“ 150 London Wall, EC2. Tel:+44 (0)207 600 3699. Barbican/St. Paul`s/Moorgate tube. Open 10am-5.50pm Mon-Sat, public hols; noon-5.50pm Sun; 10am-7.50pm 1st Wed of month. Admission £5; £3 concessions; free under 16s, registered disabled; free after 4.30pm. „
Wherever I go I do like a good museum for learning about the place I am visiting, but, to my shame, having spent a good part of my adult life in London, I only recently discovered the existence of the Museum of London. It's located near the Barbican (link to the website and exact tube directions and opening times at the end of this review), and one that, having visited, deserves a place among the better known free London museums. Certainly on the Sunday I went there, having driven past the Natural History Museum and seen that it was overrun with tourists, the Museum of London was probably a more tranquil and satisfying visit, I was even able to park for free in a nearby street - the Tube and St Pauls is a short walk away. Despite the 70's architecture that surrounds the museum providing for a rather poor first impression, this is one place that is really worth the trip, it contains collections that have been built up from 1826 onwards, which again you can read about in more detail on the museum's excellent website.
To get to the museum you will have to go up a level from the street onto a concrete walkway. Once inside, and having bought a £5 guidebook if you wish, you are set for a fascinating journey into London's past. The exhibition starts in Prehistory with some amazing relics from sites in London from flint tools to hoardes of Bronze age treasure. The museum is quite large and as you continue your visit there's the chance to see Anglo-Saxon London and Roman London, complete with a street scene and typical Roman rooms. In all the rooms there's the possibility to touch and interact with the exhibits, it's not a stuffy museum at all and all the interactive tools available to the modern museum such as touch screens and dressing up are utilised in a sensitive and educational way without detracting from the displays in any way. I found the History of London during the difficult medieval times and the Black Death well explained, and the section on the Great Fire of London is utterly compelling and no doubt firmly on the School Visit circuit.
You can forget you are in central London such is the vastness of some of the exhibits, I really enjoyed the Victorian street section and the nearby "Pleasure Gardens" from the eighteenth century, complete with rather eerie faceless costumed characters. It was fascinating to see how past Londoners in all ages dressed and lived, the exhibits encompass the lives of every class of Londoner and there really is more than you can take in on one visit. It was interesting to see the Mayor's Carriage in all its glory close up, and items and clothes from the near past. As the exhibition moves towards modern times I did find it a bit strange to see things I remember from my youth in cases and on display - the children's TV area was a real nostalgia fest, though I had some difficulty explaining to my kids that no TV didn't use to be in colour, pausable or indeed available 24 hours a day and yes, I did use to like watching Andy Pandy when I was your age. The museum is well designed for every age in my opinion, items are carefully and I assume intentionally at child height and there are worksheets available for the young and plenty of play opportunities too - the tube and tram system you could play with was a real hit and my children also liked the interactive drinking well.
The museum has a number of non permanent exhibitions, on the day I went there was a photography exhibition which was fascinating. At the end of the tour there is a well stocked shop and a cafe, a nice touch being that there is also a room for picnics just outside the entrance, we had this to ourselves, and it was clean, modern and comfortable in modern cafe style, and a very good shelter from the rain. All areas of the museum are also accessible for those in wheelchairs, and there is also a further part of the Museum at the Docklands, which I hope to visit on my next London trip.
If you are planning a day out in London this museum is definitely worth considering visiting especially if you have already been to the better known places on the tourist trail. It is a fascinating and well designed modern museum that manages to be instructive and entertaining all at once and is a vibrant and living museum about which I could wax lyrical for ages, but about which I will say instead, go visit for yourself and see, you will be glad you did!
Link for more info:
So, it's a bank holiday Monday. The weather people predict rain, it's the day before pay day and I have very little money and I am on a mission to do as much sightseeing between now and September in London as possible. That left me with only one thing to do, The Museum of London.
