Freelance writer and poet from London; if you would like to read my poetry, please check out my book, 'Poems on the Page', available from goo.gl/Ta4oAX.
Published August 11th 2013
What a Capital Place to Visit
Twenty-three years I've lived in London. Guess how long it has taken me to visit the Museum of London. Twenty-three years. Would you believe me if I said I never got around to it? Not much of an excuse, I know, but I've been there now, and here's what I have to say. Don't wait as long as I did. Whether you are a Londoner, live in another part of the UK, or are a tourist from overseas, it is a fascinating place to visit, and you're sure to learn a lot.
When I reached the street of London Wall, the stylish building peered down on me from above. The main entrance is several floors up from the main street, and just as I was asking myself how to get up there, low and behold, an escalator appeared before me. Once on the bridge, I too peered down on the scene below. On one side were busy roaring roads, and on the other, a lovely little garden area stood in complete contrast. Put some earmuffs on and you wouldn't even notice your were surrounded by traffic.
As you walk along the bridge, you'll encounter a series of urban paintings by Ugo Gattoni, celebrating the diversity of cycling. My favourite depicted two quirky characters slacking off on their hotdog selling duties.
The foyer has a wide open space with lots of room to move around. On the left you'll find a cafe and gift shop, while on the right is a display of bikes from the penny-farthing to the Boris. Ever since the Boris Bike scheme, cycling has become a much more prominent part of London life.
The museum has eight permanent galleries, but they are so extensive that I only managed to wander round half of them (maybe I'll see the other half in another twenty-three years time). On the first floor you'll learn all about ancient London, including the Stone Age, Romans, Medieval period, and up to the Great Fire. I skipped this part and went downstairs to the modern galleries.
The first place you arrive at downstairs is the Sackler Hall, which is a social space with computers at one end with seating. Using these computers you can find out about objects on display in the galleries. Hanging from the ceiling is a giant LED screen that runs off interesting facts and statistics. For example, did you know that the average Londoner uses fifty-seven sheets of toilet paper a day? I was just as shocked as you, and I'm definitely not an average Londoner. I dread to think how high the number would be if they took me out of the calculation.
Sackler Hall Cafe
The hall also has a second cafe. While the one upstairs serves hot meals, sandwiches, and salad, this is just tea and cakes. They have some very chocolatey looking brownies, and also serve cream tea for £4.50.
The galleries are a maze of history, but I didn't get off to a very good start at finding my way round. Somehow I managed to walk through the entire exhibition backwards (not literally), but I'll describe everything in order to make it more comprehensible.
Ann Fanshawe's Dress
Expanding City explores the period between 1666-1850s, and starts with an example of the 'expanding fashion' of the eighteenth century. Ann Fanshawe, daughter of the then Lord Mayor, commissioned a dress by French Huguenots that was made out of Spitafields silk. She died in 1762 after the birth of her third child.
Queen Victoria Doll
Slightly more sensible was the dresses worn by Queen Victoria. Many wax dolls were made of the Queen during her early reign.
Newgate Prison Door
London was a city of opportunity and many came to the capital to take advantage of the growing economy and wealth. A lot fell into the path of temptation, however, and fell into debt. They were thrown into prison until all their debts had been repaid. How you repay your debts when you're in prison I don't quite know; neither did the prisoners apparently. They spent years locked up, and to pass the time, would carve their names into the walls.
Scottish Highlander, c.1800
In the US they had Native American statues in front of tabacconists, in London we had Scottish Highlanders. The Scots loved snuff, and having a statue outside the shop indicated that snuff was available there.
One of the most atmospheric displays is the recreated pleasure garden, which is full of figures in costumes and masks.
The People's City takes you through the period of the 1850s-1940s. The best part of this section is the Victorian walk, a recreation of a traditional Victorian street, with a pawn shop, pharmacy, grocer, and barber shop.
This moved onto a display of the Suffragette movement and covered the years of the Second World War.
K2 Telephone Kiosk
Some of London's most iconic features popped up in the early twentieth century. For example, the K2 telephone kiosk was a 1926 competition winner. It was designed by Giles Gilbert Scot, who had originally wanted the booth to be green and silver, but was over ruled because the colour was not distinctive enough to grab a motorist's attention, and could lead to road accidents. Manual traffic lights were invented in 1926, and in 1933 the the first automatic lights appeared on Piccadilly Circus and Trafalgar Square.
Baker's Mixing Bowl
World City looks at the 1950s to present day. There is a particular focus on technology, society, and the environment. One section covered jobs and unemployment; a London bakers' used to use a giant cake mixer up until its closure in 1966, when it was demolished to make way for Euston Station.
'Andy Pandy', 1953
Television began to enter households in the 1950s and children's programmes were very popular. It was recommended that they watch no more than an hour a day, and producers were not allowed to tell stories that involved a love interest, ghosts, or anything frightening. The museum has a television set that screen black and white children's shows on a continuous loop, including Andy Pandy and Bill and Ben The Flower Pot Men.
Bill & Ben
There were various dolls and toys on display, as well as the Bill and Ben puppets.
There is an example of a newspaper printing press. You can arrange your own headlines and news stories with inverted panels, then read the reflection on the mirror.
The gallery ended with a display revisiting the 2012 London Olympics. This is a temporary display that is only there until the 231st October 2013.
Olympic Sick Bags
Twenty-three thousand costumes were used at the event, as well as tons of other props that the museum has collected. I was particularly amused by the sick bags.
Lord Mayor's Coach
The centrepiece of the museum is the Lord Mayor's Coach. It is over two hundred and fifty years old, having been commissioned in 1757 for the Lord Mayor's Show. The show still happens every November, and the same carriage is used to parade the Mayor around the city. It is decorate with carvings of a lion, swan, two dragons, and a sheep.
Lord Mayor's Robes
The Mayor between 1895-1896 was Sir Walter Wilkin; he wore robes and a hat made out of ostrich feathers.
Livery Staffs and Badges
A new Lord Mayor is elected each year by members of the livery at Guild Hall. In 1768 badges were introduced as proof of identification. The badges were elaborate, expensive, and bore the symbols of their trade.
The Museum of London has one of the more interesting gift shops that you find at visitor attractions. It has an extensive collection of gifts, books, and games that are also available to buy online.
My favourite item in the store were the solar powered handwaving queens. Is there anything quite so quintessentially British?
If you are not familiar with the London dialect, then treat yourself to some rock candy, which will teach you all about how youngsters speak.
Want to know what stop to get off at? Check your socks.
For those in need some help finding their way home, you can either buy a guide book or a pair of socks with a map of the London underground on them.