Next week marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of William Heath Robinson, a man so famous for the fantastical drawings that he ended up in the dictionary.

Born in Hornsey, North London, on 31st May 1872 to a family of artists, and started his career illustrating for books, but it was his comic satires during WW1 that started his famous line of ever-increasingly bizarre contraptions.

So popular were his drawings, that the term “Heath Robinson contraption” gained dictionary recognition as it had become a commonplace way to describe unnecessarily complex and implausible gadgets.

Now, in the year that marks his 150th anniversary, the Heath Robinson Museum in northwest London has put on a wide-ranging exhibition of his many illustrations. In these illustrations, he set out to deflate the pompous or the pretentious by exaggerating their folly to the point of absurdity, whether it was individuals or organisations, no one was safe.

He was also a war artist for an American artist, but was arrested on suspicion of being a spy by the French, and once that was sorted out, a special permit he needed was offered and is on display here.

He was also a prolific satirist of that most bureaucratic of industries – the railways, and they were not spared his sense of humour.

Some of the drawings can be repurposed to carry modern messages. One showing people on the beach standing on stilts to fool the Germans as to how deep the tide was, is a good metaphor for rising sea levels. His image of how a dropped toothbrush in one room causing the owner to knock over a bowl of water, that then cascades down the house triggering ever greater accidents — is chaos theory perfectly illustrated.

He even shows an image that, apart from the wires, would be familiar to many today – of a silent disco. Do look above, where a modern wired silent disco has been installed.

As an exhibition of a satirist, it’s amusing as you would expect, although you might struggle to understand some of the jokes depending on how well you know the history of the time he was working.

Even if the subtleties wash over you, the evident humour in the images still stands out and it’s an exhibition that’s going to leave you smiling a lot as you wander around the room.

The exhibition, The Humour of William Heath Robinson is open now at the Heath Robinson Museum until 4th September.

The museum is in Pinner, where Heath Robinson lived for a while, and about a 10 minute walk from Pinner station on the Metropolitan line. The museum is open 11am-4pm Thur-Sun.

Adults: £6 | Over 65s: £5 | Concessions £4 | Child (18 and under) & Student (24 and under with ID): Free



Exhibition Rating


18 Stafford Terrace
18 Stafford Terrace, Kensington, London
W8 7BH


Be the first to know what's on in London, and the latest news published on ianVisits.

You can unsubscribe at any time from my weekly emails.

Tagged with:

This website has been running now for over a decade, and while advertising revenue contributes to funding the website, it doesn't cover the costs. That is why I have set up a facility with DonorBox where you can contribute to the costs of the website and time invested in writing and research for the news articles.

It's very similar to the way The Guardian and many smaller websites are now seeking to generate an income in the face of rising costs and declining advertising.

Whether it's a one-off donation or a regular giver, every additional support goes a long way to covering the running costs of this website, and keeping you regularly topped up doses of Londony news and facts.

If you like what you read on here, then please support the website here.

Thank you

Home >> News >> London exhibitions