part of the joy of discovering London is its range of wonderful musuems from tiny to national and on a wide range of subjects. Tour with me round some of the best.
by duskmaiden on November 4, 2010
The Opie Collection in the Notting Hill area of West London is a rubbish museum. It literally is a rubbish museum as its other title is the Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising and consists mostly of old bottles tins and cans from the Victorian era onwards. Its one of those weird and wonderful museums you stumble across and wonder who could possibly think this up? Is the founder a fruitcake or a genius. Its also one of those museums that could be completely boring with its degree of specialism or utterly absorbing and fascinating in a perverse way.Robert Opie the founder of the Opie Collection is one of Britain's most avid His collection was initially housed in Gloucester but closed in 2001 to make way for flats. The museum relocated to the present site in Notting Hill in 2005. There was also a branch "The Museum of Memories" in Wigan as part of the now defunct "Wigan Pier Experience", which I visited in October 2002,. The Wigan branch was quite interactive to complement the historical theme park of the "Wigan Pier Experience" with actors in costume and plenty of themed displays such as a 1960s boutique so I was interested to see how the two different museums compared.The museum is not the easiest place to find without a decent map or London A to Z. Its not that well signposted, as its not a major tourist attraction and is located through an archway off a side street in Notting Hill. The nearest tube station is Notting Hill Gate on the Central and Circle Lines but Ladbroke Grove and Westbourne Park on the Hammersmith and City Line (and now the Circle) Line are also within walking distance. I'd actually recommend these two on a busy Saturday afternoon as fighting our way through the marauding jostling crowds visiitng Poertobello Road Market was pretty unpleasant, as the museum is located on one of the streets leading off the upper section of Portobello Road.Being a private collection (and now a charitable foundation) there is an admission charge for the museum. At £5.80 (including gift aid ) for an adult it was at the top end of the scale I would pay for such a minor and unknown museum in London. Concessions are £3.50 and children £2.00. There's also a family ticket for £14.00. The museum is open Tuesdays to Sundays year round apart from Christmas Day and during the Notting Hill Carnival.Compared to the Wigan branch, the London branch is very much a traditional style museum with lots and lots of glass cabinets and information panels and labels. Its located on the ground floor of the building so it would be easy for those in wheelchairs or with pushchairs to enter the building however once inside its not as accessible due to the layout of the museum. The exhibits were tightly packed within a fairly small space with cabinets facing each other. You just need one largish group or slow moving person to create a bottle neck bring the flow of the museum to a standstill making it not ideal for a wheelchair. Luckily when we visited one Saturday afternoon in September it was fairly quiet. However there were parts where one person was lingering at a certain display meaning we had to move on and come back to the display or linger at the previous one.The first part of the museum was a gentle chronological wander through the decades starting with the Victorian era. A large easy to read information panel introduced each era putting the commercial developments into a broader context with the events that occurred in that era. Within each section the cabinets were organised thematically,, Some broad such as toys to more specific such as the importance of the radio in the 20s, the war effort in the two world wars or England's 1966 world Cup victory. The cabinets are well presented but often quite densely packed especially with smaller items of packaging so its a museum you could spend quite a long time in certain areas. For those interested a laminate for each cabinet identifying key items would have been useful aMemories are a powerful force when it comes to the Collection. I found the earlier decades useful g to understand the development of the consumer age but could not relate to most of the products on display.. Once familiar brands started arriving in the 20s and 30s it became more interesting, as we commented " did not realise that was so old " or "The Kit K at packaging has not changed that much" . I was astounded to see curry powder in the Edwardian era , as I always think of it as a much newer fad. The advertising side of the collection is particularly important, as it shows changes in society. The posters from the inter war period depicting glamorous girls smoking were very much of the period and could not be produced nowadays with our present day attitudes to the tobacco industry and government intervention. The collection also includes government promotional materials such as the famous war effort posters showing the full scope of what is meant by advertising. Backed up by particular war products such as whale meat and powdered eggs and the reduced packaging that we could all learn from this was of medium interest although I had seen some of the items a million times before in social history and military museums.Things really picked up around about the 1960s, as there were items I remember my parents owning. I was born in