This article is part of the monthly ArtSmart Roundtable, a group of art-history-loving travel bloggers who post a related article the first Monday of each month. January’s topic is the Best Museum You’ve Never Heard of – I think we all had to dig back in our travels for this one, but it was fun to remember and share a worthwhile spot that doesn’t often get the publicity. For more related posts, check out the links at the end, or find us on Facebook here.
Anyone who has visited London would probably take one look at this and think, “The Museum of London? I’m almost sure I saw that. Yeah, I definitely went there.” Followed by a series of introspective looks that really read, “Now…what did it look like again?”
Precisely. A simple name for a not-so-simple museum that I bet you haven’t heard of because it seems to take a guidebook-influenced backseat to the Victoria & Albert, Courtauld, British Museum, National Gallery or Tate. And while I myself much prefer a great art-centric museum, there is something to be said for a more practical, history-focused one. After all, you’re visiting the city to learn about it, right? Then you’d have come to the right place.
Located near St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Museum of London is an imposing venue, if only from the inside (I found the exterior rather…plain), and no small feat to explore. With free admission to visitors and a visual cornucopia of the entire history of London, from prehistoric times to the present, it is a masterful way to discover a whole lot of centuries at once. Entering, you are at leisure to wander the chronologically-organized galleries, (actually that’s the only route you can take) and gaze upon over 7,000 objects, from London’s Roman Wall, medieval weaponry and chain mail, the Great Fire of 1666, a replica of Georgian gardens, Victorian London, the women’s suffrage movement, British fashion and much more – all the way up to the twentieth century, where of course one can relive the glory of swinging ’60s London and all the pop culture icons from the past several decades.
Some of the highlighted items to hunt for? A Roman leather bikini, a 5100 yr-old skeleton, Oliver Cromwell’s death mask, a fireman’s helmet from the 1600′s, an actual prison cell from the 1800′s and a tribute to British fashion icon Alexander McQueen.
These, in addition to various temporary exhibits will tell you everything you probably ought to know but most likely didn’t know about one of the grandest cities in the world. For me, who wandered so long among the objects and life-size displays with my 2 friends that I almost passed out from hunger (and missing lunch), it actually shrouded London in greater mystery, as I felt I’d only scraped the surface of the history of a city I thought I knew much better. It’s a museum I think oft-overlooked, but one you’ll be glad you didn’t.
In fact, I myself could use another breeze-through…after a hearty lunch this time, that is.