Museum of London Docklands review
You have to be seriously into the history of London to enjoy this place. Try the Museum of London first (for the city's history) and then this one for the river's history, because it concentrates on the docks. Most of the historic wharves around Canary Wharf have long since been bombed and demolished and replaced with skyscrapers and impossibly expensive flats, but they've saved one of the old Georgian sugar stores to tell its story.
The first thing you'll learn about is the building itself: what it was, what it was used for -- it's just a little exhibition of hooks and trolleys and baskets really, but the room is quite atmospheric. You can hear a few creaks and seagulls through the speakers, and they've got some black and white movies projected onto the wooden walls with dirty-faced dockers lugging sacks and bags off the boats.
Then you learn about shipbuilding and wander into a life-size mock up of a quay -- a street scene straight from the 18th-century complete with lantern-lit shops, a custom house, counting house, and a stack of barrels piled up against the wall.
Then comes the East India Company, British Empire, and the inevitable hairshirt about slavery. To be honest my eyes always glaze over when it comes to stuff about slavery because it feels like I’m being preached to. I know it was a terrible tragedy and a travesty and all of that, but the British Empire did actually do some good as well, believe it or not, but all we ever hear about is its sins. They’ve even set up a comment wall where we can apologise on our ancestors’ behalf! Maybe they should set up a bucket of rocks and stocks so we Brits can take turns sitting in it.
Fortunately it cheers up after that with some great paintings of the docks being built. You can see them bristling with ships and it looks like a regatta, or the King's coronation parade -- but this was just a typical working day back then. Imagine the docks filled with sailing ships and warships these days, three deep, four deep, all the way from Greenwich to Tower Bridge. What a spectacle that would be!
The next floor is all about Victorian London and the modern wharves and warehouses that sprang up along the river. The wooden ships start turning into tankers around now, the little workshops start turning into belching industrial factories, and everyone seems to get poor and ill and soon it's all fire, strife and strikes. If that sounds terrible then just wait until you hit the Blitz. They've got the whining air raid sirens and cracks and whistles from the wood in the burning buildings, and the belching chimney smoke turns into choking black fumes as the fire consumes the city. All of those historic buildings that were built up over the centuries -- gone. All of that history that you've been admiring in the previous rooms -- gone. Three centuries of history disappeared in three years.
It's quite a good little wartime exhibit -- they got some unexploded bombs on show, some black bricks and molten metal from the wreckage, mock-ups of the Mansell forts, wartime posters and photos. It will probably bring back quite a few memories if you were old enough to have lived through it the first time (assuming that you actually want to remember it, of course).
I’ve been here before…
Events at Museum of London Docklands…
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