the 70s as was my boyfriend so we were in heaven in the 70s, 80s and 90s sections of the museum reminiscing over old crisps packetsm space hoppers and alcopop bottles. However these sections were smaller and lacking compared to the older ones with only a couple of cabinets dedicated to each one of the final decades of the 20th century".The next section explored the development of Britain's favourite brands . Similar items such as chocolate bar or laundry detergent were grouped together. It was mildly interesting seeing how the packaging had changed over the years and which versions you remembered. There were the odd television adverts especially with Kellogs cereals. I think the museum could use more multimedia such as television adverts, slogans and jingles to bring it more alive but this could be expensive due to getting to copyright to these materials. Certain brands seam to be more prominent due to the sponsorship of the museum by a number of companies but generally these are the mos well known and loved. Somewhere in this section there was also a little bit on changing brand names and the reasons behind them. Everyone I know is mystified why marathon a good name for a chocolate bar changed top the dreadful Snickers.There was a third section which I suppose you could call the educational section, as it covered about the manufacturing innovations and materials used in packaging including the future an the move towards environmental packaging. At this point I started to switch off. One Coca Cola can seemed to blend into the next and I started to get bored. There really is too much to take in at times and it can get a bit samey. Right at the end after a special exhibition on political memorabilia was a section dedicated to confectionery. It was good but by this time it just seemed all too similar.Right at the end is a small area with tables and chairs and a television screen showing vintage adverts. I am not sure if there was supposed to be a cafe there or not as I saw no menus. Perhaps this was more a study or meeting area. There was also a small shop selling a selection of merchandise themed around vintage advertising that seemed to be reasonably priced.We spent perhaps an hour to an hour and a half in the museum but as I mentioned by the end of it i found it a bit repetitive. Its not a must see when visiting London but if you are in the Notting Hill area and have an hour or so to kill its well worth a look. Although there is a child's price and family ticket I really could not recommend this museum to those with young children. After seeing a few Mars Bar wrappers and what mummy/granddad played with ate/ washed with when they were younger here would be little to amuse and keep their attention. I really is a museum for those those of middle age or above as nostalgia is the key to enjoying the Opie Collection.
by duskmaiden on July 10, 2009
The Victorian age was probably the golden age of museum building. One of the greatest of these is the Victoria and Albert Museum, which is the national museum for the decorative and applied arts.The museum is located in South Kensington (southwest London) on Cromwell Road and Exhibition Road near the Royal Albert Hall, Science Museum and Natural History Museum. It is easy to find. You just get the Piccadilly, Circle or District line to South Kensington tube station. There is a subway that connects the station with the museums and the entrance to the V and A is clearly marked. There was no chance of getting lost. The same can not be said for navigating the museum. This is because the museum is huge. It is on six floors and covers anything that can be manufactured, carved or decorated such as textiles, metal work, sculpture and painting. The exhibits come from all over the world and span the centuries from the Middle Ages to contemporary pieces. It has been described, as a warehouse for all that is beautiful! There is a free map ( and gallery plans dispersed intermittently. All galleries are numbered. However I still found myself getting lost. The museum runs free guided tours throughout the day and I would highly recommend them. My guide was a very well spoken lady who was friendly, willing to answer questions was informative without being dry. The tour gave me a good understanding of the early history of the museum and also pointed out some highlights in the collection.After taking my tour I decided to go to level five and work my way down (level six is not open to the public). This took me four and a half-hours and I skipped a few galleries especially on floor 1 and 0 as I had museum fatigue. The galleries I particularly enjoyed and spent a lot of time in were the British galleries from 1600 to 1900. I liked these displays as most of the things were in context with themes such as eating and drinking, birth, marriage and death rather than just shelves and shelves of one thing. I found the silver, glass and ironwork galleries were less successful because of this. There are only so many ornate iron railings a girl can take.I always enjoy the costume galleries. Fashion and its ludicrousness always fascinated me as people are trying to accentuate and distort their natural shape whether it be a bustle, a corset or a Wonder Bra. I almost have to laugh at the eighteenth century dresses with the hoops that make the skirt twice as wide at the sides. I was slightly perplexed when looking at the display of evening dresses as there seemed to be an eighteenth century and nineteenth century dress after