Preview: Museum of London's New Galleries

M@
By M@ Last edited 101 months ago
Preview: Museum of London's New Galleries
A walk-through Charles Booth poverty map. Image (C) Museum of London.
A walk-through Charles Booth poverty map. Image (C) Museum of London.
And another view of that giant wraparound LED screen. This time without the kids. Image by M@.
And another view of that giant wraparound LED screen. This time without the kids. Image by M@.
Phew, they've kept the Victorian streetscape. Wouldn't be the Museum of London without it. Image (C) Museum of London.
Phew, they've kept the Victorian streetscape. Wouldn't be the Museum of London without it. Image (C) Museum of London.
Wooden wall panels from a Wellclose square prison cell, complete with graffiti. An incredible survivor (the wall panels, not the onlooking lady...although she may be too for all we know). Image (C) Museum of London.
Wooden wall panels from a Wellclose square prison cell, complete with graffiti. An incredible survivor (the wall panels, not the onlooking lady...although she may be too for all we know). Image (C) Museum of London.
The Expanding City gallery tackles the post-Restoration period, with interactive thingumyjigs and endless glass cabinets of curiosity. Image (C) Museum of London.
The Expanding City gallery tackles the post-Restoration period, with interactive thingumyjigs and endless glass cabinets of curiosity. Image (C) Museum of London.
A naughty word in a family museum. See it before they change their minds and cover it up. Image by M@.
A naughty word in a family museum. See it before they change their minds and cover it up. Image by M@.
A couple of familiar friends. Image by M@.
A couple of familiar friends. Image by M@.
My other car's a Mini. The Lord Mayor's coach in its new home.
My other car's a Mini. The Lord Mayor's coach in its new home.
The Lord Mayor's Coach - now visible from the street for the temptation of any over-ambitious smash-and-grab raider. (C) Museum of London.
The Lord Mayor's Coach - now visible from the street for the temptation of any over-ambitious smash-and-grab raider. (C) Museum of London.
The new Sackler room presents information from today's London on giant screens. Image (C) Museum of London.
The new Sackler room presents information from today's London on giant screens. Image (C) Museum of London.
A lift from Selfridges. Really quite splendid. Image (C) Museum of London.
A lift from Selfridges. Really quite splendid. Image (C) Museum of London.
The Ghetto, by Tom Hunter and James McKinnon, is one of the highlights of the new galleries.Read all about it. Image (C) Museum of London.
The Ghetto, by Tom Hunter and James McKinnon, is one of the highlights of the new galleries.Read all about it. Image (C) Museum of London.
The new galleries are lined with fascinating art work, including this mural of the Trafalgar Square poll tax riots. Image by M@.
The new galleries are lined with fascinating art work, including this mural of the Trafalgar Square poll tax riots. Image by M@.
If Tron visited London. One of the new interactive displays poses questions about London's future (pictured in idle mode, with lots of swirly blue things). Image by M@.
If Tron visited London. One of the new interactive displays poses questions about London's future (pictured in idle mode, with lots of swirly blue things). Image by M@.

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.

Last Updated 18 May 2010