Education and Outreach

A visit to the museum is an education in itself! For a fee/donation, we'll also come to you and disseminate information via talks, handling sessions etc. Find out about our work to facilitate learning on these pages.

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Neil Handley at the Rochester Dickens Festival 2014

Lectures and talks
Group visits
Press and media coverage


Lectures and talks

The Museum Curator is available to give lectures to academic conferences and formal/informal groups (including remotely by Zoom). On this page you can see a list of recent lectures and read feature articles based on some of them (adapted for publication on the web). Titles, which event organisers may care to note are often suitable for repetition, have included:

  • De Carles Drug Store Chemist-Opticians - To the British Society for the History of Pharmacy
  • Artificial Eyes and the Artificialisation of the Human Face - To the Society for the Social History of Medicine
  • Documenting collections - To the Ophthalmic Antiques International Collectors' Club
  • The Tyranny of Treatment - Eyecare and Eyewear in the age of Dr Johnson - Public talk at the Dr Johnson's House Museum
  • Identifying ophthalmic museum objects - To the Social History Curators Group
  • What's in a name? - What is and What was an Optician? - To the Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Society (28 October 2005)
  • What's in a name? - What is and What was an Optician? - Repeated to the Ashridge Circle (12 April 2006)
  • More than "A Blessing to the Aged" - The Worshipful Company of Spectacle Makers - At the Mini Conference on the London Guilds: Scientific Instrument Society and the Worshipful Society of Scientific Instrument Makers (4 July 2008)
  • Cosmetic Contact Lenses - From Protective Shells to Cat's Eyes - At the Conference  on The Body: Simulacra and Simulation - Models, Prosthetics and Interventions, XIV Congress of the European Association of Museums of the History of Medical Sciences, Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh (18 September 2008)
  • Squinting at the Past - Lunchtime talk at Bruce Castle Museum, Tottenham (23 February 2009)
  • Eyecare: Past and Present - Lunchtime talk to the Tuesday Club at the Bloomsbury Friendship Centre (23 June 2009)
  • Some Remarks on the Role of Opticians in Supplying the 'Business' of Astronomy - At the conference on the Society for the History of Astronomy, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich (18 July 2009)
  • Taking a Contact Lens History - The Object Approach  - To the British Contact Lens Association Pioneers Conference at the Royal Society of Medicine (26 November 2009)
  • Keeping it in the Family: The Dollonds and Microscopy - To the Royal Society (at the Royal College of Surgeons of England) (25 March 2010)
  • Men Seldom Make Passes at Girls Who Wear Glasses  - To London Ladies Luncheon Club (15 April 2010)
  • The Henry Blackham Collection - To the Ophthalmic Antiques International Collectors' Club (9 May 2010)
  • The History of Spectacles - What We Know and What We Don't - To the Hounslow branch of the University of the Third Age (U3A) (25 October 2010)
  • The Joy of Specs, Vision Aids Now and Then - To the Welwyn-Hatfield branch of the University of the Third Age (U3A) (3 November 2010)
  • Preserving and Presenting Historical Ocular Prosthetics - To a Wellcome-funded seminar on 'Transforming the Human Body' held at Liverpool Hope University (12 November 2010)
  • An Optical House Beautiful - To the Christ Church Fellowship, Chelsea (25 January 2011)
  • Looking across the Atlantic - American Links in the Collections of the British Optical Association Museum - To the Ocular Heritage Society of America, Millenniunm Bostonian Hotel,  Boston (9 April 2011)
  • No Longer the Oldest Name on the High Street - To the William Shipley Group for RSA History (17 May 2011)
  • Gresham College lecture To Wear or Not to Wear? Changing social norms with regard to eyewear - Gresham College public lecture (21 March 2012)
  • The Inside View - Writing a book about the history of spectacles - To the Ocular Heritage Society of America, Case Western University, Cleveland, Ohio (21 April 2012)
  • Some Milestones on the Road to Scientific Refraction - To the 90th Anniversary Symposium of the Optisches Museum Jena, Germany (13 October 2012)
