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The Geffrye Museum is an unusual museum in East London, close to The City. It is approximately 15 minutes walk from Old Street tube and about 20 minutes walk from Liverpool Street station. Buses pass by also. Much of the museum is set in 18th century almshouses with a contemporary wing added on and pleasant, secluded gardens around the back.
The museum is all about the interior of a middle class English home through the ages. There are a number of room sets showing living rooms through the ages from the 17th Century to the end of the 21st century. The museum is free to get into, and you are allowed to photograph the room sets and exhibits for personal use. Professional photographers and those who wish to use a tripod will need to ask permission. I think it is great that photography is permitted as so many places refuse it in the hope you'll buy a guidebook or postcard before you leave.
There are eleven room sets and before each one is a room showing information on that era as well as artefacts and descriptions as to what a typical home of this time would be like. The first room is a 1630 hall and it continues on in chronological order to the 1998 loft apartment. The rooms each have a good attention to detail with items such as books, playing cards and tea sets laid out as if the home was lived in and the occupants has just left the room momentarily. I have to say I find a certain charm to the older rooms, which seem to have more character than the more contemporary rooms. Of course this is just a representation of a 'typical' living room, but I feel it depecits the appropriate period well.
The layout of the museum is so simple, you can't get lost. Although you enter in the left hand corner of the grounds, you will see the reception manned by a friendly lady and there is a toilet and cloakroom there also. You then walk straight through the rooms along a corridor alternating between what I call the 'info room' and a roomset for each period. The roomset rooms do not have a lot of space in them, and on a busy day this could be unpleasantly crowded. I was fortunate, although it was a Saturday, the weather was so nice not many people had come out to look around a museum. After the 1910 drawing room you enter the contemporary wing which houses a little café/restaurant and a shop. You then carry on through to see the rest of the rooms and artefacts.
Downstairs in the contemporary room is the Design Centre and space for a temporary exhibition. When I visited in summer 2009 it was 'Ethelburga Tower: At home in a high-rise' a collection of photos by Mark Cowper of the living spaces of his fellow residents in a Battersea tower block. He took photos standing in the same spot in the living room of 46 different flats to see how they differed amongst all the people that lived there. I was fortunate enough to coincidentally visit on a day that he was giving a free informal talk within the exhibition space. If this is typical of the standard of special exhibitions at the Geffrye, then I do recommend checking them out.
Part the way along in the old part of the building you will see access to a sun room or reading room which is upstairs. Unusually decorated, the large windows let in a lot of light and you can admire the gardens from here, there is a herb garden and a the garden is then divided up by century i.e., a typical 17th Century garden, then an 18th Century one and so on. I didn't know this at the time - a garden looked like a garden to me! It is a very pleasant room to relax in I would think.
The gift shop is quite small but does contain relevant gifts and a good selection of books on interiors and furniture through the ages, as well as contemporary design. The restaurant is waiter service - but if you just want a drink you can order it at the counter. They do teas, coffees as well as soft drinks and wines. You can have cakes, sandwiches or a hot meal. The selection isn't huge - it is only a small restaurant - but it does look out onto the gardens. Price wise it is not cheap, I think it would just slip in under the 'reasonable' category, I certainly didn't feel I was being ripped off especially when compared to other museum cafes around London.
If you are visiting between 1st April and 31st October and the weather is dry, do try and take a walk through the gardens. In season it can be very colourful. It is well laid out and I was very impressed, even though I hadn't realised that they were representing a period in history.
All in all I was there about two and a quarter hours and this included a walk around the gardens, the special exhibition and a sandwich in the restaurant. It is not a huge museum so if you are not planning on visiting the restaurant or a special exhibition then you can probably get by with allowing approximately one hour. If you are interested in design, interiors or period homes then this is a must visit museum.
You can visit a restored 18th Century almshouse on certain days of the month. There are only a few dates so check the website or with the museum directly.
Opening hours: Tuesday - Saturday 10am - 5pm. Sundays & Bank Holiday Mondays 12 - 5pm. Closed Mondays (unless Bank Holiday), Good Friday, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Boxing Day, New Year's Day.
I think the Geffrye museum is probably my favourite museum in London. Situated at the city end of Kingsland Road amongst the Vietnamese restaurants and folks wearing ill-fitting trousers with funny hair, lies this small, quiet and intriguing museum. The museum is housed in an 18th Century almshouse with accompanying modern wing tastefully designed to fit with it's surroundings. All are surrounded by beautiful gardens, which are a wonderful urban oasis in the summer to get away from the bustle of east end life.
The museum itself and permanent exhibit is essentially focused on the history of the changing nature of our homes from the 17th Century to present day. It comprises of numerous furnished showroom displays from each century with information and historical notes to accompany each. It is small but detailed and factually interesting. There are attempts to encourage children to take interest too but these efforts are rather lame and dated. That said, half the fun is passing through these rooms and just observing for yourself the changes as they develop. It's a relaxed environment and an easy museum to breeze through.
