The Walbrook, one of the lost rivers flowing beneath London’s streets, is a time capsule of Roman Londinium. For over 170 years, archaeologists have dug astonishingly well-preserved artefacts of the ancient city out of the waterlogged earth of the stream. A new display at the Museum of London, Working the Walbrook, uses this collection of tools and other everyday objects to examine what life was like for ordinary Roman Britons. Let’s hear from Owen Humphreys, whose research underpins the display.
The River Thames flowed through London before the city was even built, and its waters have swallowed up centuries’ worth of trash and treasure. The river is no longer the centre of London’s trade and transportation, but the objects excavated from the Thames foreshore provide a fascinating glimpse of the city’s past. Claire Madge talks about some of the relics rescued from the Thames, and her work to bring them to light while volunteering at the Museum of London Docklands.
On the night of New Year’s Eve 1940, a London fireman sat down to write a letter to his wife. George Britchford had just come through one of the worst nights of the London Blitz, when devastating fires had ravaged the city and destroyed an area larger than the Great Fire of 1666. His letter, recently added to the Museum of London collection, is a fascinating glimpse into the darkest days of the Second World War and one Londoner’s experience of it.
18 November 2016 is the 100th anniversary of the end of the Battle of the Somme- one of the bloodiest battles in human history, and one that has come to define our mental image of the First World War. Almost a million men were killed or wounded at the Somme, and one of them was the first employee of the London Museum, Maurice Edgar Read.
In September, we launched our new Great Fire of London website, in partnership with the London Metropolitan Archives, the Monument and the Guildhall Art Gallery. Visitors can experience the gripping story of the fire through an interactive children’s game, a Minecraft experience, and the Explore section of the website, which uses historic maps and objects to tell the story of the fire.
A graveyard, uncovered in London during the 1970s, offered both a huge opportunity and a terrific challenge for archaeologists, who had to excavate over two hundred bodies before the bulldozers rolled in. Lucy Creighton investigates what stories these bones have to tell, nearly 1000 years on.
This autumn, the Museum of London presents the Night Museum: three spectacular free evening festivals, with live music, exclusive talks and weird experiences around the themes of Loss, Darkness, and Endings. We’ve selected 10 objects that give a sneak preview of what awaits within the Night Museum.
In 1976, two museums were brought together to create the Museum of London: the London Museum and the City’s Guildhall Museum. This merged not just two museums’ collections but many years of files and records. This complex archive still has some fresh surprises left to discover. Let’s hear from John Clark, retired Senior Curator of the medieval collections.
The 350th anniversary of the Great Fire of London gave us the opportunity to display a relic of 1666 and unravel a bibliographical puzzle. Museum of London Librarian Sally Brooks reveals the detective work behind one very battered book.
Forty years ago, punk exploded in London, changing the city’s music, fashion and culture. Our new exhibition, Punks, looks at the spirit of 1976 and its influence today. But how do you represent something as multifaceted, vibrant and anarchic as the punk scene in a museum? Exhibition curator Jen Kavanagh talks about how she captured the lives of London punks.
This year, Punk.London celebrates 40 years of music, fashion, and life in the city. The Museum of London has commissioned two new documentary films, Punks parts one and two, which feature interviews with former punks in iconic venues across the city. Watch them now, visit our Punks exhibition, or read a behind the scenes take from the film-makers below.
A new display at the Museum of London Docklands tells a story of extraordinary bravery in east London during the Second World War. Vyki Sparkes, curator of social and working history, and Nick Moore, son of the man awarded a George Cross for his heroism, discuss the medals and the man awarded them.
Pearly Kings and Queens are an iconic image of London, easily recognised by their distinctive suits and accessories covered with patterns of mother-of-pearl buttons. They’ve inspired fashion designers, costume makers, and been featured in everything from films to the London Olympics opening ceremony. We’re showing off some beautiful Pearly clothes ourselves, in anew display at the museum. But do you know the meaning and surprising history behind the costume?
The Museum of London website has had a makeover. As part of this we have changed where and how we display our blog content. You can still enjoy the same quality of in depth writing and curatorial expertise in the Discover section of the website.
What can you discover on the new site?
Photography curator Anna Sparham shares her thoughts on the extraordinary variety of subcultures and scenes on display in Dick Scott-Stewart’s pictures of young punks and rockabillies, wrestlers and the people who watch other people from the audience. Anna is the curator of Stomping Grounds: Photographs by Dick Scott-Stewart, opens on 27 May, free to visit.