  • The Joy of Specs, Vision Aids Now and Then - To the Chalfont St Peter and Gerrards Cross History Society (30 November 2012)
  • Spectacles through the Ages - To The Macular Society (High Wycombe Support Group), Wesley Methodist Hall, High Wycombe (9 April 2013)
  • Promoting 1950s British Spectacles the American Way - The Evidence from the Batemans Scrapbook - To the Ocular Heritage Society of America, Renaissance Hotel, Baltimore, Maryland (27 April 2013)
  • Shopticians and Optologists - How Optometry became a Profession - To the Medical Sciences Historical Society, Institute of Biomedical Sciences, London (25 May 2013)
  • The History of Spectacles - To the Quest Men's Club, Ashurst Drive Baptist Church, Gants Hill (10 February 2014)
  • The History of Spectacles - To Potters Bar U3A, Wyllyotts Centre, Potters Bar (14 April 2014)
  • The Mechanics of Optometry - National Glass Centre, Sunderland (25 April 2014)
  • A Right Royal Spectacle - To the Ocular Heritage Society of America, Dukes Mansion, Charlotte, North Carolina (3 May 2014)
  • What's the Colour of Monet? - National Gallery Lunchtime Talks Series, in association with the temporary exhibition 'Making Colour' (7 July 2014)
  • The Historian's Fresh Eyes - The Kettner Lunch Club at the National Liberal Club (16 July 2014)
  • Neil Handley lecturing in Tartu August 2014 Once Looked Through, Now Seldom Looked At - The Challenge of Curating Historic Ophthalmic Lenses - To the Scientific Instrument Commission of the International Union for the History and Philosophy of Science, University of Tartu, Estonia (27 August 2014).
    This lecture was filmed and, for the moment, remains available online via the University of Tartu website.
  • Spectacles Through The Ages (no visuals version) - To Bucks Vision (Wycombe Division), Hazlemere (20 November 2014). This talk is particularly suitable for people with visual impairment.
  • Cuffley Industrial History Society lecture Making a Spectacle - To the Cuffley Industrial History Society, Northaw (10 February 2015)
  • Like a Bull in a China Shop...A Rash attempt to Recount the History of Oriental Spectacles - To the Ocular Heritage Society of America, San Diego, California (April 2015)
  • History of Eyes and Spectacles (no visuals version) - To The Macular Society (Reading Support Group), Berkshire (24 June 2015)
  • The History of Spectacles - To St. Albans U3A (30 September 2015)
  • Introductory speech at the opening launch of the temporary exhibition 'Robert La Roche: Personal View', at the Museum of Applied Arts (MAK), Vienna, Austria (3 May 2016)
  • Turtle Power: The Allure of Real Tortoiseshell - To the Ocular Heritage Society of America, Hilton Hotel, New Orleans, Louisiana (14 May 2016)
  • How to facilitate a public event (with Daniel Glaser) - To the London Museums of Health and Medicine, Royal Pharmaceutical Society (7 December 2016)
  • Some Fishy Tales (mainly concerning the use of shagreen in the optical trade) - To the Ocular Heritage Society of America, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (29 April 2017)
  • The History of Spectacles, or the Joy of Specs - To Wheathampstead U3A (22 June 2017)
  • The History of Spectacles: from Medical Appliances to Fashion Eyewear - To Croxley Green U3A (19 July 2017)
  • The History of Spectacles and Ophthalmic Antiques - To Lea Valley Antiques Group, Broxbourne (24 October 2017)
  • Master Carver: Insights into the Wider World of Michael Birch - To the Ocular Heritage Society of America, Tucson, Arizona (21 April 2018)
  • The History of Spectacles - To Bishops Stortford U3A (8 June 2018)
  • Ghostly sights and visions - To the Ghost Club (13 October 2018)
  • The History of Spectacles - To Rickmansworth U3A (14 March 2019)
  • Are You Feeling Sleepy? - To the Ocular Heritage Society of America, Toledo, Ohio (27 April 2019)
  • Diversity within the Medical Profession: A Spectacle with a History, paper for the ARTEFACTS conference in Edinburgh (21-23 October 2019)
  • Special Insight - A Splendid Thing - online video talk for the 2020 Open House London Festival (19-27 September 2020)

Group Visits

Benjamin King Optician Tottenham in 1880

The museum's Full Building Tours may be adapted, on request, to include a curator's talk.

