The Museum of London is located in the City, close to the Barbican Centre and a short walk away from St. Paul’s Cathedral. The museum is free to visit and documents the history of London, from prehistoric to modern times, offering the largest urban history collection in the world with more than six million objects.
The Museum of London is currently closed to the public and plans to reopen on Wednesday, 19 May, 2021 in line with the government’s roadmap for lifting lockdown restrictions. Check the Museum of London website for the latest updates on when the museum will be open and do bookmark this post for your next day out or visit to London.
I have visited the Museum of London a couple of times with Little T, usually tying it in with other stops in the City. I first wrote about the Museum of London in this post: Family Day Out at the Museum of London and I have combined details from that time with details on our most recent visit in September 2020.
London Before London (450,000 BC – AD 50)
The first gallery you see when you enter the museum is London Before London, which explores the lives of the people living in the Lower Thames Valley from around 450,000 BC until the creation of the Roman city of Londinium. Exhibits display evidence found around the city which show that big beasts once roamed London, including rhinos, mammoths and hippos.
Interesting fact: London’s prehistoric landscape was similar to today’s central African plains. 125,000 years ago hippos lived in Trafalgar Square!
Roman London (AD 50 – 410)
The museum’s Roman London gallery offers a fascinating look into what daily life was like in the city, called Londinium, 2000 years ago. The Romans built the city where London now stands, bridging the Thames and founding Londinium in AD 47.
Interesting fact: From around AD 50 to 410, Londinium was the largest city in Britannia and a vital international port.
The Museum of London’s Roman collection includes over 47,000 objects, mostly recovered during building operations in the City of London and Southwark.
Below is a replica of a portable stall for selling knives and other small cutting tools. Apart from the bundles of replica knives and the wooden handles, the knives and tools are original and came from Roman London.
The objects in the collection reflect how the people of Londinium worked, worshiped, relaxed and played. Part of the gallery offers a look into a typical home at the time. The mosaic below is called Bucklersbury Mosaic, dated AD 250, and was discovered in Queen Victoria Street in 1869.
Fragments of the Roman London Wall can be seen just outside the Museum of London. This is the view of what remains of London’s city wall, a mix of Roman, medieval and Victorian building.
When you exit the museum heading towards Barbican Centre, you have a view of the other side of the wall fragment. 2000 years ago, this was a fort guarding the edge of the city.
Medieval London (410 – 1558)
The next gallery takes you from the collapse of the Roman city to the accession of Queen Elizabeth I. During this period of time, London grew to become one of the wealthiest and most important cities in Europe.
There is a reconstruction of a typical house in this gallery (not shown) that shows what everyday life was like in the late Saxon town of Lundenburg.
Interesting fact: London Bridge was fortified to stop Viking raiders from sailing up the Thames
War, Plague and Fire (1550s – 1660s)
One of the most turbulent periods in London’s history, the city experienced the execution of King Charles I in 1649, the plague in 1665 and the Great Fire of 1666.
Below is part of a fire engine, a barrel on wheels with a central pump, that was built in 1678 following the Great Fire of London.
There are some amazing paintings within this gallery depicting the Great Fire. In this gallery, kids can try on a replica of a 17th century helmet worn by firefighters and compare it with a modern helmet from the London Fire Brigade.
On display is a model (with a cutaway model on the other side) of the Rose Playhouse, built in 1587 in Southwark, which saw first performances of Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus and Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus.
Expanding City (1670s – 1850s)
In this gallery, the exhibits offer a look into the many artefacts, dollhouses and stunning gowns, as well as everyday objects recovered in excavations (shown below).
There is also a recreation of Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, with beautiful fashion displayed.
People’s City Gallery (1850s – 1940s)
My favourite part of the museum is the Victorian walk, where you can experience wandering along the winding streets of 19th century London. Kids will enjoy seeing the typical toys and games during the time at the toy shop window and the lovely details in each of the shopfronts.
The Victorian Walk features a dozen street trades, including a barber, baker, tobacconist, tailor and pawnbroker.
Another highlight was seeing London’s first motor vehicles, such as this taxi from 1908, that would eventually replace the city’s horse-drawn taxis, buses and carts.
A good place to take a break from exploring here is at this interactive table for children to move buses, cars and trams along the streets of London.
World City (1950s – today)
The final permanent gallery covered the post-war generation – with revolutions in technology, fashion and culture that would transform London.
The London 2012 Cauldron
This iconic sculpture created by Heatherwick Studio is on display here, with footage showing how the cauldron was made and its role in the opening and closing ceremonies. It’s amazing to see up close!
Museum of London
The Museum of London is a fascinating museum to visit to learn more about the history of London, with an extraordinary collection of more than six million objects from prehistoric to modern times. Kids will enjoy learning about the prehistoric beasts that once roamed London, see what life was like during Roman times, have a look at a typical Saxon house, see exhibits about the Great Fire of 1666, experience walking along a Victorian street and much more during their visit.
While there are a number of interactive exhibits and displays which may still be closed when the museum reopens in May, there is plenty to see for about a 1.5 – 2 hour visit. I’d recommend tying in the visit with another stop in the City, such as the Barbican Conservatory or Sky Garden.
Check out the Museum of London’s website for the latest updates on its reopening as well as family friendly activities and events coming up later this year.
Address: 150 London Wall, London EC2Y 5HN
Opening Hours: Open daily 10am to 6pm (galleries close at 5:40pm)
Closest Tube Stations: Barbican [Circle, Hammersmith & City, Metropolitan lines]; St Paul’s [Central line]
Tickets: Free admission to museum
Family-Friendly Facilities: Two cafés that sell kid’s picnic boxes; one family-friendly restaurant with a Kids Eat Free offer; lunch hall area for bringing in your own packed lunch; baby changing facilities in toilets
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