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What You’ll Get To See In the Museum of London

What’s in the Museum of London?

The Museum of London is dedicated to the history of London, charting the city’s development from prehistoric times to the present day.

Museum of London

The original uploader was Infernalfox at English Wikipedia., CC BY 2.5 , via Wikimedia Commons

The Museum of London is about Londoners. Inviting visitors on a journey through several thousand millennia of inhabited London, the museum centres its attention on the city’s human history.

It begins in a London that predates any traces of the city that we know today, or even the city that the Romans knew in the 1st century AD. A permanent display explores the rich lives of the marsh dwellers of the early Thames Valley who inhabited the area as far back as 450,000 BC. The museum’s collection includes some outlandish objects from uncannily familiar places: the jaw of a mammoth that roamed modern-day Ilford; an intricately carved bronze fitting from an Iron Age chariot; and earthen pots used to carry home water from the Thames 6,000 years ago. They sit alongside the bones of the Londoners that inhabited the boggy valley of the same river that runs today.

Its second permanent display explores London’s Roman Era, the earliest period of a city, in the sense of a metropolis, on the spot. The Roman settlement of Londinium was, from the 1st century to early 5th century AD, the largest city in Roman Britannia. Another thousand years would pass before the medieval capital regained its former Roman size. Preserved among the exhibits you’ll find graffiti etched into an ancient brick (which accuses a brickyard worker of ‘going off by himself every day’), hordes of golden Roman coins buried away from sight by a suspicious early Londoner, and the sensational Bucklersbury Mosaic, which drew in 50,000 visitors during the three days before it was removed from the ground in 1869. From the gallery you can even see what remains of London’s city wall, first built by the Romans in the 2nd century AD.

Moving into the Medieval era, the museum narrates tumultuous centuries in which London was ransacked by invaders, ravaged by plagues, and ripped apart by religious and political tensions – all while steadily becoming an important economic, artisanal and political hub. Its violent history is on full display, with Viking battle axes and weathered iron arrowheads left as vestiges of the bloody invasions of Viking rulers such as Sweyn Forkbeard of Denmark. The museum also contains an immersive display about the Black Death of 1348, and the decimation of London’s medieval population.

Its Early Modern displays are no less merry. The Great Fire of 1666, the British Civil Wars of the 17th century, and another stream of miserable plagues are covered by the museum’s displays, but it also shows the foundations, metaphorical and actual, of the city that we recognise today. The late 17th, 18th and early 19th centuries saw an enormous overhaul of the capital, a time when much of modern London was built. The early iconic works of Sir Christopher Wren are excerpted in exhibits alongside the bejewelled honorary sword of Britain’s naval hero Lord Nelson; you’ll also encounter the death-mask in plaster of a figure less universally revered, Oliver Cromwell. White-walled Georgian homes and industrial mews, and some unmistakable signature London streets, are illustrated in their early years.

Exhibiting modern London from 1850 to today, the museum focuses on the city’s multitudinous inhabitants: the Suffragettes, the survivors of the Blitz; the colonial traders of Victorian London and the Windrush generation’s arrival from the Caribbean. Ultimately, the museum depicts Londoners, the people who have shaped the city’s progression from its bog-dwelling beginnings.

Enrich your experience of London with Urbs’ self-guided London walks.

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