London Sewing Machine Museum
London Sewing Machine Museum’s surroundings are decidedly 2016. This tiny museum sits in the top levels of a warehouse, opposite a Lidl and within a stone’s throw from Tooting Bec station.
But step inside and you’ll enter a different world of class, vintage domesticity, 600 machines and one family’s eccentric history.
The machines in the huge collection are fascinating, but what’s most interesting to me is the dogged resilience with which its creator has held onto his family’s heritage.
To learn more, you’ll need a guide — so it’s worth waiting around for the start of a tour — but here’s just a taster of what you’ll hear…
The history of London Sewing Machine Museum
The museum’s history starts just after WWII, when Thomas Arthur Rushton set up a small business in Wimbledon restoring sewing machines that he’d retrieved from derelict homes.
Retrieving them was hard work; thry were built to last and had to be carried by hand since there was no van.
When Thomas’ son Ray Rushton joined the business, he was naturally enlisted to collect the machines (on his bike this time, before a van was acquired). In 1979 the business moved to a new location in Tooting, where it still stands today with 78-year-old Ray at the helm.
Highlights of the collection
There are over 600 sewing machines in the London Sewing Machine Museum collection, from the first Singer and a patent that was sent for the Great Exhibition, to a machine that was given to Queen Victoria’s eldest daughter as a wedding gift when she married Prince Frederick William of Prussia.
The latter dates from 1865 and Ray bought it for £23,500, making it the second most expensive sewing machine ever bought.
The most expensive sewing machine ever bought is, naturally, also in Ray’s collection. Dating from the 1830s, it is believed to be the fourth prototype by Barthelemy Thimonnier – the inventor of the sewing machine. Basically, it’s one of the first sewing machines ever made.
Thimonnier’s work is also very rare; when 19th-century seamstresses heard of his creation, they burned down his factory with him in it. Luckily he escaped and managed to grab a couple of machines on his way out, but most of his work was gone forever and he died poor.
So, how much did Ray buy this incredibly important, incredibly rare sewing machine for? £50,000.
Sewing machines just got interesting, and the London Sewing Machine Museum (and Ray) is right there in the centre of the action.
Address: 308 Balham High Road (above Wimbledon Sewing Machine Company), London SW17 7AA
Opening times: 2pm-5pm, first Saturday of the month
Nearest Tube: Tooting Bec
More information: The Crafty Sewer website