Out in the depths of W14 on a winding residential street between Shepherd’s Bush and Kensington Olympia is a vast imposing Edwardian building called Blythe House (above). Originally a Post Office Savings Bank (built between 1899 and 1903) it’s now shared between The British Museum, The Science Museum and The V&A – to put things in context, the latter’s newly refurbished space is about the same size as Harrods. From next week (Oct 8) the public can explore the V&A’s incredible archive – which dates back to 3,000BC and includes over 104,000 objects from mediaeval tapestries to 18th Century kimonos and ‘20s Schiaparelli hats (shoe hat, anyone?).
The best thing is that it’s completely free – simply book an appointment, although be warned that due to popular demand the first month is already booked up. As well as the enormous archives the size of football pitches housing everything from Asian textiles to contemporary fashion, there’s also a spacious, light-filled library and study area – all parquet floors and industrial tiled walls – where you can pore over the textiles you have chosen to study close-up.
The V&A’s talented team of conservators are now based here and work their magic on reviving and repairing garments – watching them for a behind-the-scenes glimpse is as interesting as any exhibition we’ve seen at the South Kensington museum. After a jaw-dropping sneak preview today, we are absolutely gagging for a night-in-the-museum type lock-in. Maggie Davis