Heath Robinson @ Pinner

I’m a great fan of William Heath Robinson’s absurdist illustrations. I mean, who isn’t? Those elaborately detailed contraptions invented to perform any mundane and simple task, most of which have no real necessity, just sending up of human folly, a condition as relevant today as ever it was. The term “Heath Robinson” has entered the English language, used to denote any ridiculous and absurdly over-engineered design.

Apparently WHR lived for a time in the London suburban “village” of Pinner, then a part of the county of Middlesex, and so Pinner lately finds itself host to the Heath Robinson Museum. This is very close to my old stomping ground so, after a visit to the old folks, I popped across to have a look.

It’s a small building consisting of two modest exhibition spaces and a tiny gift shop. I’m not sure it justifies the six pound admission fee though this included a hand held audio device. By comparison, our exemplary local museum charges five pounds and its combined exhibition area is probably ten times the space, or more – and there’s an additional gallery space attached which is free to enter. Of course, I understand that the price might reflect its financial needs to exist at all rather than just the worth of its collections.

What the curators have done with the small rooms is quite good. The one dedicated to WHR is chronologically arranged. A descriptive timeline runs around the room at knee level, and at eye level are framed prints, examples of his work corresponding to the years described. Above are larger, coloured prints, seemingly printed directly onto the walls. Here and there, along the timeline, are display cabinets of books he was commissioned to illustrate. It’s a balanced collection, varied and not overly dominated by his famous devices.

You can point the audio device at each framed work and hear either of two interpretations by a couple of BBC journalist/newsreader/celebrities, though they are no more informative than studying the work yourself, in silence. I believe the celebs were asked to contribute as they live in the area. Fair enough, but they could have been better informed and offered the visitor something more. After a bit, I found it an unnecessary distraction and for the rest of the visit it stayed in my pocket.

The gift shop is a gem. It stocks prints, framed or not, from the collection, and reprints of many of the old books he was commissioned to illustrate. You pass through the shop to get to the other room. This holds temporary exhibits, I was told. On the day it was a group of Neo-romantic illustrators taking their cue from the Neo-romantic art movement. There were some nice pieces, mostly in ink, with pen and brush. Apparently the exhibitions in this room change monthly.

The museum is situated in Pinner Memorial Park which appeared extremely busy this bitterly cold afternoon. Most were families come to feed the ducks – though the mobs of gulls had the lion’s share of pickings. It’s a short walk from the car park in front of the Village Hall, somewhere behind the station; it’s free to park on Sundays. Despite the entry price, it was nice to see a permanent tribute to Heath Robinson, one of our favourite illustrators.

Heath Robinson Museum, London

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