10 min read

11 museums you can experience in a different light for the Emerge festival

Do you prefer your museum visits a little more hands-on? This September 27-28 Culture24’s brand new Emerge Festival sees some of London’s most awe-inspiring venues open up after-hours. We’ve chosen our top events for Museum Crush fans, where you can experience the venue or collection in a unique and immersive way.

Handel & Hendrix in London – Saturday Night
Jimi Hendrix House Party

Visitors in Jimi Hendrix's flat

© Linda Scuizzato

Where better to indulge in the sounds of the sixties than the former home of rock royalty Jimi Hendrix? Hendrix’s London flat sets the scene for DJs, dancing and drinks at an exclusive 60s house party, where you can sway in the footsteps of the psychedelic virtuoso.

Separated by a wall, and 200 years, are the former homes of two very different, but very influential musicians – George Frideric Handel and Jimi Hendrix. This unlikely duo both chose this well-to-do corner of Mayfair to settle in – Handel as the newly-appointed Master of the Orchestra at the Royal Academy of Music with the prowess for appeasing royalty, and Hendrix as a revolutionary rock guitarist still hailed as one of history’s greatest. Though he spent just several months in this flat in 1968 and 1969, Hendrix thought of it as his first real home of his own, and hosted legendary jam sessions here with the likes of George Harrison and Richie Havens.

Buy tickets for Emerge Saturday night or both nights


Pope’s Grotto – Saturday Night
Candlelit Stories in Secret Grotto

Pope's Grotto event

© Cathy Cooper

An enlightening meander through a secret grotto on the banks of the river Thames – the story of disability, overcoming adversity and a meteoric rise to stardom. Your guide through this enigmatic antre is Giles Abbott, the UK’s only blind professional storyteller, with a talent for weaving tales and enrapturing audiences.

An otherworldly cavern built by poet Alexander Pope at his Twickenham villa overlooking the Thames in 1725, the grotto was inspired (and funded) by the poet’s work translating Homer’s Iliad, and as such it has a very fitting mythological vibe. Later, Pope became interested in geology and altered his grotto to resemble a mine, decorating it with Bristol and Cornish diamonds, stalagmites said to come from Wookey Hole, ores, crystals and myriad other minerals.

Buy tickets for Emerge Saturday night or both nights


575 Wandsworth Road – Friday Night
Intimate Gig and Twilight Tour

The ceiling at 575 Wandsworth Road

Courtesy National Trust

Experience the spectacular home of Kenyan artist, poet and civil servant Khadambi Asalache after dark, with an intimate and exclusive performance of ‘Khadambi’s House’, a piece composed by Cevanne Horrocks-Hopayian. The result of a two-year Composer in Residence scheme, the piece was written to meaningfully interpret this unique house and the exquisite work within.

When Khadambi Asalache purchased his modest Georgian house in Lambeth in 1981 it was in a sorry state. He spent 20 years transforming his home into a spectacular artwork, lining the walls, floors, doors and ceilings with highly ornate fretwork, hand-carved from pieces of salvaged pine. When he died in 2006, he bequeathed this treasure to the National Trust who now care for the delicate property. Due to the fragile nature of the home just 2,000 visitors are allowed in each year – six at a time.

Buy tickets for Emerge Friday night or both nights


ZSL Prince Philip Zoological Library & Archives – Saturday Night
Behind-the-scenes at London Zoo’s library

Joan Procter

Joan Beauchamp Procter © The Zoological Society London

Experts are on hand to take you behind the scenes at London Zoo’s jam-packed library and archives to explore the lives of two very different, but very special figures in the zoo’s history. Joan Proctor – a pioneering reptile expert who designed the zoo’s reptile house and Edward Lear, the nonsense verse poet whose skilled bird illustrations saw him employed as the zoo’s official ornithological draughtsman.

A unique collection – and one of the biggest in the world – the Zoological Society of London’s library and archives has been frequented by the likes of Charles Darwin and David Attenborough since its opening in 1826. The library holds over 200,000 volumes, spanning more than 400 years and features zoo-related minutes, accounts, letters and ephemera as well as the ZSL’s rich drawings and prints collection.

Buy tickets for Emerge Saturday night or both nights


Apsley House – Friday Night
Number One London’s House of Scandal

Apsley House at night

Courtesy Apsley House

Apsley House’s sweeping staircases, opulent chandeliers and portrait peppered walls are the backdrop for an immersive Georgian whodunnit which sees the normally respectable mansion transformed for the night into a house of scandal. Visitors can mingle with maids, bargain with butlers and schmooze the upper classes to untangle a salacious web of secrets and lies, all while taking in the dazzling décor of arguably England’s finest Georgian aristocratic townhouse.

The London home of the Dukes of Wellington since 1817, Apsley House – popularly known as No. 1 London – is a palatial townhouse standing prominently at Hyde Park corner. The house is home to the Wellington Collection – a vast array of paintings, sculpture and memorabilia collected by the 1st Duke who was in his day the most celebrated man in Europe, having defeated Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo.