The Museum of London is located between St. Paul's tube station and Moorgate. Both are within easy walking distance of the museum but I would recommend getting off at Moorgate just because the route to the museum is far less crowded than at St. Pauls.
The museum is well sign posted from Moorgate tube station but I would still recommend printing off a map or directions because the signposts are quite small and easy to miss (at least if you're not wearing your glasses, like me).
Actually getting into the museum is like a military operation. I swear, they don't actually want people to go in there. As you approach the museum you will see a big sign (and I mean really really big) saying the Museum of London. You go towards it and find that actually it's only a roundabout. The sign posts have steered you towards here and you can't see any more sign posts but you also can't see an entrance.
The entrance is actually above street level. If you're more observant than me you'll probably notice that there are small signs in front of lifts and escalators on the roads around the round about (not actually on the roundabout where the big sign is) with Museum of London on. You take a lift or escalator (or if you're feeling especially energetic you can walk up the stairs) to the actual museum entrance. I think that this should be better signposted and made more clear. I had to ask someone how to get into the museum and it was only when he pointed me to the right entrance that I noticed the signs.
It is free to get into the museum for anyone and there weren't any exhibitions that I was aware of that you need to pay for.
When we entered the museum we went straight to the reception desk to get a map. We were greeted very warmly and informed that entry was free and then pointed in the direction of the entrance to the exhibitions.
The first section of the museum is called London before London and is basically London before the Roman's invaded. The majority of this exhibition seemed to be about the changes in the land and climate, as well as the early inhabitants. I don't really have much interest in this period of history so I didn't read every little thing. What I did really like about this exhibit was that throughout the room they had posters with general information about the era. This information wasn't very detailed but it did give you a good general idea about what was happening at the time and the important changes that took place. For someone like me who doesn't know much about this time period and would struggle to take in and understand too much information this was perfect, just enough information for me to feel like I had learnt something without feeling overwhelmed by it. For those who are more interested in this period there was a lot of information that went into more depth on the display cabinets, usually illustrated by various artefacts. I gave up on reading this information because I found it quite dull but as I said, I have no interest in this time period.
When you exit the London Before London part of the museum you enter the London's Burning 1666 exhibition. I wanted to do the museum in chronological order so we skipped this part and came back to it at the end. Instead we moved onto the Roman London exhibition. I found this part of the museum to be really interesting. As the name suggests it was all about Roman London.
I particularly liked the small models of how the city would have looked in Roman times, I think that these help you to grasp the differences between London now and London then.
I don't generally consider myself to be a very visual person, I prefer to read about things but I felt that the visual aids in this museum really helped me to understand more about the Roman period. Seeing the replica's of shops, work shops and homes really brought it to life for me.
The information provided in this section, and in fact throughout the entire museum, seems very basic to me. I imagine the information provided would be sufficient for a child or someone with little or no knowledge of history but although I enjoyed looking at the models of the city and the replica's of Roman homes, shops and workshops I was left wanting to know more. There were some interesting facts but most of what I read was common knowledge and very brief.
The next exhibition is on Medieval London. I was surprised to see how little space was dedicated to this period in London's history. It was half the size of the Roman section and covered over a thousand years (compared to the Roman era that was just 360 years).
I was hoping to find out more about the Viking's and the Saxon's because I have next to no knowledge of them. Unfortunately I still very little knowledge of them. The museum has very small sections dedicated to each. There is a board that tells you when they invaded and what they called London and then a few exhibits with various items from that era but little else. I was very disappointed with this.
I felt that the layout of this section lacked logic and was quite confusing. I found myself reading about something that happened in 1100Ce and then something that had happened in 900Ce. I'm not good with numbers (I always wonder how I managed to get a history degree when I have so much trouble remembering years) and this just further confused me and made it difficult for me to understand what order things happened in.