a modern one when they normally go in chronological order. On further inspection I found that they were modern dresses designed by Vivienne Westward influenced by older dresses. I just thought why?Another highlight for me was one of the tapestries galleries. Tapestries are not usually my thing but I found the Hardwick Hunt tapestries fascinating. These tapestries from Hardwich hall in Derbyshire date from the 15th century and depict hunting scenes. I loved them because they are massive with so much detain in them from the ermine on the robes to the faces. I especially loved a beautifully embroidered horse. I felt I could sit and look at them for hours and still not take in everything which is happening in them.The final area that really interested me is the Cast Court. This is made up of plaster of Paris copies of sculptures from Roman pillars to Michelangelo's David. It felt very Victorian as they were in no particular order and a bit higgledy-piggledy. The reason why they existed my guide told me was so that 19th century art students could draw works of sculpture without having to travel or relying on an illustration from a book. I skipped past the paintings. The museum is supposed to have one of the biggest collections of Constable but I found the way the paintings were arranged to be inaccessible to me. It was a very Victorian, arrangement, all jumbled up three paintings high. I prefer a linear layout as I can see the paintings at the top. I also prefer things to be arranged thematically as it makes more sense to me. I did spend a little bit more time on the miniatures as I find the detail on such small paintings incredible.The interpretation used a mix of methods but relied quite heavily on interpretation panels and labels. These suit the museum as they provide the most information when you have such a vast collection. I sometimes find these problematic due to my eyesight especially if they are at ground level or quite far back in the case. However the V and A do cater for visually impaired visitors like me by providing large print books of the interpretation labels. When items were grouped thematically I found the larger interpretation panels very informative. They also used more modern methods to good effect. I liked the touch screen audiovisuals that showed how objects were crafted. I am not sure the V and A is one to drag children round for hours on end. However there were a number of interactive for the kids (and big kids inside us). There was a Clore discovery area n the British Galleries. There were some genius things like assembling a chair as well as the more common brass rubbing's and dress up boxes. I could not resist trying on a replica corset and crinoline as I always thought they looked elegant and wanted to know what it felt like wearing that much underwear. It took me two seconds of wearing them to decide I am glad to be a modern girl, as it was not easy to walk or sit in at all. The hands on exhibits catered for visually impaired people as well as children. There were bits of sculpture and different materials to feel and in these areas there were Braille labels. Like most museums the V and A is making their collections accessible to everyone.I did appreciate the little touches like magnifying glass being supplied by the miniatures so I could look at them in greater detail. I also appreciated the folding stools and plenty of places to sit and rest. The museum is accessible for disabled people with a ramp entrance and lifts to all floors. The V and A is not a museum you can nip in for 15 minutes unless you have a particular gallery in mind. I felt I could literally spend days in there and still not see everything. I must have walked at least two or three miles so my advice is take a comfortable pair of shows.The best thing about the V and A is that it is free although a donation of £3 is suggested. That is great value for a day's entertainment. The only charge is for the special exhibitions. A museum visit is not complete without a visit to the shop. Some can be a bit tacky but the V and A's one has recently been refurbished and is very classy. It was large, bright and tastefully arranged. There did not seem to be too much tat at all. There was a nice range of books, cards and postcards. A lot of the stuff was a bit on the expensive side but it did seem excellent quality. Near the end of my visit I was pretty weary so I decided to pop into the café. I decided not to have food as the pre-packed sandwiches were £3 up and made to order deli ones even more. It did have a nice range of smoothies, juices and iced teas that were not that expensive. They are £2.25 so are comparably priced to a juice bar or Starbucks). I selected the interesting sounding rose iced tea with fresh apple and sunflower. I could not taste sunflower but it was lovely and refreshing. For those who bring their own food there is a lovely courtyard garden (the Pirelli Gardens) with beautiful fountains. This would be ideal for a summer's picnic. I really enjoyed my wander around the Victoria and Albert. I certainly will go back. I want to see the galleries that I missed and skimmed over especially the Chinese ones. I saw some of the exhibits on my guided tour and the Imperial robes and thrones really brought to life for me objects described in books that I have read such as Empress Orchid. I would also like to see more of the exterior as I entered and exited by tunnel. There is so much to see at the V and A that repeated visits seem to be a must.
