A converted sugar warehouse, bang in the heart of Canary Wharf, surrounded by global banks and rejuvenated, errm, stuff. Part of the Museum of London, which I thought was just the main site at London Wall, little did I know.
I realised I was working close by and could pop in before it shut quite easily - so ever one to make hay while the sun shines, I wandered around a damp and freezing Canary Wharf cursing the odd road layout, lack of street signs, random patches of water (river, lake, aquatic cul-de-sac?), tall buildings blocking the GPS on my phone. Its actually not that hard to find, if you go the sensible way, which I didn't.
The aim of the Museum is to show the history, over 2000 years, of London Docklands. I cant say I'd thought about it before, but the history of Docklands is the history of trade (it mostly came by river), which is the history of London until comparatively recently. Trade built the City and ultimately inspired the modern financial institutions that have now taken the place of the wharves and warehouses.
Its a well renovated, thoroughly modern museum across 3 floors.
The first thing I saw when I entered the museum proper was a big screen with Tony Robinson, presumably talking about ancient London archaeology. I was happy to see him, it seemed a seal of quality in some undefined way..
|Tony welcomes you|
All photos courtesy of my phone, so sorry about the poor quality - I didn't think to lug the big camera to work in the morning.
Essentially, the museum takes you through exhibits starting 2000 years ago, Roman times, the lull after the Romans left, then building on success through the middle ages into the height of Empire, up to the area's experience in the Second World War. There's a lot of great artifacts, a few paintings, many interactive exhibits, and two very nice simulated street environments.
London seemingly traded everything- and that's basically it. From huge lead ingots, to wool, to wine, salt and just about every manufactured product as it was created.
|A Wharf for every Commodity|
A large part of the third floor is an excellent exhibit on sugar, and the slavery that came with it. Depressing viewing, but it seems to be extremely popular with schools which is laudable. There were comments on a noticeboard, many from children and all somewhat sobering. One caught my eye, from an older person (maybe a teacher) which started 'At a girls grammar school in the 1960s we learned only of harvesting of sugar and rubber and looked at the 'pink' on the map'. This made me ponder my own education, and I studied history to degree level (from the early 1980s onwards) and I was taught absolutely nothing about slavery. At school I learned mostly about Victorian political history, why, I really don't know. A levels were the Russian Revolution and the lead up to WW2 (fascinating stuff.) University was more revolution, coupled with the decline of religion and the dawn of the modern (Western) world from the 16th century onwards. I don't think the word slavery was ever used, which strikes me as an odd and telling omission - some sort of societal level denial maybe?
The slavery exhibit is worth visiting in its own right, here are a couple of pics:
|Multimedia Slavery exhibit|
|...with punishments for intoxication and dirt-eating|
The following made me feel a bit better, and I realised that there will probably always be decent folk who stand up for what's right:
|Smear campaign against an entire people|
Shaking that off, a few more pics:
I'm going to finish this off with a shot of arms, how else to rule the world through trade:
Coming out of the museum, its a strange site that greets you:
Food and Drink: Cafe looked great, I didn't have anything but it's modern and had proper coffee machines...
Toilets: Clean and spacious
Transport: It's here. I was already there, tube is your best bet, take a map and prepare to be mildly lost.You might want to tie it in with a visit to Greenwich. If you're en exec for one of the big banks in the above picture, you could always come by helicopter and parachute down to a soft landing on a pile of taxpayers money we'd be delighted to put out for you.
Just a bunch of stuff, or more of a bigger theme? Obviously a very large theme, and well put I felt. The place isn't stuffed with antiquities, but has a lot of information, is clearly laid out, and there's the opportunity for interaction everywhere. Kids would love it; even a balding office unit like me was fairly enthralled. The slavery section is a must, but prepare to be saddened.