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Williton, England

The Bakelite Museum

A collection of retro plastic goods made with "the material of a thousand uses." 

This rustic 18th century building’s whitewashed walls and the antique waterwheel outside betray the its original use as a mill, which may lead one to believe the museum inside is dedicated to industry of yore or English history. It’s neither of these. It’s a museum dedicated to Bakelite, the world’s first plastic.

Bakelite, “the material of a thousand uses,” was a watershed invention during the dawn of mass manufacturing in the early 20th century. It was pliable and easy to produce, so it went into dinnerware, telephones, toys, radios, jewelry, and even cars and airplanes.

Bakelite was invented by Leo Baekeland and patented in December 1909. Baekeland was a Belgian citizen born in Ghent who became a famous chemist, first inventing the best-selling Velox photographic paper. He was granted American citizenship and died in Florida in February 1944.

When its patent expired, Bakelite was quickly replaced by newer types of plastic; thus, Bakelite has become a sought after collector’s item, a vestige of the 1920s–60s.

This quirky little museum has a wealth of all things Bakelite, including some of the aforementioned goods produced in the early plastic’s heyday. There are some rarities as well, including a fleet of tiny Bakelite caravans in the surrounding meadow and a Bakelite coffin indoors. Mixed in are items from the pre-industrial era, like flour bags and watermill machinery, which provide whimsical contrast to the sleek, brightly colored retro treasures.

There’s also a sweet tearoom attached with a wonderful cream tea and friendly cats and dogs. The museum is surrounded by an idyllic English pastoral landscape, with a brook, ivy-covered statues, and water meadows, perfect for exploring.

Know Before You Go

Dogs are welcome, but please keep them on a lead so they "don’t frighten our cats." Opening hours: 1 March to the end of October, 10:30-5:00. Thursday to Sunday during term-time, every day during school holidays. Out of season by appointment.