Transport is in my blood. My father was a bus driver and is obsessed by most things that have wheels and moves. I've caught the bug and become a bit of a London Underground junkie being fascinated by the history and development of this much maligned transport system. I have become such a geek I took a one day course on the Art and Architecture of London Transport. This was held in the subject for this review, the newly reopened London Transport Museum in Covent Garden.Housed in the old Victorian flower market the museum has had a 22.5 million face lift and relaunch. The museum is a fascinating account of how London transport developed from horse drawn trams to the DLR. I visited on a very busy and noisy Saturday in March. The London Transport Museum is fairly easy to find. It is in the heart of Covent Garden very near the main marketplace. The easiest way to get to it is via underground. Just get the Piccadilly Line to Covent Garden. You can also get a wide variety of buses to the Strand or Trafalgar Square and it is just a five minute walk from there. The good news for all parent is that this gem of a museum is free of charge for children. I am not a parent but appreciate days out in London can be very expensive. I would say it is moderately priced for others. Adults are £8 and £6.50 for senior citizens. This might be a lot more expensive than some of the major museums but is a lot cheaper than say Madam Tussuads or the Tower of London.It is open from 10: to 18:00 everyday except Friday where it also has evening opening hours. Perhaps Friday evening would be ideal for those with a more serious interest in the collections or those who want to play without children getting in the way!On entering the museum you are given a map, which I found fairly useful although I found it difficult to locate specific exhibitions such as the Design Gallery. The map also included a trail for children to follow where they could stamp their map at a number of different pasts scattered around the museum. This was a nice interactive touch without relying too much on fancy technology. The museum starts by introducing Public Transport around the world, however that can be skipped quite easily to get on to the more exciting displays. A lift takes you back to the Victorian era and the days of horses and steam complete with train whistles and other sounds of the era. This level is dominated by vintage horse drawn trams and omnibuses. I was particularly interested to see one of was the London to Greenwich route. I am not sure I would like to have traveled by one of these, as it must have been fairly slow. The actual vehicles really are the stars of the museum and seemed popular with old and young, male and female. Dotted around the vehicles were displays about the rise and fall of other transport such as the railways and river transport.The museum is arranged chronologically so it was down a flight of stairs to the birth of the underground including the only surviving steam powered underground train complete with a Ladies only carriage. I could not get near it to see how it compared comfort wise with a modern underground train, as families quite happily sat there experiencing an old fashioned trains. On this floor, like in most museums there was also a resource centre with computers and various publications for those interested in doing further research.During the revamp a human dimension was added to the galleries with social history added to the exhibits where possible to get away from pure machinery. This works by adding people's stories and memories of each of the vehicles where possible for those interested in the social side of Transport. Alongside this was a section devoted to the transport network's role in the rise of suburbia and "Metroland". This was interpreted effectively as a 1930s living room complete with old fashioned TV and comfortable couches with speakers in the headsets. I found this interesting but I'm not sure how many others were sitting there for the information or just resting in between vehicles. I also enjoyed a simple exhibition of advertising posters for the underground, as there are some beautiful ones. There really is something for just about everyone .The main exhibition space is on the ground floor with a number of iconic vehicles such as the Routemaster bus and more underground trains. Behind these were more specialist areas include the Design Gallery outlining the development of London Transport's identity. This was a more traditional area with items in cases and was slightly quieter . There was also an exhibition on London Transport during the World Wars. I had a brief look at this gallery but felt I knew a lot about this so quickly left. At the end was a section on recent and possible future developments that rounded up London Transport's story quite nicely.The museum uses a number of techniques to interpret London Transport's story from the full size vehicles to interpretation boards, pull out drawers and multi media audio visuals. I found the drawers to be very interesting and they were nicely labeled to make you think. I found some of the audio visuals just too much especially a projection of the underground map onto the floor of the design Gallery. I just felt it did not serve a purpose unlike an animated diagram of the Underground map showing the changes throughout the years from the 1860s to the present day. I would really recommend London Transport Museum to parents, as it is a very child friendly museum. As stated the vehicles themselves will always be the main attraction as you can go inside them. There were also nice dioramas and mock ups of recent underground trains, oyster card machines and a new double decker bus. There's also a nice little section especially for primary school children with dressing up clothes and a interactive where they could drive around the sites of ,London. There were plenty of buttons to press, perhaps to many as I did see children just pressing them without being particularly interested in the message gained from the activity.One thing I liked about the museum was that it was fairly compact. There is plenty to see and do but not too much to cause museum fatigue. I spent about an hour and a half in th museum looking at the exhibits. I think on a quieter day I would have lingered longer and perhaps tried more of the interactives out. On exit you find yourself in the museum shop. This can be accessed without visiting the galleries. The ground floor of the shop was dedicated to branded merchandise with the tube map on everything from boxer shorts to mouse mats. Upstairs was the serious side with a vast selection of books and posters. I felt this section was of interest for the transport enthusiast and could see my Dad having a whale of a time finding books and DVDs of things of interest to him.There are two on site cafes. One of them is on the ground floor of the exhibition site selling prepacked organic sandwiches, wraps and children's boxes (nothing hot and certainly no chicken nuggets and chips). These were reasonably priced at around about the £2 to £3 mark. There is also the Upper Deck cafe bar adjacent to the shop. This was pricier with a sandwich roughly about £6. I sat down to get something and walked straight out as it was a bit dear for me. Parents will also be happy to know there are plenty of toilets facilities that are fairly easy to find and fairly clean. The museum is pushchair and wheelchair friendly a it is equipped with lifts and sloped ramps. All in all I think the money on the revamp has been well spent. I enjoyed my visit to the museum and felt that if I had children I would certainly take them there as it is extremely child friendly due to the hands on nature of the museum and the fact it is free for under 18s. I am nor sure I will make a repeat visit for a while unless there were any lectures or talks of interest due to the £8 entry fee. It seems to be a fairly static collection with few special exhibitions. But I would be interested in seeing their main archives in Acton where the majority of their collection is held.
by duskmaiden on July 5, 2009
In London it is all too easy to tread a familiar path and go to the same old sites. It's a shame because London is chock a block of little hidden gems if you take the time to find them. Literally round the corner from the British Museum there is another museum, which in its own way is just as fascinating and just as important as its larger, better known, neighbour. This lovely museum is the Foundling Museum. This museum is an important part of London's social history and artistic heritage. It was set up to commemorate London's first orphanage the Foundling Hospital, which doubled up in its usage as London's first public art gallery. The museum tells the story of the institution, the 270000 children that it cared for between 1739 and 1953 and three men who were instrumental in setting the Hospital up- its founder Thomas Coram, the painter William Hogarth and the composer George Frideric Handel. I think a little bit about the historical background to the museum is needed to understand why this is an important part of London's history. Captain Thomas Coram first thought of the idea for the Foundling Hospital in 1712 after viewing babies abandoned in the streets of London left to die. These were often illegitimate children and there was no means of supporting them apart from the parish workhouse as illegitimate children were frowned upon, as they were the result of prostitution and immoral behaviour. Coram campaigned for 27 year-s at first without much success- to raise money to set the hospital up. Eventually in 1739 George II granted a charter for the Foundling Hospital. Once the institution was designed and built by Theodore Jacobbson funds needed to be raised to support the foundlings. English painters donated their works (there are works by Hogarth and Reynolds) and Handel (one of the early supporters of the charity) commissioned the Anthem for the Foundling Hospital and also performed his key work including the Messiah. The Hospital became a popular place for wealthy patrons to view the art, listen to the music and also see the Foundlings. Due to this the Foundling Hospital was Britain's first public art gallery.The original building was knocked down in the 1920s (the columns of the children's exercise corridor are the only part to remain) when the foundlings were moved to accommodation in Surrey and Hertfordshire until 1953 when the society changed its methods of supporting children. The present building was built in the 1930s as the Headquarters to the Coram Trust and has eighteenth century proportions. The Foundlings Museum was opened in 2004The Foundling Museum is situated at 40 Brunswick Square in Bloomsbury and is easy to get to. The nearest tube station is Russell Square on the Piccadilly line but it is also within comfortable walking distance from Holborn and Saint Pancras-Kings Cross. The museum is situated on four floors. It is best to start on the ground floor in the social history room. This personally is my favourite room as I am interested in people's stories. This room explains the origins of the Hospital and also information on the Foundlings' lives. There's a model of what the Foundling Hospital looked like when it was first built. I found the little love tokens the mother's left with the children so they could be identified if they ever came to claim them very poignant. Some are quite fancy whilst others are very plain such as a hazelnut shell from a mother who had nothing else to leave with her child. The letters from the mothers also touched me. This included one from a mother condemned in Newgate prison for defacing a coin and one from a mother who wanted to claim