Buy tickets for Emerge Friday night or both nights


Jewel Tower – Saturday Night
Code-cracking Adventure

Jewel Tower

Courtesy English Heritage

The escape room genre has really amped up in the last few years. This immersive code-breaking adventure recalls the real-life events of the evening of 16th October 1834 when a devastating fire tore through the Palace of Westminster, destroying both Houses of Parliament and most of the other buildings on site. Your mission is to scour the tower in search of clues, to crack the code and locate the jewels before the whole building goes up in smoke…

The Jewel Tower was one of the only structures to survive the inferno of 1834, which was started when two carts of obsolete tally sticks were haphazardly burned in the House of Lords’ underground furnace. The sturdy little 14th century tower was once used to house the treasures of Edward III and contains ornate ceiling carvings and ribbed vault, which have survived almost 650 years.

Buy tickets for Emerge Saturday night or both nights


Musical Museum – Friday Night
Silent Horror Cinema

The Mighty Wurlitzer at the Musical Museum Brentford

Courtesy The Musical Museum

For the horror connoisseurs there is an evening of short silent horror films, accompanied by the not-so-dulcet sounds of the museum’s mechanical cast. Rising dramatically from the stage is the museum’s star piece – an original Mighty Wurlitzer theatre organ, dating back almost a century and providing the haunting tones to give these classic flicks an even eerier edge.

The fascinating Musical Museum was born from the personal collection of Frank Holland, whose passion for self-playing instruments saw the museum’s collection grow from half a dozen player pianos in 1963, to the significant collection we see today, with numerous instruments, interactive displays and a library of more than 20,000 music rolls.

Buy tickets for Emerge Friday night or both nights


London Canal Museum – Friday Night
Ice sound bath

A performance by sound artist Tom White

Courtesy London Canal Museum

An immersive installation which has been created especially for the festival by award-winning sound artist Tom White. Skilled in layering samples to produce rich soundscapes, White has captured the hidden sounds of ice melting and forming, as well as the sounds of locks and boats. The installation takes you on a journey through the building to discover how the architecture and ice sounds interact, while the chilled mood is continued through subtle ambient lighting.

Built for ice cream entrepreneur Carlo Gatti – one of the first to offer ice cream to the general public – this Victorian ice warehouse sits on Regent’s Canal in the heart of London. Gatti used ice imported from Norway and stored in the warehouse’s underground ice wells to produce his products, which he sold in little shells at the price of one penny.

Buy tickets for Emerge Friday night or both nights


Old Operating Theatre – Saturday Night
Sinister Victorian era surgery

The Old Operating Theatre

Courtesy The Old Operating Theatre Museum

Ascending the narrow spiral staircase at St Thomas’ Church to the attic you’ll find yourself in probably the last place you expect to be on a Saturday night – a 200-year-old Operating Theatre. Take to the theatre to experience a blood-curdling Victorian era surgery from the point of view of an eager medical student or, if you’re unlucky, the patient. This event recreates a typical pre-anaesthetic surgery, so it has to be quick – no time for hand-washing of course. Bring a strong stomach to this one.

For the unfortunate patients at the old St Thomas’ Hospital requiring surgery, this would once have been undertaken on the ward, no doubt causing a huge amount of distress to both the patient and their ward mates. A purpose-built operating theatre was added to the hospital in 1822, more than 20 years before the first anaesthetics were used and more than half a century before antiseptic surgery. Covered up and largely forgotten about when the hospital moved to a new location, the Old Operating Theatre was quite the find; this is the only known remaining 19th century operating theatre in all of Europe.

Buy tickets for Emerge Saturday night or both nights


Natural History Museum – Saturday Night
Lost in the Museum

Natural History Museum Hintze Hall

© The Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London

A lecture lucky dip by Lost Lectures, who transport audiences into new worlds of ideas through their enchanting events in secret locations. The eclectic mix of talks spans life and death – from the communication that makes us human to debunking the dodo. Speakers range from one of the world’s most prolific female beatboxers to science-savvy comedian and writer Helen Arney. You can also take in Luke Jerram’s mesmerising Museum of the Moon while you’re there.

The hallowed halls of the Natural History Museum have been inviting people to expand their horizons and understanding of the natural world since it first opened its doors in 1881. Though it’s one of the most famous landmarks in London, the museum still has plenty of secrets to reveal – for example, the museum is famous for its decorative architectural features which incorporate animals, but did you know that in the east wing these are all based on extinct species, and in the west they are all based on living species?

Buy tickets for Emerge Saturday night or both nights


Design Museum – Saturday Night
East Meets West: Brackles, WorkinOnIt, Masala Monologues and Ishmael Ensemble

The Design Museum in London

© Hufton + Crow

East meets west at the Design Museum with performances from energetic dubstep DJ Brackles; the Masala Monologues – hailed as a spicier version of the Vagina Monologues, gathered from British Asian experiences; underground creative collective WorkinOnIt – a medley of London-based performers; and Ishmael Ensemble – jazz-infused electronica heavyweights who mix hypnotic jazz with psychedelic dub sound.

Home to a collection which helps explain design to a non-specialist audience, this architectural landmark with a famous paraboloid roof first opened its doors 30 years ago, and it’s been promoting design awareness and engagement ever since. Formerly in an old banana-ripening warehouse, the museum recently moved to its new home on Kensington High Street where you can explore a slice of the stylish permanent collection, as well as the museum’s changing displays and exhibitions.

Buy tickets for Emerge Saturday night or both nights


The Emerge festival takes place across London on September 27 and 28 2019. One ticket gets you a wristband with entry to any event for that night. Or buy a weekend pass for your pick of all the events taking place over both nights. Visit emergefestival.co.uk for more info.

Add your comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *