How To Do The Museum Of London In An Hour

Lise Smith
By Lise Smith Last edited 15 months ago
How To Do The Museum Of London In An Hour

Museum of London - exterior view (Image: Museum of London)

Tucked away against a piece of London's original Roman Wall, the Museum of London is one of the Barbican area's gems.

Nine permanent galleries document the history of London from prehistoric times to the present day, with lots of interactive exhibits including a fascinating walk through recreated Victorian shopping streets.

Busy Londoners rarely have the chance to take a day off to explore the history of their own city, so we asked Museum of London director Sharon Ament to take us on a quick tour through the museum; using only the amount of time you could squeeze out of your lunch break.

Museum of London: Chronological

The museum is laid out chronologically, with the prehistoric, Roman and Medieval galleries first on display as you enter.

"We simply have the best collection of Roman artefacts anywhere, a great insight into the first phase of London’s life as Londinium," says Sharon.

Not only does the museum have a great collection of archeological finds on display; a chunk of Roman wall is visible through the museum's window, contrasting with the post-war concrete and steel surroundings of the Barbican.

MoL foyer (Image: Museum of London)

While the route through the building is easy, the key to making it round in an hour is focus.

"Don’t get distracted by the model of St Paul's from before the Great Fire, the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens or the Victorian Walk," says Sharon, "you’ll be short of time!"

As well as the MoL's permanent collections there are a number of smaller gallery spaces with displays refreshed every couple of months, and these are well worth a look as you speed through.  

Highlights of the Museum's 17th-Century Galleries

The 17th-century galleries take a bloody and turbulent turn, with political upheaval and the Great Fire of London dominating the narrative.

Look out for a couple of the museum's more unusual objects, including a painting of Charles I with his head stitched back on, from around 1660.

"The painting represents the King after his execution, as a saintly martyr, with three women with falling crowns to symbolise England, Scotland and Ireland," explains Sharon.

The same gallery also houses Oliver Cromwell’s eerie death mask, from 1658.

Oliver Cromwell death mask (Image: MoL)

Walk through the life-sized Victorian streets on your way to the People's City gallery, showcasing some of the best and most exciting British design including a case of very desirable Biba clothes.

The Olympic Cauldron at the Museum of London

Beyond this is one of the newer display items, the 2012 Olympic Cauldron designed by Thomas Heatherwick.

"The Olympics were a great moment of pride for London and Britain," says Sharon. "This always makes me emotional — it's a useful reminder of how great Great Britain can be."

Heatherwick Olympic Cauldron (Image: MoL)

Any final tips for getting around the museum in an hour?

"Always start off with a quick cuppa!" laughs Sharon.  "A tea or coffee and a slice of cake from one of our cafés will help get you round the place in an hour."

And there you have it — round one of the city's greatest museums and you'll be back at your desk, enlightened and inspired, ready to take on whatever your afternoon brings.

The Museum of London is at 150 London Wall, EC2Y 5HN, and is open daily from 10am to 6pm.

Last Updated 23 January 2017