A couple of years ago, the Museum of London made a brave, brave decision. They closed off the whole of their lower floor, roughly half the display space, for a £20 million redevelopment. With just over a week to go until opening, we took a tour around the refurbished space. No question, it was worth the gamble.
Themed exhibition areas address the development of the capital from Restoration London up to the modern day (already an improvement; the former galleries stopped before the Second World War). Highlights include a walk-in Charles Booth poverty map, a graffiti-etched prison cell, golden lifts from Selfridges, a mock-up of a Georgian pleasure garden and fondly remembered objects from the 20th Century that you just don't see any more (Mary Quant dresses, calculators, decent copies of Time Out...).
The inevitable interactive displays fit in well, complementing rather than clashing with the historic artefacts. A case in point is the new simulation of Vauxhall pleasure gardens, which combines period dress with digital projections to produce a sort-of-almost believable recreation of these Georgian night haunts (furtive shagging not included). Old favourites, such as the Victorian shopping district and incredible Rhinebeck Panorama, are retained while the Lord Mayor's coach gets pride of place in a new windowed gallery.
In places, particularly towards the modern area, the displays lose a little focus with seemingly random objects stacked 20 to a case. But there's no denying that, overall, this is a grand improvement on the former incarnation. As you leave the new spaces, a final chamber highlights current London - as in right now, today - with RSS updates of city statistics electronically spewed onto a 360 degree LED screen. It's like catching up with an old friend, and then discovering that they've got an iPad. Visit at the first opportunity.
Museum of London's Galleries of Modern London opens on 28 May. Entrance is, of course, free.