The information provided seems a bit haphazard. You might learn about the impact of religion in one century and the monarch of the next century. I think some consistency in the information given would have been better. For example, either focusing the exhibition on the monarchy and the changes in the monarchy or focusing the exhibition on the way that common people lived or on the changes in religion and how it impacted London. I didn't really feel like it was a history of London. Everything was relevant to London but I was expecting a more complete history of London and the way that the people lived and the city changed.
The next section was London 1558-1666. The most notable part of this section was the part on the plague. I was a bit disappointed to find that the museum gives conflicting information that I think will leave some people confused. They have a board with information about the plague on and claim that half of Londoners were killed by the plague. On the other side of the same board it has a quiz, one of the questions is how many Londoners died in the plague. The answer that they give is that there is conflicting information and it could be between a quarter and half of Londoners.
I did find the video on the plague to be very moving. It was a very brief video and didn't contain that many facts but it did really make you realise how horrific the Plague was and how much people suffered.
After that we headed back to London's Burning, the exhibition on the fire of London.. It's located near the beginning of the exhibitions, between London Before London and Roman London but it's actually chronologically the last part of the exhibitions. I thought the location of this exhibition was really bad planning on the part of the museum.
London's Burning was my favourite part of the museum. I've been in many museums that have exhibitions on the fire of London and I've visited the London Dungeon's Great Fire of London experience but I don't think anywhere has ever brought it to life in quite the way that the Museum of London did. There is so much information on the Fire of London and this is probably the one place where I can't complain about lack of information. I learnt about far more than just the fire and it's immediate impact on London, I learnt about the way it impacted on building regulations (some people may think this is boring, I personally found it fascinating), insurance and fire procedures in London.
There was a six minute video on the great fire which I really enjoyed. It is based on eye witness accounts and I thought that this was a nice touch, it really helped me to empathise with the people of the time.
Unfortunately there are no exhibitions on any time period after 1666 at the moment due to renovations. This was very disappointing but I was aware of this before going to the museum. I will hopefully return in 2010 to see the rest of the museum when it opens!
This is most definitely a family friendly museum. It is currently half term so that may be why there were so many activities for children.
In the entrance hall there were tables for children to do some arts and crafts. Every hour there was story time. Being 25 and in the museum without children I didn't stick around for either of these but if the delighted noises coming from the children during story time is anything to go by they certainly seemed to be enjoying it!
Throughout the museum there are various interactive activities for children. The one that I thought was particularly good (I admit, I played on it) was a touch screen programme that asks you questions, such as, you have just been born, do you want to be baptised? You are 5 years old which of the following do you want to do, play in the street, go to school or help in the home? You are 25 and you have a dowry of 5 gold coins, which of these people will you marry? (These are not exact quotes, just to give you an idea.) After you've made your choices it tells you if they would have been possible or not, for example with a small dowry you may have had limited marriage options and girls were not allowed to play in the streets. This seemed like it would be fun for children and very educational, a great way to help children to remember these things.
There was also a reconstruction of a Saxon home that children could play in.
The London's Burning exhibition attempts to teach children something about fire safety which I thought was good, not only because fire safety is important but because it helps children to learn from history. In this exhibition they also had poems written by children about the fire of London on display, I liked this, I thought it made the exhibition more child friendly.
-Café and Shop-
I wasn't particularly impressed by either.
My friend and I had refreshments in the café, she had a hot chocolate and a cake, I had tea and cake. It came to £7 in total which isn't too expensive for Central London and a tourist attraction. The cakes tasted nice and the tea was also quite nice. However, the service was pretty awful. There was a lot of confusion about who was being served and which drinks were for which people and it wasn't even very busy. The staff in the café were not polite and actually seemed to lose patience with us just because we didn't know what we wanted to order before we got to the counter. They seemed to expect us to order without looking at the drinks list or the cakes on display. I would understand their impatience if there was a queue but there wasn't.
The tables and the floor were dirty, the staff didn't seem to be clearing the trays from tables.
In general I didn't think it was a very comfortable café. The tables were very small, barely big enough to put the tray on.