In addition to the above, they have temporary exhibitions in the new wing basement which often include ceramic exhibits and items for sale. This is a great place to go to relax and get away from it all. Often it is peaceful and quiet and the coffee shop is highly recommended for it's calming atmosphere.
And best of all... the museum is free. If you're in the area I can highly recommend a visit.
Address: 136 Kingsland Road, London E2 8EA
Opening hours Tuesday - Saturday 10am - 5pm
Sundays & Bank Holiday Mondays 12 - 5pm
Surrounded by the urban sprawl of Shoreditch in the East End of London the Geffrye Museum of Domestic Interiors seems incongruous with its surroundings. Its a collection of period rooms housed in some delightful Georgian Almshouses that surround a pleasant lawn. It really is a little unexpected oasis and worth a look if you would like to head off Londons beaten track.
The handsome Almshouses were bequeathed by Robert Geffrye to the Ironmakers Company in 1714 and were used to house the old and the poor of the trade. By the 20th century Shoreditch became more urbanised and the occupants were moved out to buildings further from the inner city. The buildings were saved due to the green surrounding the Almshouses and the Geffrey Museum was opened in 1914 to exhibit a collection of historic furniture. The aim of the museum now is to portray the changing lives of the urban middle classes over a period of 500 years.
I found the museum quite easy to get to but it is a little bit away from the main tourist sights of London. It is located on Kinsgsland Road Shorerditch and is 20-minute walk from Liverpool Street and Old Street underground stations. If you do not fancy a walk or if it is a bit wet a number of buses stop outside the museum.
I have visited the museum twice. The first time was in June 2006. I was a little disappointed by that first visit as most of the period rooms were closed due to a major refurbishment. Only the 20th century rooms were open and I was not as interested in these as the older ones. This was rectified by my second visit in December 2006 when I saw a range of rooms spanning from the Jacobean period to a 1990s loft. My purpose for the second visit was to see what I had missed the first time around and also see their special Christmas Past and Present exhibition they hold annually where they decorate the rooms with appropriate Christmas decorations.
The museum is set out in a logical chronological order I starts with an exhibition of chairs from the heavy uncomfy Jacobean ones to more ornate Georgian and Victorian ones right down to the present with our bland mass produced ones. I then came to the main exhibition of 11 period rooms. I was a little disappointed as when they said period rooms they actually meant living rooms. It would have been nice to have a variety of different rooms such as bedrooms and kitchens.
I enjoyed the period rooms. It was interesting to see how furniture evolved as did peoples tastes. I am not sure if I had a favourite room. The earlier ones (1630and 1695) seemed quite cold and sombre due to the heavy oak furniture whilst the Georgian and Regency rooms (1745 and 1795) seemed more elegant whilst the 19th century ones seemed a little fussy although I did like the arts and craft feel of the 1890s one. The Museum does say it is unique as it is looking specifically at the urban middle classes but as a museum buff I felt that I had seen it all before (though it was nice not to have the pit cottages an, privy and mangles of most reconstructed period rooms).
The Christmas aspect of the exhibition was quite fascinating. It seemed that in the Jacobean period there were still echoes if the medieval feast with all the slightly pagan decorations such as mistletoe and other evergreens. After the Restoration Christmas fell out of favour with the urban middle classes and the 1695, 1745 and 1790s rooms have only slight traces of Christmas. It is only in the Victorian era when the decorations such as the Christmas tree became established. I found it interesting to look at the original way Christmas trees were decorated with little musical instruments and also patriotic flags.
I thought the interpretation in the museum was excellent. Before each room there was a little exhibition that put the period in context with displays of different times from that era, a description of a typical house and a pictorial cross section. There were hands on exhibits in these sections such as an exploration of wood or fabric used in the house. I particularly liked the replica of the Great chair from the Jacobean room as you could sit in it and feel how uncomfortable it was. Each of these little exhibitions had audio devices to listen to contemporary sources such as books letters, and diaries along with pieces of music from the period. I found most of the interoperation clear and easy to read. The actual rooms were also nicely interpreted. They each had a board in the room and also hand held boards, which were great for me as I often, find a fixed board difficult to read. There was also a separate board for the Christmas exhibition. I liked the boards for children as they asked a question about the room such as how was the house heated or lit, or what did they play in this room. It then gave the answer and asks the children about their own home so they can think about the past and comport with the present.
The passages in between the period rooms are narrow and bottle necks can easily form when trying to read interpretation. I think a wheelchair or a pushchair might be a hindrance in particularly busy periods.
