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Written by Tom Wareham, Curator of Maritime and Community History at the Museum of London Docklands.
Today the Museum of London Docklands celebrates its 10th anniversary as a museum – though the building itself is 210 years old and a grand and rare survivor of London’s commercial Georgian past.
Every morning as I arrive at work I am still impressed by the monumental scale of the warehouses built by London’s sugar merchants and plantation owners – even if only two of the buildings survived the firestorm of the Blitz in 1940.
On a warm day, as you cross the dock basin from the modern cityscape of Canary Wharf, the plum-coloured brickwork of the warehouses glows in greeting but, 20 years ago things were very different. Broken windows, shattered doors and frames, leaking roofs, debris and rubbish cluttered the buildings. It took millions of pounds to restore the building – and it took years of work to convert it into the exciting modern museum that now attracts thousands of visitors from all over the world.
The museum certainly has a unique effect on visitors who, as they discover the modern galleries, are slowly absorbed and captivated by the soft brickwork and original honey coloured timbers of the building itself. It’s as though the building itself breathes the history of the port that is being narrated in the galleries. No wonder visitors are so surprised and delighted when they come here. So, happy birthday Museum of London Docklands!