The shop was okay but didn't have a big range of products. The only good thing I will say is that there was a big selection of books. I personally wouldn't buy any books from there because they are so expensive but the selection was good, even if many of the books were not directly about London. It took me a long time to find things that I wanted to buy for people, not because I was being indecisive but because the selection was so poor. I usually like to buy a post card from every place that I visit but there weren't any post cards that said Museum of London, in fact most of the products sold were not merchandise for the Museum of London.
The museum claims to be fully accessible.
The museum seems to be fully wheelchair accessible, although there are a few parts of the museum that are quite narrow and may not accommodate bigger wheelchairs.
The video's did not have any subtitles which I thought was disappointing. It seems like such a simple thing to do, subtitle videos and then everyone can enjoy them but this museum hasn't done so.
There are facilities available for those with visual impairments.
The entire experience took us about three hours. Although I did have some complaints I do think it was a worthwhile way to spend a couple of hours and I did really enjoy the experience. If you are planning on visitng the museum and can wait until next year then it's probably better to wait until the rest of the museum is open.
For more information please visit http://www.museumoflondon.org.uk
The Museum of London is a place in transformation at the moment- so be aware that until next year there are limited galleries to view whilst they add a new extension to the current building. The new galleries will make the building mroe coherent, give it a window on to the street (at the moment it is very lost in the maze-like Barbican complex in the City of London) and the interpretation of the collections will be much more inclusive. So watch this space.
Meanwhile, some of the current highlights include probably the best gallery on ancient flint heads out there. Such material often looks dull to anyone but the specialist but the bright clean design of the introduction gallery and human face to prehistoric London works very well. The galleries on the ground floor are also a visual delight and thought-provoking illustrating the social and economic history of London over the last few centuries- an excellent overview of Victorian London in particular.
Everything London interests me.
From unbelievable, ancient old relics to the Lord Mayor's coach, the Museum of London holds plenty of surprises for anyone visiting for education, entertainment or research.
London Museum is definitely well planned for journeying through the evolution of one of the world's biggest cities; clearly showing and outlining in a ''user-friendly'' way just about everything you need to know about London, up to the early 1900s. (Not sure of the exact cut-off year, sorry!)
I found the attention to detail quite amazing. I learned so much I never knew and recommend people visit just to get a perspective of how the Thames has, and is, so integral in the evolution of London in terms of geographical, environmental and and social factors.
Highlights for me were the costume sections, the little olde shoppes corner, the Fire of London, the Lord Mayor's coach and the focus on the vast Roman influence.
The beautifully presented, internal courtyard has plants from yesteryear and it is so neat to see how they survive and provide an oasis of calm, right there in the middle of London.
Museum of London is easy to roam around, lots of information readily to hand and quite honestly you spend hours there and need to go around again to take it all in.
London Museum is a modern presentation of how life was and is worthy of your time and local support so it will continue to grow; to provide just the right balance of history and learning.
My only disappointment is that the history of London stops before the Second World War and I would have loved to experience this era and times since.
The Museum of London was not on my first list of visits but it should have been.
