LONDON TRAVEL GUIDE
THE MUSEUM OF LONDON
This is the Capital's newest and most visually exciting large museum. Its exhibits, some of which are accompanied by dramatic sound effects and suitable period music, illustrate London's fascinating and continually evolving story.
MAKING THE MUSEUM
In 1826 the Corporation of London established Guildhall Museum as an addition to its library. A municipal museum with a concern for archaeology, the City, and the Corporation, it was founded specifically to accommodate the antiquities of the locality. New exhibits poured in at such a rate that the museum was soon full to the brim, and in 1876 new premises were provided under the Guildhall Library. The museum remained in the precincts of the Guildhall until the outbreak of World War II in 1939 forced its closure. Some considerable time after the war it was re-opened in temporary premises, first in the Royal Exchange, and later at Bassishaw High Walk, where it remained until 1976.
The London Museum had very different origins. It was founded in 1912 and was set up with the much broader objectives of interpreting and recreating past life rather than the preservation of antiquities. Initially the museum was set up at Kensington Palace in apartments provided by George V. It was moved to Lancaster House in the Mall in 1914, and remained there until 1951 when it was re-opened in temporary accommodation at Kensington Palace where it stayed until 1976.
The maintenance of two museums devoted to the history of London became increasingly uneconomic and confusing, especially to visitors and students, and during the 1960's it was decided in principle to unite the collections
of the London Museum and the Guildhall Museum under one roof. The planning for this undertaking took a great deal of time and effort, but the Museum of London Act eventually came into effect on June 1st, 1975. It merged the two organisations, but not their various and scattered premises.
This situation was soon rectified. On December 2nd, 1976 Her Majesty The Queen officially opened the specially-designed building housing the joint collections of the former London and Guildhall museums. The new venture was called the Museum of London.
THE BARBICAN SITE
Located in the south-west corner of the ultra-modern Barbican development, the museum stands at the junction of Aldersgate Street and London Wall. It adjoins a stretch of historic City wall that was built AD 200. The presence of the Ironmongers' Hall, lying at an awkward angle on an otherwise open site, presented the architects with a problem which they overcame by arranging the museum round two courts; one enclosing a garden, the other open to the north and Ironmongers' Hall.
The museum is devoted entirely to London and its people, presenting by way of exhibitions and tableaux the story of its development and life. Open plan and arranged in chronological order, the museum affords a continuous view from prehistoric times to the 20th century.
The main public entrance, one of whose walls is constructed entirely of glass, leads into galleries built around the inner courtyard. The exhibition begins with the Thames in Prehistory and deals with the natural site of the City and the pre-Roman settlements upon it. Archaeological levels are demonstrated by a relief model of the Thames Valley. Roman London Follows and displays exhibits which formed a distinguished element in both the old museums.
Next comes Saxon and Medieval London. Superb models of William the Conqueror's White Tower and Old St Paul's make the medieval gallery especially fascinating Tudor and early Stuart London completes the remainder of the upper floor and ends with a graphic audio-visual reconstruction of the Great Fire of 1666. This exhibit, with its realistically-crackling flames, acts like a magnet on all those who visit the museum.
A gently sloping ramp enclosed in a steel-ribbed, glass-lined tunnel leads to the lower floor. The story is then continued with Late Stuart London and the reconstruction of London after the Great Fire, Georgian London, which follows, is contained in a circular gallery, and a glazed corridor incorporating two contemporary shop fronts connects it with the Nineteenth Century Hall. Here are displayed the Woolsack from the old House of Lords and relics from the Great Exhibition of 1851. Imperial London follows with its displays of Victorian commercial units which include a chemist's, a tailor's and a cooper's. The units are treated individually and are not arranged in any form of artificial street.
The exhibition moves on to the 20th century with a 1930 Ford motor car and a collection of suffragette material inherited from the old London Museum. The exhibitions culminates with Ceremonial London. The centre-piece of this display is the Lord Mayor's State Coach. It is used in the annual Lord Mayor's Show and was built in 1757. A magnificent example of the coach-builder's craft, it is lavishly decorated with gilt ornaments and allegorical scenes painted by the Italian artist Cipriani.
Set apart fro the public displays are special departments which specialise in Prints, Drawings and Paintings of London, and Costumes and Textiles. There is also a research library containing a vast amount of material relating to London.