A visit to the Museum of London is enhanced because it’s home is in the oldest part of London, overlooking London Wall, close to the Barbican Centre and in the shadow of St. Paul’s Cathedral. It forms part of the striking Barbican complex of buildings which were a dramatic development of the 1960s and 1970s to restore war damage in the City of London.
The museum documents the history of London and its peoples from prehistoric times to the present day. It has several galleries and countless exhibits. A special interest is taken in archaeology and how people lived through the ages.
Before the Museum of London opened in 1976, the collections were held by the City of London Corporation at the Guildhall Museum and at the London Museum which was located in Kensington Palace. It was agreed to amalgamate them in 1964 and the ‘Museum of London Act’ passed the merger in 1965. Philip Powell and Hidalgo Moya were the architects and they designed an innovative and attractive building which is both practical and aesthetically pleasing.
Several curiosities came from the Guildhall Collection including wooden shop signs, trade tokens and items associated with Livery Companies and City Churches. The London Museum had a broad collection comprising decorative arts, costumes and theatrical material. It is interesting how the objects reflect the taste of the collectors of the day. When professional archaeology developed, objects were acquired less randomly and museums became more systematic in the acquisition process. The Museum of the Docklands became part of the new museum and provided rare and unusual material.
The galleries are laid out in chronological order and there is only one route through the building. Each gallery covers a specific period starting with prehistory, ranging through Roman, Saxon, Medieval, Tudor and Stewart. There are also galleries for Decorative Arts, Dress, Textiles, Paintings, Prints, Drawings and the Port of River Collection. Life stories and oral history are to be found here too. Four new galleries opened after a grant was given in 2010, and these are named the ‘New City Gallery’, ‘Modern London’, the ‘Expanding City’ and ‘Peoples’ City’ which includes a Victorian walk with recreated shops, a section on suffragettes and the two World Wars.
There are plans, which might be implemented in 2021, for the Museum be moved to the General Market Building in Smithfield. This would provide more space to display exhibits.
The Museum of London houses the Archaeological Archive Centre for Human Bioarchaeology. One of the most exciting aspects of our digital, modern age is when technology meets archaeology. The benefits for archaeological research are dramatic. The British Museum’s Egyptian mummies have been sent to hospital for CT scans and now the skeletons in the Museum of London are to be subjected to scientific examination using advanced medical technology.
The bioarchaeological archive holds 1,700 derived human skeletal remains, excavated in advance of developmental work in the City and Greater London. They range from Neolithic times up to the post Medieval period, thus being very valuable for research. They will be used in a project to research the effects of the industrialisation of the late 18th Century on the human body.
Jelena Bekvalac of the Bioarchaeological Centre is the leader and 1500 skeletons from the Industrial era and 500 from the Medieval era will be examined. The results will be compared thus revealing diseases caused by Industrialisation. Bekvalac says, “the most tangible evidence we have for the long term consequences of the industrialisation process upon us is, quite simply, in our bones… the museum will use the latest clinical techniques including some direct digital radiography, CT scanning and 3D modelling to get a better understanding of what the bones tell us and to assess their change over time… This work will culminate in the creation of an extensive new interactive digital resources that can be explored online.”
The team hopes to establish whether such diseases as cancer and obesity could be caused by industrialisation. They will publish findings and deliver a series of lectures about the research. The University College London Institute of Archaeology is involved.
London’s calling and it’s saying, visit our Museum. A trip to the Museum of London is a rich and rewarding experience into the cutting edge research being performed.
The Museum of London
150 London Wall
London EC2 Y 5HN
Tel: 0207 001 9844