her child as she had found a husband who was willing to look after the illegitimate child. The really sad thing was the child had died in the Foundling Hospital and the mohair never knew. The other thing that made the room stand out for me was a large panel of text with the new baptismal names of the Foundlings (each foundling was rebaptised once it was admitted to the hospital). The institution's recent past is documented by oral histories from former foundlings, which you can listen to through audio tracks. The two most important rooms in the museum are the ones that were reconstructed from the original Georgian hospital. The Court Room where the committee used to meet is particularly impressive due to its lovely ornate plasterwork ceiling. I particularly like the roundels (circular paintings) depicting the most prominent institutions in the 18th century including Greenwich Hospital, (for retired sailors) Bethlem (know as Bedlam the original mental asylum) and Charterhouse (painted by Gainsborough). The Paintings Gallery is where the fashionable people came to view the art. This room displays mostly paintings of prominent patrons including a portrait of Thomas Coram donated by Hogarth. I like the drawings and sketches in a small corridor off the Paintings Gallery, which depicts every day life for the foundlings.These rooms are interpreted very simply with laminated sheets, small labels by the paintings and very helpful, enthusiastic room guides. I feel that this is appropriate, as larger panels would take away from the magnificence of the ornate rooms. Upstairs is an exhibition dedicated to Handel. The exhibition shows a copy of the Foundlings' Anthem that Handel left to the Hospital along with a copy of the Messiah in his will. The feature I liked best in this exhibition was comfortable armchairs that had speakers in the headrest so you could immerse yourself in Handle's work. There is also a library of Handel's manuscripts for those particularly interested in the subject that can be viewed only by appointment.The lower ground floor has space for temporary exhibitions and also houses the museum's education centre. The museum is quite small so takes about an hour to go round. I am not sure if this museum is an obvious place to take children. The paintings would do very little for them. The museum does actively provide activities for children. There are some great activity packs to borrow and there are some lovely replicas of the Foundlings' uniforms plus Thomas Coram's coat for the children to dress up in. However the visit could be combined with time in Coram Fields. This is a park especially for children, where adults are only allowed in accompanied by a child. There is a small shop in the reception area selling books and CDs alongside the more common stuff such as pencils, notebooks, guidebooks and postcards. The guidebook is a little bit pricey at £5.99 but it does contain a lot of very interesting information.There's a small coffee shop Cafe Coram next to the museum, which does a selection of light meals such as sandwiches from around £2.50 to £4.00. I have not sampled these but might do in the future. I would be tempted to do so if it was a nice day as there is outdoor seating. I think the one drawback to the museum is the entrance charge. It is £5 for adults and £4 for concessions. This might be a little bit pricey if you only have a passing interest in the museum and might hinder competitiveness with other similar attractions especially since a lot of the larger museums and galleries in London are free. Luckily children get in free, as do former foundlings. I reality would recommend the Foundling Museum if you are in London. It really is a fascinating little known gem of a museum. The Foundling Museum is open Tuesday to Sunday
by duskmaiden on June 27, 2009
The regeneration of London's Docklands has been a huge success. Derelict warehouses have been converted into swanky bars and restaurant, shipping companies have been superseded by financial institutions housed in shimmering ultra modern sky scrapers and traditional worker's houses have been replaced by Legoland waterfront apartments. Its a fascinating area but I find it a bit soulless and toy town especially with the DLR gliding along like a model rail. During a recent visits to docklands I decided to visits the Museum in the Docklands to explore the area's past, present and future. The Museum in Docklands is a branch of one of my favourite museums in London, the Museum of London. I love the Museum of London as it is like a huge local museum with all the same collections such as pottery, skeletons etc. but it is presented in a better and more interesting way. The Museum in the Docklands uses the same format to tell the story of the Port of London and the Thames from the Roman era to the present. It is quite easy to find. You can either get the Jubilee Line to Canary Wharf and walk five minutes or you can get the DLR to West India Quay. It is housed in an old warehouse at the en of a row of various bars and restaurants. Unlike its parent museum there is an entrance fee for the Museum in the Docklands. Adults are £5 but this is for an annual pass, so it is very good value for money especially if you intend to visit for special exhibitions. Concessions are £3 whilst NUS card holders, under 16s and carers are free. I got in free of charge, since I work in the same sector I took along my staff pass and cheekily asked to get in free and to my surprise they granted my request (I had let one of their member's of staff in for free so the motto of the story is one good turn deserves another). I found the staff that I encountered to be friendly and helpful although I had minimum contact with them. The museum is spread out on five floors with the main exhibition areas chronologically arranged on the top two floors. There's a learning centre on the first