The World of Mechanical Music

Part of my personal travel philosophy is to seek out the tiny, quirky sights rather than hit all the big ones full of obnoxious tourists.  So last weekend we headed to the Cotswolds in pursuit of a tiny nothing of a museum that I have been pining to see.

In the good old days, they say, people made their own entertainment.  They sat around the fire at night and told stories and sang songs.  But what about the poor sods with no talent?  They sat around bored, listening to boring stories and singing songs with no harmony, that's what.  So some of them got creative and made machines that could make music for them.  And Keith Harding, the charmingest old bearded Englishman, has spent his life collecting those machines.   We got to see them on our own personal guided tour for a mere £8 each.  I woulda paid way more.  

So the World of Mechanical Music is on the cutest old street, across the street from a tiny little Doll House shop, where an old man sells the doll houses he makes.  I never wanted a doll house so bad!  Anyway, music boxes and gramophones and stuff like that don't really sound interesting, but then you go on a guided tour and find yourself gasping in amazement and grinning from ear to ear.  That's why I like doinky little museums -- they teach you to appreciate something you thought was mostly pointless before.  

What will you see (and hear) in such a silly little museum?  The first mechanical self-playing crank organ -- made in 1750?  Check.  A gramophone with a horn six times the size of your head? Check.  One of only two pianos in the world (1902) that can actually record a performance and play it back - using only paper and ink, no electricity at all?  Check.  A 200-year-old juke box, that plays 20-inch metal plates with holes punched in them?  A whole host of incredibly intricate antique music boxes playing songs that make you stare silently without even breathing? That too.  

Keith Harding is famous in the music box world, I guess.  

He restores antique music boxes as well as collects them -- most of the stuff in the museum is on sale, if you've got about £25000 to spare.  And man he takes it seriously.  When he restored an antique music box that once belonged to the Sultan of Constantinople, he spent three months listening to Turkish music to be sure he had the right idea.  Oh yeah, and he made the 20-inch metal plate that plays the theme song to Labyrinth in the movie.  The director was like, "who in the world can make an 18th-century music box play this song by David Bowie?"  And someone was like, "there's this old man in a tiny village in England..."
Now the David Bowie song plate is on his wall.  He was so old and quiet and but exuded so much gravitas, I just wanted to stay there forever and be his apprentice.  A personal tour of all those amazing old machines beats the British Museum any day!  

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