I have to say, above all else, the Museum of London had some amazing staff on the floor today! First thing I did when I arrived was go to the information counter to buy a map. The staff member there was so helpful and friendly and told me all about the free tours that were happening throughout the day. Since I am still a bit jet lagged, I thought going on a tour was a smart move! I am going to divide this post into three sections – an overview of the museum, the tour of the City Gallery, and highlights from the rest of the museum.
The museum consists of nine permanent galleries that trace the history of London from prehistoric times to 2012. Combined, they tell an overall narrative with each individual gallery adding its own stories. The top level deals with prehistory to roughly the 1660s. There is little opportunity to choose your own path with each section leading on to the next. In saying this, having to walk through a couple of galleries that I didn’t plan on spending too much time in (prehistory and Roman) meant I saw some amazing objects. The recreated Roman dressing table with make up tools in particular was amazing and I am so glad I saw it! The ground floor has the more modern-era exhibitions and, unlike the top floor, there is a little more freedom to walk around. Obviously there was a lot of information to consume during one visit, but, I did the best I could!
Before too much solo walking around I went on a tour of the City Gallery with our guide Iona. She was extremely passionate and gave so much life to the objects on display. The basic premise of her tour was how the City of London (not the whole of London) has evolved over time and rebuilt itself after numerous periods of ruin. A highlight for me was seeing the Lord Mayor’s Coach. It is very impressive and Iona had some wonderful stories to share about the role of the Lord Mayor and some famous personalities who have held the position. I especially enjoyed hearing about the symbolic elements of the coach that I would have otherwise completely overlooked. I am really glad I went on the tour and thought it was such a great introduction to the City of London.
After the tour I spent some time wandering around the bottom level. There are quite a few highlight objects to mention, but, I’ll keep things brief. The first was a Beatles Dress from 1964 found in the World City exhibition. It was worn by Pauline Richey on the night A Hard Day’s Night film premiered in 1964. Richey was wearing the shift whilst handing out programs for the film. It is such a beautiful mod shift design and I would love to have one made for myself! Around the same area was another dress that captured my attention. It was a child’s dress worn to celebrate the 1953 coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. The dress is so sweet with a coronation scene around the bottom hem and little royal symbols dotted all over. It looked to be in such good condition and added a lovely little bit of children’s clothing history to the display.
In the next gallery, the People’s City, were a lot of objects concerning the Suffragettes. Clearly, another highlight for me! There were some wonderful pieces including jewellery, ribbons, and photographs. There was actually a considerable amount of space dedicated to the Suffragettes in the gallery. From an exhibition design perspective, the layout of the objects and the colour scheme matched the objects. This was combined with object labels that provided just the right amount of information.
My final highlights were the death mask of Oliver Cromwell and the Fire of London model in the War, Plague, and Fire gallery. They are recommended to visitors on the map and that’s pretty much why I went to see them. There was so much on the top level I basically followed the map’s suggestions and walked through at a pace. The bottom level, however, was more on the era I love so I spent much more time reading and seeing the objects. In total, I spent around three hours in the museum. I feel as though you could spend a shorter time here and still get a great overview by walking through each section reading a couple of panels and seeing a few objects. I would highly recommend a tour, however, if you have the time!
If I ever find myself in London again, I will make time to return. Even after three hours, I would love to have spent a little longer reading through the top floor sections. It also has an amazing gift shop. Just as a side note they have heaps of souvenirs that aren’t tacky including a Suffragette umbrella that I may or may not have purchased. I definitely recommend you spend some time in this museum uncovering the fascinating and diverse history of the city!