floor and an education centre in the basement neither of which I visited. So with the free map in hand I made my way by lift up to the third floor to begin my journey back in time. I arrived in AD 43 just in time for the Romans to found the city of Londinium. I found this the least interesting part of the museum as it consisted mostly of archaeological remains in glass cases and very well written and thought out interpretation boards. I did like the short films by Tony Robinson explaining the development of the various Ports of London through Roman, Saxon, Viking and Norman London. There were plenty of nice touches on the first floor that covered he history of the Port of London up until the 18th century. I liked the large model of London Bridge in the 15th and 17th centuries and I thought the huge jawbone of a whale being used for the entrance to an exhibition on Greenland Dock and the whaling trade to be a nice touch. At the end of the level there was an exhibition on sugar and the slave trade. I tliked the huge interpretation board containing the records of the slave ships to be extremely powerful and effective. The second floor carries on where the third floor left off with the history of the docks in the 19th 20th and 21st centuries. Here we got industry, strikes, social condition and the ubiquitous Second World War leading onto the regeneration and redevelopment of the current Docklands and the coming of the Jubilee Line and DLR. The museum is very information rich and I think I spent a good couple of hours in the gallerias. By the end I found myself getting a bit restless and would certainly return to concentrate on the latter half of the second floor. The museum uses a number of methods of interpretation to present their artefacts including reconstructions of areas of the docks such as the Justice Quays on the top floor and a19th century Sailortown and an air raid shelter on the second floor. They also used overhead audio sound effects to create more of an atmosphere. These can be good but in a fairly open plan museum like this they often get jumbled up to create a bit of a cacophony. Sailortown was particularity effective as the ceilings were low to represent the winding narrow alleys. What was not so effective was the use of smell which is that unpleasant one used to signify bad sanitation and rotting rubbish in the street used everywhere from Yorvik Viking Centre to the London Dungeon. I visited the museum on a Monday lunchtime and it was extremely quiet. It is slightly off the beaten track and unknown compared to larger museums such as the Natural History Museum, the British Museum or the V and A. I'm not sure how child friendly it would be. There are touch screens but these are more adult orientated and there is a lack of dressing up clothes or activities in the main galleries, although there was a tin hat in the air raid shelter. On the ground floor there is an area for the under 12 called Mudlarks, which I did not visit. There seemed to be a lot of yummy mummies and their pre schoolers there, so I deduced it must be the place to go on the Docklands. On closer inspection of the website the number of toddlers was due to a free play session every Monday.After wandering round the galleries I was feeling a little peckish so headed down to the Ground floor where all the facilities are. You can not fault ease of location for the toilets (an important one for families I know), as they are located to the right of the reception desk and the symbols are enormous. At the front of the museum is the shop which is quite small and sells mostly books themed around water and London alongside little African drums (to tie in with the Sugar and slavery exhibition I suppose). Food wise the Museum in the Docklands caters for various budgets in its two eateries. The 1802 is a more formal restaurant, which also has a separate outside entrance which is open until 11pm on weekday evenings to cater for the business market. I had a quick look at the menu which looked good using the best of British but I did not want a full meal and it was too pricy for what I wanted. Instead I went to the cafe which sold a nice range of sandwiches drinks and light meals. I thought the prices were extremely reasonable for a museum cafe. I had a mug of Mocha for £1.50, which was nice but it could have been slightly stringer and more chocolatey. To eat I had rustic chips, which cost £2.50. It was advertised as rustic chips with aeoli (in layman's terms garlic mayonnaise) however mine arrived with a nice dollop of tomato ketchup to dip them in. The chips arrive in a decent sized bowl and they certainly were rustic as each chip must have been a quarter of a potato at least. No skinny French fries here. They were delicious and finished off a nice couple of hours at the Museum in the Docklands.
Surrounded by the urban sprawl of Shoreditch in the East End of London the Geffrye Museum of Domestic Interiors seems incongruous with its surroundings. It's 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 London's 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 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.The museum is set out in a logical chronological order I starts with an exhibition of chairs from the heavy uncomfortable 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 people's 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, privy and mangles of most reconstructed period rooms). 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 items 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. . 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 coining through it. 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 people's 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 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 London's urban jungle.
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