Yesterday I had a couple of things to do in Dartford and Crayford but rather than struggle with parking, I decided to walk from Dartford to Crayford and then back home again along the Cray Riverway. As I entered the path by Cray Gardens, I immediately began to question the soundness of my decision. There before me stood a well-dressed, middle-aged man drinking a Carling lager who was clearly not having a good day. He had the deepest bags under his eyes and he looked like he hadn’t slept in weeks.

I quickened my pace and walked past him, relieved that he chose to return the favour and leave me alone. I soon emerged onto a path that lead me around the backs of the houses lining Crayford Way. Two girls approached me and I quickly shoved my phone into my pocket. As I walked past them, one was clearly agitated, shouting into her phone while her friend nodded in agreement that she was going to throw some unnamed nemesis under a train. Yes, really.

Cray Riverway

I emerged onto Barnes Cray Road and then quickly entered the path again on Maiden Lane. This part of the walk really was quite idyllic. As I walked along, there was a couple who walked by me, holding hands. The river is really quite full in this area and I could see that it was still stretching up into the gardens of the riverside properties. They must have been flooded during the January floods.

A Perfect Day in the Kent Countryside

It was this photo that made it all worth it. I’m determined to explore the Kentish countryside around my house. England is a strange country and no matter where you live, you are always a stone’s throw from areas that are a little rough, from neighbourhoods where residents litter and where teenagers are a little scary. But for every person that is having a bad day, there are many more people working to clean up this area of Kent such as my friend Richey who runs Dartford Litterpickers.

What I choose to photograph and choose to remember is that you don't have to wait long for a perfect day when you live in Kent, the Garden of England.

The Jolly Farmers in Crayford

Now back to reality. This is the Jolly Farmers pub which sits on the most eastern boundary of London between Crayford (in Greater London) and Dartford (in Kent). It is known as the worst pub in London although I've not been brave enough to test that reputation. It is notorious for a shooting in 2005 which is kind of scary given that I live within walking distance of it!

Entering Dartford

I soon emerged onto Thames Road and followed it around into the very north western tip of Dartford. There are a lot of rolling fields along the road but from what I can see, they are private property.

A Travellers Horse

There are a lot of horses in this area. Some of them appear to be wild but this one was bridled. He seemed very interested in me as I took photos of him and even strutted to the left and right for me. He was very friendly and knowing absolutely nothing about horses, I wondered if he was lonely. Stephen is terrified of the horses across the road on the Crayford marshes. He says that they are travellers’ horses and that they have been bred to be aggressive. I think that is absolute rubbish but I think a fear of horses is like a fear of any animals, you will never get over it until you grow to know them.

All to soon I was home again and felt great after a 3 mile walk. It can be quite gritty and urban near where I live and it certainly isn’t as picturesque as some areas of Kent but I was pleased for the adventure and the chance to be outdoors on such a beautiful day.

What is your neighbourhood like? Do you have access to the countryside and if so, how well kept is it?