The Bakelite Museum, Williton
The Bakelite Museum in Williton, Somerset is a museum of few words. At the entrance, a small sign introduces Bakelite "The material of a thousand uses". Invented by Dr Leo Baekeland in 1907 Bakelite was the world’s first, and most successful synthetic plastic, in continuous production ever since. If you think it's confined to old brown radios, think again. The museum, set over two floors in a 17th Century watermill is jam packed with Bakelite products of all shapes, sizes and colours.
Stepping in the door is like walking into a 1950s home. There are cookers, toasters, washing machines, and irons interspersed with smaller items like banks, clocks and egg cups. It is bright and resilient, in the spirit of the times. If the museum had ended here I would have gone home happy, but there's more. Next, a room of televisions, gramophones, radios and telephones is like a mini Design Museum. Plus a colourful display of elegant bowls and vases made from Bandalasta (also known as LingaLonga), a coloured, marbled variation of Bakelite which first saw light in 1925.
Up the steep stairs and into a little side room where I thought I'd died and gone to heaven. This is the colourful world of Bakelite egg cups, napkin rings and salt and pepper shakers, all perfectly lined up on curvaceous shelves. I shudder to think what the dusting overhead is like, but it looks wonderful.
From there you go onto hairdryers, electric heaters, hoovers and the last room with a full set of Bakelite teeth, picnic sets and the piece de resistance, a Bakelite coffin. As it was famous for its heat-resistant properties this didn't go too well at cremations and the product never took off. It is one of the many highly collectible items on show.
Considering the size and value of the collection, the museum is remarkably relaxed. If there's no one on the door, leave the entry fee in the honesty box. The owner, Patrick Cook, who makes the wonderful "pod" caravans on show outside may float by, but he doesn't intrude. Very few of the exhibits are behind glass which adds to the loveliness as the feel and smell of the material is so evocative of times past. There is little explanation, few captions or signposting. There's no need as the exhibits speak volumes - Bakelite is beautiful, versatile and omnipresent. What would the world have done without it?
Orchard Mill, Williton, Somerset TA4 4NS - England, UK
Phone: +44 (0)1984 632133.
Open every day throughout the summer and Easter holidays. In term-time it is open Thurs-Sun 10:30-6.
Bakelite Museum photos
More of Anne's Bakelite Museum photos
- The Bakelite Museum website
- The Jorg Zimmermann Bakelite Collection (Switzerland)
- How do I know if it is bakelite?
- It's Bakelite you know!
- Wikipedia: Bakelite
- The Telegraph: This is Bakelite, do not adjust your dial
How to get there
The Bakelite Museum is at Orchard Mill, Williton, Somerset. It is signposted from the main road (A39) through Williton. Follow the signs until you're going up someone's driveway. If you can see strange looking caravans you're in the right place. If you're in Somerset for a longer stay the charming West Somerset Railway runs to Williton from Minehead and Bishops Lydeard. The museum is a 25 minute walk from the station. Delicious cream teas are on offer from the kitchen next door.