There are times when you decided to visit a place on whim and are thoroughly disappointed…and there are those fabulous moments when you visit a surprising treasure. Luckily The Bakelite Museum was one of those!
Nestled in the middle of the Somerset countryside and housed in an old water mill, this is not so much a museum as a beloved collection. I think of museums as rather formal; everything labelled, catalogued, behind glass and somehow lacking personality. The Bakelite Museum is completely the opposite! If Pitts Rivers had an obsession with plastic, this is how he would have collected it (yet another fantastically ecclectic museum!).
Everything imaginable made from Bakelite or vintage plastics can be found here, from egg timers to amazing radios…and even a coffin! You forget how diverse this material must have seemed. The colours are absolutely wonderful, and there is little order or explanation, but that just makes you feel like a kid stumbling across the best attic in the world!
Sure there could be some large explanation boards on what Bakelite is and when it was used, there could be a few more description cards, but that just means that you have the opportunity to ask Patrick Cooke, the collector, about the pieces. This fabulously eccentric fellow and his wonderful wife (not forgetting their cat Lucite!) live at the old mill. They have 2 wonderful vintage caravans that you can have a look at too AND a wonderful tearoom where they serve cream teas!
I have to say that my favourite things were the WW2 Bakelite identification planes and an incredible Art Deco globe radio. It actually felt like a real privilege looking around the place as the collection is vast and fascinating. It helps that Patrick and Imogen are such lovely people too!
Hello and thank you so much for letting me look around your wonderful museum. Could you please state your name for our readers?
My name is Patrick Cook but have been referred to as Mr Bakelite or even Plastic Cook.
So tell us, how did the museum come about and what was the first piece of Bakelite you bought/ received?
The first piece I discovered was when I was on a paper round in Bristol, in the late 60’s. It was an Ekco wireless type SH23 with a tree motif within an Art Deco Bakelite cabinet….very architectural! I bought it for a (then) princely sum of 5 pounds which I think paid off over several months of wages.
Was this piece what sparked your passionate collecting is was it by accident?
I became intrigued by the fact that the radio dealer tried to put me off buying Bakelite in favour of the more craftsman built walnut veneered cabinets that were so popular in the 1930’s. Bakelite as a material was at it its all time low, deemed dull, smelly and so evocative of wartime Britain and the depression. so this became my challenge. To collect and reconsider the ‘material of a thousand uses’ as quoted by Leo Baekeland, became my quest.
What is your favourite piece?
Like children, I do not have a favourite piece of Bakelite it so depends on context….good design, colouring, nostalgic associations and so on…however I do think the Thermos flask is a rather elegant and understated design with all the associated memories of family picnics, motor outings or having a tea break at work….the World Globe radio is also rather splendid in shape and design.
You used to organise Bakelite Picnics on the Beach, tell us more!!! In the 1970’s I organised an annual Bakelite Picnic, starting originally on Blackheath in London and finally growing to a large scale event on Hastings Pier to be filmed by the BBC for Collecting Now series. Bakelite Museum Society members would dress terribly vintage….even in those days, and we would have all our Bandalasta picnic hampers crammed with spam or fish paste sandwiches, battenberg cake, blancmange and a noxious flask of tea. We plan to have a revival picnic here at the Bakelite Museum this summer.
What does your lovely wife think about your collection and is she also into Bakelite and vintage plastics?
Imogen is an inveterate collector of all things old (including me). She has a most wonderful kitchen crammed with old tins, pottery, toasters and vintage gadgets galore…. I think she has a quiet regard for the Bakelite Museum….slightly.
We are totally in love with your 2 caravans! What age are they? Make?
In the orchard we have a 1932 Bertram Hutchings (hardboard and canvas) two berth caravan; very tudorbethan. The Willerby Vogue is the other extreme, being all plastic (fibreglass) and streamlined and eggshaped. I towed it with a Citroen DS and they look the perfect partners.
Why do you think there is still a love for Bakelite, Lucite and other vintage plastics?
The love for Bakelite has grown as the fashion for all things vintage has become so popular and Bakelite is at the forefront for a material that covers such a large variety of objects. From the cradle to the grave (including the Bakelite coffin).
We have a rather stunning photo of you holding (what looks like) the top of a bomb…what on earth is that?!
I am holding what was described to myself as a second world war bomb, but is fact a Radar Pod that was affixed to the Lancaster Bomber….it had been used as a Geranium pot in Billericay for many years before it found a home here at the museum.
If you would like to visit the museum, it is situated at Orchard Mill, Williton, Somerset, TA4 4NS and the TomTom found it fine. The museum is open pretty much every day of the week between March and October, but why not email Patrick at email@example.com you are unsure. They welcome people at all times of year, including groups. And who knows, maybe we can revive those Bakelite picnics too!Prices are £5 for adults, £4 concessions, £2.50 for children (under 6’s go free)
*This visit was in 2014 and featured in Military World Magazine. The information in this blog post is correct at time of original printed article*