 For more information on booking tours see our visiting pages.


The Museum sometimes has a presence at external heritage events where we may take pictorial display boards, objects and demonstration items. Plus, every September we take part in the Open House London series of architectural open days.

Syon House archaeology day

Syon House Archaeology Day

Recent events have included:

  • Syon House Medieval Archaeology Day
  • Who Do You Think You Are? ancestry and history event
  • Guided tour of the Hunterian Museum with particular emphasis on scientific instruments
  • Guided tour of the Science Museum with particular emphasis on ophthalmic and eye-related exhibits
  • Four Liveries Lecture (12 May 2008) - Did you see our telescope there?
  • Low Vision for Optometrists book launch
  • Optometry Tomorrow, York Racecourse (April 2010)
  • The Historic Medical Equipment Society (HMES) held its meeting at the British Optical Association Museum (15 April 2011)
  • The MIMSY XG User Group held its meeting at the British Optical Association Museum (13 May 2011)
  • The Scientific Instrument Society visit to the Algha Spectacle Factory in Bow was led by the museum curator (25 February 2014)
  • Hands on event November 2014 Hands On and Close Up - The joint London Museums of Health and Medicine handling session, Barts Pathology Museum (17 November 2014)
  • Dickensian Christmas, Rochester, Kent (2014, 2015, 2016)
  • Hands On and Close Up - The joint London Museums of Health and Medicine handling session, Hunterian Museum, Royal College of Surgeons of England, between (28 October 2015)
  • Royal College of Nursing, Centenary of Registration event (17 October 2019)

Press and Media Coverage

Peter Snow interview

Peter Snow interview

The Curator is also readily available for press and tv/radio interviews on matters directly pertaining to the history of the subject. (On other matters please contact the College Press Office).

Recent broadcast media coverage has included:

  • CBC Radio (Canada) Bunny Watson Show. The curator was interviewed by Bill Richardson about the eighteenth century itinerant oculist and quack John Taylor, whose botched cataract operations ruined the sight of both Bach and Handel.
  • Discovery Channel. The BOA collections were used for a three-minute programme spacer on the History of Spectacles.
  • BBC Radio 4. Morning With Snow. Inspired by a newspaper cutting from 1694, Peter Snow visited the museum to look at seventeenth century eyewear and learn about John Yarwell who pioneered automated lens production.
  • BBC Radio 4. Inventors Imperfect. Adam Hart-Davis called on the College to review the shaky evidence that Benjamin Franklin actually invented bifocals.
  • BBC World Service Outlook. Anne Khazam visited the museum to try on some monocles and was surprised to discover their popularity as a fashion item for young American women around 1900.
  • ITV London Off the Beaten Track. The late Nigel Farrell entered 'The World of Eyeballs', visited the Print Room, tried out a test-your-sight machine, colour-matched an artificial eye and re-enacted the discovery of our Scarlett-type spectacles.
  • BBC 2. Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is. Antique fashion expert Katherine Higgins invited a collector of vintage sunglasses to the museum to inspect some Ray-Bans she had picked up at a Parisian street market. (May 2010 - and repeated ad nauseam since!)
  • BBC Radio London. The Robert Elms Show. Museum Curator Neil Handley visited Broadcasting House to discuss some London-made spectacles as well as contact lenses, monocles and turtles! (21 September 2010)
  • Sky News. Sunrise. Entertainment correspondent Lucy Cotter interviewed Rob Spence, the human 'Eyeborg' at the museum. Spence lost the sight in his right eye in a shooting accident and has now had it replaced with a video camera in order to make a unique documentary. (26 August 2011)
  • BBC1. A Picture of Health. Presenter Larry Lamb and veteran actor Derek Fowlds reminisced about changes in eyecare services since the advent of the NHS. Neil Handley discussed the stigma attached to NHS glasses and snippets were shown from the British Pathe archive including one film made at the British Optical Association's headquarters in 1963. (2 March 2012)
  • China Central TV Europe. Jiming Shan filmed for a news piece about Jost Haas the London-based artificial eye maker who still uses the traditional glass blowing technique
  • NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation). In June 2013 Saeko Konishi filmed several scenes towards an historical documentary on spectacles: Megane. This was broadcast in Japan on 7 August 2013
  • BBC4. Fossil Wonderlands - Nature's Hidden Treasures. Presenter Professor Richard Fortey met with Dr Andrew Parker at the museum in July 2013 to discuss the evolutionary advantage of Cambrian creatures with eyes. The emergence of such creatures with vision is shown in the fossil record. The Professor also used faceted lenses in the museum collection to demonstrate compound vision and discussed the pre-eminent importance of sight amongst the human senses today. (Broadcast 11 March 2014)
  • BBC Radio London. The Gaby Roslin Show. Museum Curator Neil Handley visited Broadcasting House to take part in the live Sunday afternoon 'Collectors Corner' feature and ended up discussing wig spectacles, Gondola spectacles, the Queen Mum and Daniel Radcliffe (26 October 2014)
  • BBC2. QI. Presenter Stephen Fry introduced five items from 'the world famous British Optical Association Museum' and the four comedians on this popular panel show had to guess what they were for. (Broadcast 31 October 2014)
  • BBC1. The One Show. Angelica Bell visited the museum to interview Neil Handley 'probably the greatest fan of NHS spectacles'. (Filmed 24 June 2014. Broadcast 3 December 2014)
  • BBC1, This Week. Shami Chakrabarti, the Director of Liberty, visited the 'only museum where the exhibits look at you' to make a personal protest at the government's surveillance society. She felt 'like I'm being watched'. (Filmed and broadcast 5 November 2015)
  • Yesterday Channel, Trading Histories. Neil Handley was interviewed about items of optical interest coming up at public auction. (Broadcast 16 November 2016)
  • NHK, Roots. One half of famous Japanese comedy duo Hi-Hi visited the College dressed as an explorer to discover the roots of spectacles with sides. (Broadcast May 2017)
  • BBC Radio Kent, Dominic King. Neil Handley spoke briefly in a feature about unusual museums mentioning the age of the museum and some of its key exhibits. (Live interview 11 September 2017)
  • Channel 4, Supershoppers, Neil Handley discussed the historic price of spectacles with Kate Quilton (Broadcast 28 August 2019)
  • BBC 4, The Disordered Eye. Presenter Richard Butchins visited on 8 January 2020 to discuss sight testing, cataracts and diabetes in the time of Monet and Cezanne. Three stills of cataract spectacles from our collection were included at about the 41-minute mark. The programme also featured our Specialist Adviser on Instruments, Richard Keeler HonFCOptom, wearing his other hat as Honorary Curator for the Royal College of Ophthalmologists (Broadcast 4 November 2020)

(We have videos or audio-recordings of some of these programmes available for viewing or listening).

Recent print coverage has included:

  • 'Vintage Glasses', Financial Times, 4 April 2009: Curator Neil Handley was interviewed by journalist Simon Brooke on the subject of the rapid growth in the market for retro-styled spectacles or even for having actual antique frames glazed for modern wear.
  • 'Feel Hen-Pecked? Better get some chicken glasses', Metro, 19 April 2011: Curator Neil Handley commented on the discovery of some 1950s rooster blinkers dug up in Nottingham and now destined for the museum collection.
  • 'College History Man Deserves a Big Hand', Optician, 31 August 2012. Joe Ayling wrote about upcoming improvements at the museum and the work of artist in residence Patrice Moor including a painting of the curator's hand.
  • 'A longer-sighted look at the history of spectacles', Daily Telegraph, 16 May 2013. A letter to the editor from the curator offered an important corrective on some frankly bizarre claims that had appeared on the letters page in previous days.
  • Article by Joan Grady on the collection of Queen Mother spectacles in Vision Now magazine, July 2014, pp.26-7.
  • 'Museum of...', Museums Journal, June 2017.
  • 'Engineered Design' (article by Neil Handley on history of Porsche Design Eyewear), EyeStyle 2020, November 2020.