This museum is arguably the best there is for anyone wishing to find out about London's past. Whilst I am primarily a sixteenth century historian, I really enjoy discovering the history of our capital city. London today is a vibrant, exciting and fascinating city - its history is even more so. Luckily, when you buy a ticket for the Museum of London, it is valid for a whole year, otherwise it would be difficult to really see and appreciate all it has to offer in just one visit. I bought a student ticket which was only £3 - absolutely excellent value, especially if compared to the other London museums. The nearest tube stops to here are Barbican or St Pauls, so it is easily accessible. The museum traces the history of London right back from its origins, through Roman, Saxon, Tudor, Restoration, Georgian, Victorian periods, covering both world wars, right up until the present day. There is a vast amount of information on each period, and in my opinion it would not be the best thing to take small children to because of this. I first visited when I was 9, and I would think this is probably about the earliest age to take a child. There are quizzes available too for children to complete which helps to ensure that they get as much out of it as the adults. There is a lot of walking however, and by the end of the day, your feet will really ache, though you will certainly have learnt a lot. The museum is extremely well presented, and contains a mixture of historical artefacts, particularly from the earlier, more archaeological periods, which are displayed to show them in their best light. There are well-illustrated and readable information boards, and also replicas. The Tudor period, of special interest to me, is particularly well displayed here, with historical artefacts and maps. I really enjoy poring over old maps of the city to see how it has changed over the years. Old palaces which no longer exist are shown, and as with all periods, in the Tudo
r area of the museum there is information on the social and religious aspects (such as the Reformation and dissolution of the monasteries), and craftwork of the period. Trade especially is well covered. Also of interest is the collection of 18th/19th century shops here which you can look in. It is exhibitions like this which really help to recreate the period you are studying or interested in, as it makes it much easier to imagine what it was like there. It also makes a change from looking at objects in glass cases, as in these shops, real objects are shown in replica surroundings. A recent addition to the museum is the recreation of a Roman street, based on archaeological excavations the museum has carried out in the city of London. You can walk down this street, imagining what it was really like, going into homes and shops. This also helps to make archaeology a lot more accessible to the general public. Programmes such as Time Team have undoubtedly awakened many people's interest in archaeology, and if you are one of these people, then I highly recommend this aspect of the museum. In addition to this, there are also changing exhibitions. One in particular which appealed to me was the history of King Alfred the Great, as I had been studying this during my second year at university. Changing exhibitions are brilliant as they encourage previous visitors to return, as you know there will always be something different to see when you re-visit. Other exhibitions have included fashion and food. So to sum up, a very very interesting and educational museum, based originally on the traditional style of museums, with objects in cases, but expanded to include many recreations of historical periods, such as the Roman Street and the Victorian shops. The level of information is high, and the quality of presentation is excellent. Yet there is a lot to take in in just one visit, so I would recommend you try to make a couple of trips here
- makes your ticket even more good value!! A fully comprehensive coverage of London's history.
I must admit I do enjoy visiting museums and as I was on holiday with a few days spare before Christmas – I decided to get along to the Museum of London – something I had been promising myself for the last nine months or so. Its not a difficult museum to find and you can walk to it from a number of local tube stations. I went by tube from Paddington to Moorgate on the Circle/Hammersmith and City/Metropolitan line and followed the brown direction signs along the walkway known as the London Wall. If you don’t fancy that – try getting off at St Paul’s on the Central line and walking up St Martins/Aldersgate. The Museum is right in front of you. Alternatively, take the tube to Barbican on the same line as for Moorgate and walk down Aldersgate Street. The building was built in 1976 and houses a vast number of exhibits drawn from the Guildhall Museum (founded by the Corporation of London in 1826) and the Museum of London at its previous location. It has 2 levels and 20 exhibition areas. In the middle is the Garden Court, which contains many shrubs and clay pots. It looks more like a research centre than a garden – but as I was here for the historical stuff and not a botany lesson – I gave it a wide berth! Compared with other museums I have been to, the Museum of London is remarkably good value for money. It’s £5 for adults, £3 for students, unwaged and OAP’s. Those under 16 get in for free. Like most museums in London, it’s free after 4.30pm though you will be hard pressed to get round it all in 1 hour or so. If you do pay, your ticket is valid for a year from date of issue. It’s open from 10am to 5.50pm Monday to Saturday and from 12-5.50pm on Sunday’s. What becomes immediately apparent after collecting the free map of the museum is how much there is to see and how well it’s organised. Basically you start in the pre-historic times and as you move through the
