This summer the final countdown began for the Museum of London’s relocation to its new home, barely a ten-minute walk away in West Smithfield.
The main 150 London Wall site, which has housed the museum since 1976, will close as a visitor attraction on 4 December, and the new museum will open in 2026, with a new name: The London Museum. The Museum of London Docklands will remain open throughout (and will host a major new exhibition, Executions, from 14 October), but will be rebranded as The London Museum Docklands in January 2023.
Over in West Smithfield, The London Museum will occupy market buildings that have lain derelict for three decades but which are deeply associated with the capital’s working and commercial life. A team led by Stanton Williams and Asif Khan Studio, together with Julian Harrap Architects, has been spearheading the work, prioritising reusing and restoring the existing historic fabric while incorporating sympathetic modern features. They have already restored the market’s grand facades, and the project has also uncovered some surprising discoveries, including forgotten underground spaces – once the market’s cold stores – which will now be transformed into interactive exhibition rooms. Meanwhile, a boarded-up room proved to be a former Lockhart’s Temperance Cocoa Rooms – part of a chain of establishments linked to the Victorian temperance movement, which promoted the teetotal lifestyle. With its original tiles now restored, this space is set to be incorporated into the museum’s entrance.
The larger space afforded by the market site means that the new museum will be able to put more of its collections on display than ever before. A large underground gallery will tell the story of key events in the capital’s history, incorporating the latest research including DNA analysis of human remains from the London area. Visitors will also encounter individuals like Fortunata, a young Roman slave who is named on a writing tablet recovered from the Walbrook river; this display will tease out what we can know about her life from contemporary artefacts. Other objects will offer insights into technological innovations – including a section of the world’s first commercial electric telegraph cable, which ran between Euston Square and Camden Town in 1837. For younger visitors, there will also be a special children’s tour featuring animals mentioned in various historical records.
The ground floor will host temporary exhibitions and events, and will centre on topics like politics and protest, as well as displaying more recently acquired items such as a selection reflecting Londoners’ experiences during the pandemic. Meanwhile, the Goldsmiths’ Gallery will showcase pieces from the collections of the Goldsmiths’ Company – one of the 12 Great Livery Companies of the City of London – as well as displaying the Cheapside Hoard, an assemblage of Elizabethan and Jacobean jewellery, in its entirety for the first time. Finally, the Museum High Street will run along the perimeter of the site. This will be a row of terraced houses adapted to host independent shops, cafés, and social and cultural enterprises.
The new site is intended to be much more accessible, not only because of its street-level entrances but because it boasts better transport links thanks to its proximity to Farringdon station and the new Elizabeth line. Indeed, The London Museum will be the first museum in the world with trains running through its galleries, as Thameslink services between Kings Cross and Blackfriars will pass through the site every few minutes.
Celebrating the past
In the run-up to the London Wall site closing, the original museum building is hosting a programme of events marking the last 45 years on the site, and offering the public a final chance to see objects including the Roman Bucklersbury mosaic, Oliver Cromwell’s death mask, Admiral Nelson’s sword, and the ‘Olympic cauldron’ from the 2012 Games, before curators and conservators carefully transport them to their new home.
Visitors will also have behind-the-scenes access to the London Wall site during Open House on 10-11 September, and there will be a celebration of Black History Month in October. This programme will culminate in two festivals – one for families, on 26-27 November, and a final closing event on 2-4 December, celebrating the past 50 years of London history.
See museum.london for more details on the new museum.