Craig recommends… Here’s my latest Museum of London review. You can learn more about the city’s history at the Museum of London in Docklands. You can see drawings and paintings of historical London in the Guildhall Art Gallery and Bank of England Museum.
The Museum of London is No.7 in our list of London’s best museums.
The exhibition begins with London Before London, which explores the geography and landscape of the area before London was even there.
It examines some of the earliest dwellings and archaeological finds that have been discovered along the Thames, including a collection of offerings, bronze tools and iron swords that were thrown into the water to please the gods.
The second gallery covers the history of Roman Londinium, which originally grew up around 50 AD as a means to link Colchester with the rest of the country.
There are lots of Roman finds on display including some silver coins and tablets, lots of pottery and amphora, and a 4th-century coffin of a young Roman lady.
This gallery spans the years 4 AD to 1500 AD, covering the Viking raids, Norman Conquest and Black Death. London was a thriving city by this time with early versions of Westminster Abbey and Old St. Paul’s.
The Tudor and Stuart gallery spans Henry VIII to the Great Fire of London in 1666. You will see the devastation wrought by Henry during the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the religious terror inflicted by Bloody Mary, and learn about Charles I’s titanic battle with Parliament during the English Civil War.
The Great Fire of London exhibition includes some of the burnt and blackened remains that have been dug up around Pudding Lane. It shows how London then rose from the ashes with some of the original maps and documents of the damage, and Christopher Wren’s ambitious rebuilding plans.
The 17th and early 18th-century saw London blossom into a centre of scientific learning. You can read about the Guilds and Corporations, and see the Lord Mayor’s gold coach from 1757. It is covered in carvings and painted panels by the Florentine artist Cipriani, and is still used every year in the Lord Mayor’s Parade.
The World City gallery goes from Queen Victoria to World War II and beyond. After walking down a full-size Victorian street you’ll see how The Blitz destroyed large parts of the city.
This review originally appeared in his blog
The Museum of London is probably my favourite museum in London, but of course I am a huge fan of London. The more you know about the city the better it gets, because you can see how much the city has changed over the centuries.
It begins with all the prehistoric finds (bones and stones). They’ve got a lot of arrow heads, axeheads, shields, swords and bits of flint. The most interesting display is probably the tusks and skulls of the hippos and elephants that used to roam around Trafalgar Square 200,000 years ago.
It gets better when you reach the Roman exhibits. When you look at the intricate little models of the basilica, forum and wharves it’s hard to believe it was real – it almost looks like Rome! I always curse Boudicca for burning these buildings down because imagine how fantastic it would be if they were still standing today.
They have a sizeable collection of statues, pots and blocks of concrete that have been dug up during building works, plus lots of coins, jewellery and big wooden timbers. Note: don’t forget to look out of the window at this point, because you can see the remains of London’s Roman wall downstairs in the street.
Then you move through the Medieval era and into the Tudors and Stuarts, which includes a lot of beautiful treasures that survived the Dissolution of the Monasteries. They also have a rather gruesome movie about the Black Death.
After that comes some interesting information about William Shakespeare, and a cutaway model of the Rose Theatre. They also have some interesting paintings of the London skyline and a plate from the famous Copperplate Map.
They have a rather tiny display about the Great Fire of London after that, where you can see some burnt timbers and bricks, and a couple of the most famous fire paintings.
Then comes the Georgian era. My favourite display in here is an original cell door from Newgate Prison. Have a close look at that wooden wall with all the prisoners’ scribblings scratched onto it… that’s a proper punishment, being locked inside there with only your fingernail as a pen.
Check out their spooky pleasure garden… it’s rather dark and gloomy inside inside and full of Georgian ladies and dandified fellas, dressed-up and having a chat over the top of birdsongs and Handel tunes. It’s all very pleasant and peaceful, but also rather strange!
I love their Victorian street. They’ve built about fifteen full-size shopfronts that you can walk around, with the sounds of the street pumped in through the speakers. The windows are filled with Victorian goods: toys and cards, tobacco and snuff, biscuits and crackers, top hats and tails, and even a little post office, pub and public urinal!
Then you move onto the pre-war and post-war years. There’s a big display about the women’s vote, plus a few gas masks, ration cards and posters from the war years. They skip through the 60s, 70s and 80s with a red telephone box, miniskirts, psychedelic album covers, and some early home computers. It seems to be a lot more about Britain by this point, though, rather than the city of London itself, so it doesn’t interest me so much.
> Craig’s review of Museum of London – “The Museum of London tells the story of the city all the way back to the bones and stones of the prehistoric era. The only animals we have walking around Trafalgar Square these days are pigeons and squirrels, but back then we had a plain full of hippos and elephants. They've dug up monkey bones, lions, bison, bears... it was better than London Zoo! When you visit as… continued”
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