On Friday next week, the Museum of London opens its new Galleries of Modern London.
It’s a £20m development of the museum’s galleries, telling the story of the city from the Great Fire in 1666 to the present day, and up to that 2012 milestone.
This morning, I was treated to a very special sneak preview and can report that the new galleries are absolutely fantastic.
The range of themes explored in the chronological spaces mean there really is something for everyone. From the development of the Empire and the slave trade to the Suffragettes; from turn-of-the-century theatre costumes to telephone booths; from Charles Booth’s Map Descriptive of London Poverty to a cute Clarice Cliff coffee and cruet set: there are more than 7,000 objects on display… but it’s the way they’re displayed that’s really great.
In the Modern London 1670s-1850s section, there are objects in glass cases buried in the floor; clever lighting, film and a heady scent of talc in the Pleasure Gardens really transported me to another world; turning a corner, a deserted Victorian shopping street set me shivering with history-geeky delight.
Wonderful, unique pieces are shown at different heights and in varied ways, really forcing you to move around and discover little treasures hidden in nooks and crannies throughout the museum, to listen carefully to archive footage, or to interact with digital displays.
I took a job interview to become an apprentice glassblower (and was successful!), traced Charles Booth’s poverty map around my Peckham home, and took part in a survey asking how to reduce London’s carbon footprint in the run-up to 2012.
I think the new galleries will be really popular with children of all ages. As well as having lots of children’s clothing on display, there are also lots of items for children to play with, like a model of London’s transport system and, of course, those interactive displays. That doesn’t mean there’s nothing for adults, though!
I was impressed with the art on show too. If you come to the museum as an art fan first, and a history fan second, there’s plenty to enjoy here: the breathtaking Rhinebeck Panorama from 1806, George William Joy’s gorgeous Bayswater Omnibus (1895), and the thought-provoking The Ghetto by Tom Hunter and James McKinnon from 1994.
With so many objects to choose from, it’s hard for me to pick out favourites. I spent a long time looking at the Lord Mayor’s State Coach (now in its own room, with windows out onto the street), and loved Kitty Lord’s stage boots; the accompanying postcard describes her as “Chanteuse Excentrique Anglaise”. She’d be a hit in London’s burlesque scene today, no doubt! Mary Quant’s 1966 orange dress is also pretty amazing, as is another dress, shown above, “worn by Helen Clark of north London to celebrate the coronation in 1953”.
Visiting the new galleries is completely free, and they’re open from Monday-Sunday 10am-6pm, from 28 May. Make sure you check them out, and come back and tell us what your favourites are!