various halls, you move through the centuries until you get to the present day. In addition the museum has a number of temporary exhibits. On my visit, there were displays included: High Street Londinium (more of that later), London’s Gladiators, clubs/societies collecting things, and ‘Stolen skins – fur in fashion’. The last one was a bit contentious – many furs were present along with the anti-fur posters from the 1980’s. Lets get on with the grand tour. The first exhibit I came across was about Geoffrey Chaucer – life and times. There were books and other knickknacks from the time. The must see exhibition is the ‘High Street Londinium’. As result of building work in the City of London, a large number of Roman artefacts were discovered and these have been used to recreate London AD100 in the museum. It’s brilliant. The floors are clay, the walls wattle and daub and there are about 10 rooms in all – all showing how Romans would have lived. There is even a lady making a blanket who addresses you in Roman! The builders have used Roman methods and materials to put together the houses. Unlike the Jorvik Museum in York – you can touch the houses and fixtures and you don’t get the ‘realistic smells’ in the Museum of London. In the Gladiator section, they have built a model of a London amphitheatre – capacity 7000 people. There were even female Gladiators – they have found a grave, which was on display. Leaving the Londinium exhibition there are other Roman exhibits including jewellery, models of houses and weaponry. There is so much stuff! After the Romans you pass through halls containing exhibits on the Dark Ages, Saxon London and Medieval London where there is a model of the original St Paul’s cathedral. Each period is well described with interpretation boards and there were few people there so I was able to
wander at my leisure. And so onto Tudor London. Whilst listening to contemporary madrigals, you can marvel over the fine clothes, and the riches from other lands. There is a model of the Rose Theatre and the London Bridge, which because of its many arches encouraged the Thames to freeze over on numerous occasions. Those who were beheaded had their heads stuck on posts at the Southwark end! The last exhibits on the top level take us to the Early Stuart Period. Here the Civil War is described followed by the fire of London. The rebirth of London post the fire happens on the lower floor. Walking from one level to the other, you can see the red and gold Lord Mayors coach. Built in 1755, it is only used once per year and for Coronations. On the lower floor, the story of the Stuarts continues. There is a ‘propaganda’ plaque removed from the Monument, which described the fire as being caused by Roman Catholics to overthrow the Protestant establishment. It was removed, as the accusation was never proven! The Eighteenth Century section is characterised by culture, the empire, the loss of the US and the French Wars. It was a great time for architecture and the building of those great squares. The museum is good as it covers both the nice and not so nice aspects of London life. There is a reconstruction of Newgate prison and a description of how popular executions were. Nineteenth Century London is described in a huge number of exhibits. The creation of railways, the Postal Service, the Empire, trade, poverty in the East end, the growth of leisure time. What interested me was the model of the Great Exhibition of 1851. Designed by Joseph Paxman, it was visited by 6m people and was considered a great success. The building covered 19 acres and was moved to Sydenham in 1854 where it gradually fell into disuse and was burnt down in 1936. And into the Twentieth Century. This covers the war years, Suffragette
s (very interesting), and the changes we experienced in shopping. There is a reconstruction of an early C20 Woolies and Sainsbury’s. The final exhibit is a collection of items gathered by local groups and societies. I felt this was a bit odd and not up to the normal high standards of the museum. Upon leaving the museum, there is a well-stocked Gift Shop where I bought a book on the museum and its exhibits (£7.95), a book on Roman Archaeology another on railways. There is a café place opposite the entrance but the hot food looked a bit congealed and so I gave it a miss. The Museum is well worth a visit even if you don’t live in London. It’s packed with all sorts of items and tries to look at all aspects of London life. Young children will struggle to take it all in and so a number of visits may be a good idea. Personally, I will go there again and wander around key areas a little more slowly. With my 1-year pass – it won’t cost me a dime!
This is one of the best and most underrated museums in London. Most Londoners don't even seem to know where it is, which is a shame as it gives a wonderful sense of heritage. The main reason why it's not well known is probably that it's not in the main museum/gallery areas around South Kensington or Trafalgar Square. As with most of the larger London museums, it's too large to take in all at once - but if you pay once you get a month's free entry, which is a real bargain. They have great one-off exhibitions too - I've seen one on the history of Bedlam and mental illness in London and one on eating in London - did you know that oysters were once the epitome of peasant food?