I transferred seamlessly from the Victorian rooms to the 20th century ones that are in a new extension to the almshouses that blend in nicely. The four rooms (Edwardian, 1930s, 1950s and a 1990s loft would be good for nostalgia purposes. I think the older generation might like these ones. There were nice touches such as a radio playing period pieces in some of the rooms. I particularly liked the Edwardian room with the letter box with mail coning through it and the 1950s room with its paper chains and heaps of newly unwrapped presents with the wrappings strewn across the floor.
There is a floor downstairs in the new extension that houses the craft rooms, the design studio and temporary exhibitions. The one that was on during my first visit was Domestic Archaeology. I was expecting an exhibition to do with finds in old houses. Instead I found an installation with lots of projections and screens (tv, computer) etc exploring peoples houses. Audio interactive involved dial telephone, which I could not get to work as I had forgotten how to use it and a key handset did not work. I was not that interested or impressed with this temporary exhibiting as it reminded me of Urbis in Manchester with its technology and conflicting noises.
The museum has a number of facilities such as a small shop selling appropriate high quality gifts, books and postcards. I had a quick look but did not buy anything and did not notice the pieces. This was the same with the restaurant, which sells traditional and modern British home cooked food. The museum does have a very pleasant reading room with a selection of relevant reading materials and a lovely view onto the gardens.
The highlight of my first visit was a wander round the gardens. These are only open from April to October. The Museum sees them as being outdoor rooms to compliment the period rooms inside. These consist of a Tudor knot garden with its geometric designs, a Georgian garden and a formal Victorian garden with its fancy flowerbeds. I really liked the arts and crafts influenced Edwardian garden. I liked it as it had the lovely pergolas, strewn with climbing plants and a lovely slightly wild cottage garden. The interpretation is similar in format to inside with an overview then a list of plants so keen gardeners can recreate the specific garden.
My favourite part of the gardens was the walled herb garden. It was just such a peaceful place to sit and watch the world go by whilst smelling the aromatic scents of the herbs. Like the entire museum this garden is interpreted very well. The garden illustrates the different ways herbs were used in the past such as in dyes, medicines and cooking. I found this extremely informative. My mum would really love this garden.
The Geffrye is a great little museum. London is really full of them. It is one for all the family as there are plenty of hands on activities for the children (there were feeling boxes with Christmas decoration during my second visit to the museum) and they often have craft events. Older people will enjoy the nostalgia of the 20th century gallery. I will be going back as I would like to explore the preserved part of the Almshouses. These are open the first Saturday of the month and every second Wednesday. There is a small charge of £2.00. The rest of the museum is free. I would recommend about an hour to an hour and a half depending on the weather. It would be a nice place to sit and have a picnic on the lawn or sit and enjoy the period gardens. It really is a little peace of tranquillity in the hustle and bustle of Londons urban jungle.
# Open Tuesday - Saturday 10am - 5pm
# Sundays & Bank Holiday Mondays 12 - 5pm
Tel: 020 7739 9893
Join me next time in another instalment of my search for Londons Hidden Treasures soon.
The Geffrye Museum is easy to overlook, as it's rather off the beaten track in London, but well worth making an effort to visit. In Kingsland Road, Shoreditch, a block of almshouses was built in 1715 with funds from a bequest left by Sir Robert Geffrye, former Lord Mayor of London in 1685. Here a museum was opened in 1914, initially to provide a centre for education and training for those working in the furniture trade. Since then it has broadened its scope to show the full history of the English domestic interior from around 1600 to the present day, with most of its collections displayed as a series of period rooms. Beyond the entrance area at the front are several illustrated panels giving a brief history of English domestic furniture over the centuries, with descriptions on furniture styles and portrait reproductions. One alcove has a selection of chairs throughout the ages, from a superb carved oak armchair of 1620 to a bog-standard plywood job of 1989. In the next area is a 17th century carved chair which, a notice advises, you are allowed to sit in - just to see (and feel) how they lived in those days. This leads you to the sequence of small, very homely period rooms, each in adjacent cubicles in what was previously a chapel building. You are not allowed to enter the rooms or touch the objects, but they are small enough to be clearly visible from the passage alongside. The first recreates the parlour of a large house from the Elizabethan and Jacobean era, 1580-1640. A wall of oak panelling forms the backdrop to a room containing carved chair, cradle with its 'eye' carved into the hood, in those days considered necessary to protect the baby from ill-fortune, walnut chest, plus miscellaneous furnishings and utensils including bronze and earthenware jugs. Next are rooms from the later Stuart period, 1660-85, and the era of Queen Anne, 1680-1720. Early and late Georgian follow, all with homely touches su