It’s been claimed to be a Druidic altar, a Roman milestone, and the magical ‘heart of London’. It’s one of London’s most ancient landmarks, but most people have never heard of it – or if they have, they’ve heard one of the strange legends that have sprouted up around it. Curator Emeritus John Clark (formerly curator of the Museum’s medieval collections) examines the myths and the colourful cast of characters who created them, from William Blake to an eccentric Welsh priest. You can see London Stone for yourself, on display in the War, Plague and Fire Gallery at the Musuem of London.
Senior Fashion Curator Beatrice Behlen and Curatorial Assistant Natasha Fenner discuss the surprisingly physical act of making beautiful artificial flowers by hand. These astonishingly detailed, hand-assembled flowers were used to decorate dresses, bonnets and hats, several of which you can see on display in the Show Space exhibition: The Art of Flower Making.
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Opens 23 July 2016
Our first family focused exhibition at our London Wall site, Fire! Fire! offers families and interactive way to learn more about the history of the Great Fire of London. Visit the oven in Pudding Lane where the fire started and follow its path of destruction as you learn how the fire changed the physical make up of the city and things we now take for granted such as fire insurance and fire safety. Create your vision of the city and learn more about the plights of 17th century refugees. Find out more or book a ticket.
Mudlarks Gallery © Museum of London Docklands
Mudlarks is an interactive space for our younger visitors and their carers, introducing the stories told within the museum in a fun and stimulating environment designed to support children’s learning and development from babies up to 8 years old. Free, though a ticket is required. Book a ticket today.
by Natasha Fenner, Assistant Curator
Each year in February our attention is turned towards love, with the occurrence of Saint Valentine’s Day. This year in our temporary Show Space display we have featured objects and an oral history that tell the love stories of four London couples.
The objects, all quite new acquisitions to the museum’s collection, relate to pivotal moments in the couples’ relationships. They have been kept and treasured over many years, symbolic of the personal and unique ways in which love is expressed.
One of the items on display is an icing model of a liquid waste disposal truck that adorned the wedding cake of Eileen Rice and Reg Flavell. Married on 11 July 1937 at St Barnabas Church, East Dulwich the couple celebrated their reception at Pritchard’s Restaurant on Oxford Street.
The bride, reported as wearing crepe and silver, chose a wedding cake to match her colour scheme. The three-tier cake was decorated with delicate white and silver flowers and supported on an ornate silver base. It was topped with the finely detailed white and silver icing model of a gully emptier truck. These trucks, later known as ‘sludge gulpers’, were used to clean drains and suck up industrial and domestic waste, making the model a unique way for the couple to crown their cake. Their choice was a nod to the place they met; the Mechanical Cleansing Service in Burbage Road, Dulwich. Eileen worked in the office as a secretary and met Reg when he joined the business as an accountant.
The company, founded by Eileen’s father Alfred Rice in 1927, specialised in the removal and disposal of a wide range of liquid waste products for industrial, government, local authority and domestic clients. This included the clearing of household cesspits for which the advertising slogan ‘your business is our business’ was used! At its peak, the Mechanical Cleansing Service had a fleet of over 120 vehicles.
The model on top of Eileen and Reg’s wedding cake depicted the pride of their fleet, an Albion petrol gully emptier. After the wedding the model was preserved under a glass dome which sat on a filing cabinet in Reg’s office. He went on to become Managing Director of the company, a position he filled until his retirement in 1972. The couple’s son, Den, recalls that after his father’s retirement the icing cake topper was moved to their family home and took pride of place in the dining room.
Now a part of the museum’s collection it is an enduring symbol of their love and of the importance of the family business in their lives. It also reveals a lighter side to the necessary work of cleaning the dirt from the metropolis of London!
See the wedding cake topper and other romantic objects in Love Stories, in the Show Space display area.
Free to visit. Closes 17 March 2016.
Tell us what you think by tweeting your thoughts including #LoveStories and #ShowSpace.
By Jackie Keily, curator of The Crime Museum Uncovered
This sketch by the courtroom artist William Hartley links us to a particularly cold-blooded murder on a train, but also to a story of amazing bravery. The sketch shows 23-year-old George Parker, also known as George Henry Hill, in the dock at Westminster Police Court where he was charged on 18 January 1901 with the murder of William Pearson and the attempted murder of Mrs Rhoda King. The latter, a 54 year old mother of two, was a witness to the incident and was injured during it.
