There’s an exhibition about pirates in East London at the moment, which I would describe as a pirate themed playground that happens to be in a museum.

That’s not to be dismissive, as this is an exhibition aimed at children, not adults, and as such, while it’s a bit low on the artifacts side, it’s rich in childish fun.

After all, not many exhibitions would have a sailing ship as a climbing frame in the middle, for kids to clamber all over. A blacklight corridor with glowing pirates on the walls is much darker and fun than my photo suggests.

A few glass cases are dotted around with some artifacts to show off how pirates, a very real problem, were slowly fictionalised into the anti-heroes that we imagine them to be today.

The classic look of an old pirate, with gold rings, bandana and long sashes were actually based on Spanish Romani men, and about as far from a sea-faring people as you can imagine. Yet that’s the image we have of the pirate, about as accurate as the average Viking as seen on TV.

But we still prefer the enjoyable image of the overdressed pirate to the reality, and why not, a bit of fantasy is often a good way of drawing people into a topic and encouraging them to learn more about it.

Much of the learning about the history of pirates is limited to the information cards dotted around the room, with small nuggets of interesting information on them.

I certainly didn’t realise that pirate shops were often crewed by more people than merchant and naval ships — which meant pirate sailors didn’t have to work as hard to keep their ship functional.

Being a pirate was not an easy life, but it was easier than being on the other side of the law.

As I noted earlier, this is very much an exhibition aimed at young children, so if you have them, they’ll probably enjoy it.

The exhibition, A Pirate’s Life for Me is at the V&A Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green, is free to visit and open until 22nd April 2019.


Article last updated on May 25th, 2020 at 05:10 pm

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