ch as contemporary porcelain teasets on the table, everyday household tables, chairs and cabinets. I particularly liked the walnut spinet in the Queen Anne room, with its tiny keyboard - nothing like the grand pianos which came a century or so later. (Incidentally, you won't see any GPs in the museum, presumably as they would take up far too much space.) Matters assume a rather more recognisable pattern with the 19th century displays, such as the 1800-30 Regency room with needlepoint panels depicting birds on firescreens, reminiscent in flavour of the passion for all things oriental which anyone who has visited the Brighton Pavilion will recognise, and two Victorian rooms with walls covered by pictures and cabinets displaying plates and other ceramics for decoration as well as everyday use. The first Victorian gallery is laid out as a morning-room for a middle class villa in the 1850s, where the lady of the house would receive her visitors, interview servants and supervise household accounts. By contrast the second is modelled on the aesthetic style much in favour 1875-80, with elaborate wallpapers, ebonised furniture and blue and white ceramics, influenced by the prevailing love of everything from Japan and the far east. In all these rooms the lighting is appropriately subdued. How the people who lived in these times would have envied our being able to flood a room with light at the flick of a switch instead of having to light the candle or gas lamp! Also on this floor are a restaurant and shop for books, postcards and ceramics, and a reading room displaying Victorian paintings by lesser-known artists, a library of reference books and furniture trade archive, and a children's activity area. The museum is family-friendly and has a regular programme of summer holiday activities for children which, like admission to the museum, are free for individuals and families. I picked up a leaflet, which mentions sessions for cr
eating your own toy theatre, or floating insects (for age 6 and over), or making your own miniature hot air balloons, sundials and shadow puppets (ages 10 and over). Here also might be mentioned the facilities for lecture rooms for hire, and a specialist enquiry service. Take the stairs or lift to the lower ground floor, and you are instantly in the 20th and 21st centuries. Four more period rooms can be seen, namely from the Edwardian period (note the beaten copper coal vase); a 1930s room (with contemporary wind-up gramophone), a 1955-65 period room with radiogram and early TV; and finally a room from the 1990s, too familiar to need description. All these rooms, as you would expect, are lit far more brilliantly than those on the previous floor, with softly playing background music appropriate to each. I leave it to you to guess which room had the Charleston and which was playing 'Heaven is a Half Pipe'. Also on this floor is the Geffrye Design Centre, showcasing the work of local designers. They have a rolling series of temporary exhibitions, and the one being staged on my visit was on plastics and its applications, from the invention of bakelite c.1907 to the present. According to their website, every year they also stage a Christmas Past exhibition, when they literally deck the halls with boughs of holly, tinsel, the complete works - and all the rooms sparkle with festive decorations. I don't generally visit London during the season, but if I did, I'd certainly make a point of coming to see this. If you have time, check the room with interactive computer touch-screen facilities, on which you can search the entire collection by any search term you choose, be it drawing rooms, individual items of furniture, domestic life, or picture library, century by century. The Museum is ten minutes' walk from Old Street underground (Northern line). It was just my luck to get caught in a flash flood and thunderstor
ms when I visited, which put me off visiting the herb garden outside. Oh well, there's always next time. Allow 45 minutes to an hour to see everything described above, and choose a fine day if you can, but if you can't - it's still a must for anyone interested in social history, interior design and furniture, and also a lovely place to take children.
The Geffrye Museum seems to be one of London's less well-known museums/galleries, but it is one of the best. Situated near the Shoreditch end of Kingsland Road, it is a beautiful 18th century building - a former almshouse - which houses a fascinating collection of English furniture and other objects. The collection is arranged in chronological order with a series of small rooms furnished in the typical styles of each era beginning with the 16th century and continuing up to the present day. For anybody at all interested in interior design/decor and art history the collection is a must, but quite small children will like it as well (though it's very much a case of "don't touch" at all times). I guarantee that when the displays for the 20th century are reached, comments along the lines of "we used to have one of those" will start to fly. Admission to the museum is free (donations are welcome but the front-of-house staff are very friendly and do not browbeat visitors into giving money if they don't want to), and for this reason it repays repeated visits. The restaurant is very good and I would recommend it as a lunch venue even if you don't have time to look at the exhibits. I should also mention the very pleasant gardens (both the front gardens and the Herb garden at the rear), and the well-stocked bookshop. Public transport access is via the various buses which stop outside in Kingsland Road (eg routes 242 and 149 which can be caught from outside Liverpool Street station). There are no parking facilities, only metered parking in the nearby streets.
The Geffrye Museum in Shoreditch, East London, England is named after Sir Robert Geffrye, former Lord Mayor of London. It is devoted to British furniture, textiles, paintings and decorative arts. It shows the changing style of the English domestic interior in a series of period rooms from 1600 to the present day. The emphasis is on middle class interiors and furniture, rather than the royal and aristocratic commissions often seen in museums of the decorative arts.