On Thursday 17 January 1901 all three were passengers in the same third class railway carriage on the 11.20am London and South-Western train from Southampton to Waterloo. King got on first, in Southampton, and sat in the then empty carriage. Her husband was a printer in Southampton and she was on her way to London to visit a sick relation. Parker got on at Eastleigh and Pearson, a well-to-do farmer in his 40s, boarded the train when it stopped at Winchester. Near Surbiton, Parker went into the lavatory, which was situated towards the back of the compartment. By this time Pearson was sleeping and King stood up to look out of the window. She was startled to hear gun-shots and felt blood on her face. She had been shot in the cheek and the bullet was lodge below her jaw. Pearson had been shot in the head and appeared to be dying. She asked Parker what he had done and he replied: ‘I did it for the money. I want some money. Have you got any?’ She gave him a shilling from her purse, which he took. Her face was bleeding heavily and she used two handkerchiefs to wipe the blood. Seeing this, Parker gave her one of his. Parker searched Pearson’s pockets and removed a cigar case and a purse, offering King a sovereign from Pearson’s purse, which she refused. She urged him to cover Pearson’s face with a handkerchief, which he did. King pleaded with him for her life and tried to calm him by talking to him and he told her that he was going to Liverpool and from there to South Africa. He then began wondering what he should do with his gun, saying he might place it in Pearson’s hand to try to make it look as if Pearson had killed himself. King suggested he throw the gun out of the window, which eventually he did. As the train approached Vauxhall, Parker climbed out and jumped onto the platform, telling King to remain quiet. Once the train had stopped, and on the verge of collapsing, she opened the door and shouted to some railwaymen to follow Parker as he had killed someone. He had already got through the ticket barrier as he had taken Pearson’s ticket to use. He was pursued and eventually cornered in the South Metropolitan Gas Company’s gas works nearby. He was taken to Larkhall Lane Police Station, where he stated, referring to Rhoda King: ‘I wish I had killed the woman, and then I should have got away had I have killed her.’
King was taken to St Thomas’ Hospital for treatment where she remained for eight days. Pearson was pronounced dead, he had been shot through the left eye from close range. The railway line was searched and the murder weapon recovered. When Parker was searched at the police station, items belonging to Pearson, including the purse, were found on him. He was then charged with the murder of Pearson and the attempted murder of Rhoda King.
Parker, originally from Birmingham, was an ex-soldier and a heavy drinker. He had started a relationship with a woman, Elizabeth Rowland (whom, unbeknownst to him, was married to a soldier serving in India) in Portsmouth. Before going to London in January 1901 he had purchased a revolver. He later claimed that on his return to Portsmouth he was going to kill Elizabeth and himself. He also claimed that Pearson was someone who held a grudge against him from his army days, but no evidence was found to suggest that the two men had ever met. Parker was in need of money and indeed did not have sufficient on him to pay the full fare to London (which is why he took Pearson’s ticket in order to make his escape at Vauxhall).
On Friday 1 March, Parker appeared at the Central Criminal Court. He pleaded not guilty, his barrister pleading that his client was insane due to alcoholism. He was found guilty and was executed at Wandsworth Prison on 19 March. The Evening Express reported that he rose at 7am on the morning of his execution and ‘betrayed no fear at his approaching doom’. He was executed by James Billington, assisted by his son, Thomas Billington.
The remarkable and brave Rhoda King, who gave evidence at the trial, lived to the age of 89, dying in Southampton on 1 June 1935.
For more information on this case, see:
See more court sketches by William Hartley in The Crime Museum Uncovered, at the Museum of London until 10 April 2016.
The museum’s upcoming exhibition, Tattoo London, will reveal four contemporary tattoo studios in the capital, as well as offering some insight into the history of professional tattooing in London. Over the next few weeks we will be introducing four tattooists from the studios featured in the exhibition. Today we introduce Lal Hardy of New Wave Tattoo.
London is a congregation of communities, but many of these communities have had to struggle for inclusion and acceptance. Our LGBT population has fought hard to establish and legitimise its identity over the last 70 years. Badges and pins have been used as signifiers of support for a plethora of gay and lesbian issues, and now act as reminders of past and continuing battles.