Wednesday, 1 April 2015

The Museum of London

Wednesday 1 April 2015

150 London Wall
Barbican EC2Y 5HN

It would clearly be a lie to say that the Museum of London is impossible to find, since Linda and I found it.  But it was not easy.  Linda naively arrived at Moorgate Station, expecting to follow the upper walkway round to the entrance. She had, of course, forgotten Crossrail, which has made the area round Moorgate - well - challenging.

And I arrived on the TfL recommended cycle route, emerging from the admirably permeable Barts area to see Museum of London in huge letters, accompanied by the Dancing Men from the Sherlock Holmes exhibition, on the round building in front of me.  So I crossed the very dangerous road, walked all round the circular structure, which has no entrances;  fortunately I was also looking for cycle parking and saw, back across the road, a small sign pointing to a lift and some stairs.  Thus, dicing with death across the road again, I was able to get upstairs and meet Linda at the entrance.  Signage? nul points.

But never mind that.  After exchanging family news, we went to drop our bags off. The lockers by the main entrance are not available, and so went downstairs, through the gift shop. The lockers, which cost a non returnable pound, swallow your money while leaving the locker open, if you turn the key after putting stuff in. Fortunately some charming staff said we could get a token the information desk (back upstairs). Clearly this often happens, an issue which could be sorted by -yes! - clear signage.

It is a measure of what a marvellous museum this is that even after these false starts, leaving me in somewhat tetchy mood, though Linda was as calm as always, we really enjoyed ourselves.

We were impressed by some poems written by local students inspired by Latin phrases;  sadly I can't find them on line, but this one may be just about legible, if you enlarge it.  We passed swiftly through the pre-Roman and Roman displays, not just because there were large groups there, but also because we remembered them well from earlier visits. We slowed down for the Anglo Saxons, and all the evidence of their Europe-wide trading links, and then carried on through the Middle Ages.  We liked the way the various trade goods were labelled 'The French Connection', 'The Italian Job', and 'Vorsprung Durch Technik', and reflected what a treasure house the Thames has been for 'bits' of ancient commerce. The model of the former, Gothic, St Paul's Cathedral also impressed us.

It was at this stage that we began to feel that our visit today was linking to many of the other museums we had been to. The Black Death exhibits reminded us the various medical museums we have been to, and there was a bell produced in a foundry which ceased to exist after the plague.

Of course the Black Death, wiping out one in three Londoners, meant that wages rose afterwards, and we enjoyed the section about the many industries of London, including metal and ceramic work, and many trades connected with the river.  There was a very good section about the remarkable growth of the printing industry, leading very easily into the 16th century, and the religious upheavals which ensued as more and more people could read the Bible for themselves.

The 16th and 17th centuries of course mean theatre and Shakespeare, and quite a lot of space was devoted to the various theatres built to the south of the river.

Tudors also liked eating, and the item I most coveted was a clockwork wagon-and-tun which could trundle along the table., dispensing rose water, which would make the diners' hands at least smell nice.  You can see a little more about it here.

There were some domestic displays, but we have to say that the Geffrye Museum does them better. 

We didn't go into the Sherlock Holmes Exhibition, as I had been before, but it is well worth a visit in its few remaining days.

A jump into the 21st century came next, because Simon had told us not to miss the Cauldron, so we turned into its own special gallery.  And how right he was:  there was film of the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics, and talking heads, so we met the designer, Thomas Heatherwick, some of the skilled metalworkers and some of the athletes.  Did you know that the petals were all different?  A display showed us which countries had which design between Olympics and Paras, and we saw versions of each one, as well as photos of the originals back in their home countries.

Then we returned to the story of London, with a pleasure garden of the 18th century was charming, with some film of ladies ready to go into the 'dark walks' with their beaux.  The Expanding City enabled us to have a canter through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.  

We saw Chelsea ceramics which, we have to say, are not much to our taste, and a fine display about the Chartist movement, before moving on past images of notable Londoners, some better known than others.  Some of our previous trips were reflected in pictures of Dr Johnson, Elizabeth Fry (it's some time since we were at the Clink) and Florence Nightingale.  We had not known about the Hungarian-born impresario Imre Kiralfy, but we do now!  And Kamal Chunchie of the Coloured Men's Institute also gets a portrait.

Linda remembers going through the wonderful Selfridges doors to visit Santa, and there were several other Art Deco frontages as well.

A series of posters provided snapshots of the class war of the late 19th century, accompanied by some minor crown jewels and the Queen's bonnet from her 1887 Jubilee.

More recent posters included wartime propaganda, together with some evacuees' suitcases, gas masks and photos of bomb sites.

Then there was the placard carried in the 1970s by the Protein Man, though 'anti-protein' better describes his passionate belief.

We finished with a round up of fashion, echoing our two visits to the Textile and Fashion Museum, and taking in Mary Quant as well as sports clothing, before heading back tot he lockers and the exit.

We had by no means seen everything this splendid museum has to offer, and so may well be back, probably before, but certainly after the planned move to Smithfield in 2021.

1 comment:

  1. I always had trouble finding the entrance until a friend told me the secret - you go into the Barbican, and then follow the "yellow brick road" - a yellow stripe in the flooring - which takes you straight there. Getting back to street level, however, is another matter!