Here is the remarkable story of how our consumer society has evolved since Victorian times. It’s a journey of discovery that puts our favourite brands into their historical context, alongside royal coronations, two world wars, man landing on the moon and right up to the computer and digital age. Laid out chronologically, the Time Tunnel reflects how daily life has been transformed by the invention of the railway, the motor car, and the aeroplane; and how entertainment has been enlivened by the arrival of cinema, radio and television.

Memories are triggered by an abundance of toys and games that, since the 1950s, have reflected the most popular television programmes. Magazine covers illustrate the change in style and fashion, while colourful graphic posters connected to the product aspirations of each period.

Amongst this merriment of memories, there are many underlying stories to consider –  the rapid advance in technology, the passing of the domestic servant, the emancipation of women, the takeover of the self-service store, the increasing variety of convenience foods, the benefits of refrigeration, as well as the growth of plastics.

Whether or not you are a lover of nostalgia, package design, or the history of our throwaway society, this Time Tunnel offers the ultimate treasure trove of childhood memories – toys and sweets, crisps and breakfast cereals. It’s also a revelation into the culture and lifestyle of our grandparents’ generation, where it’s worth remembering that the items on display were once the cutting edge of their time.


Fifty years ago, Robert Opie saw the need to unravel the fascinating story of how consumer products and promotion had evolved since Victorian times. By 1975 Robert had enough material to hold his own exhibition, The Pack Age, at the Victoria & Albert Museum. After a sixteen year career in market research, he opened the first museum devoted to the history of packaging and advertising in Gloucester in 1984.

Although the focus of Robert’s research has been the history of supermarket brands, his other interests extend to all other aspects of our consumer story: toys and games, travel and transport, leisure and entertainment, magazines and newspapers, technology and fashion, as well as the evidence of historic events like wars, major exhibitions and royal occasions. All this gives a wider context to the everyday history of marketing trends.

You can take your pick as to whether Robert Opie is a consumer historian or a supermarket archaeologist, but after writing some twenty books and appearing on endless television and radio shows, he has become a leading authority on his subject.

Perhaps less well known is his passion for the history of ancillary subjects, from entertainment and transport to toys and communication.

“I was struck by the idea that I should save the packaging which would otherwise surely disappear forever. The collection offers evidence of a dynamic commercial system that delivers thousands of desirable items from all corners of the world, a feat arguably more complex than sending man to the Moon, but one still taken for granted.”