The Museum of London has announced its intention to move out of its present premises on London Wall and into the vacant buildings of the Smithfield General Market.
Museum Director Sharon Ament made the announcement at the museum's annual fundraising dinner last night:
Our ambition is to create a new museum to meet the needs of Londoners and visitors to London, the world’s greatest city. We want to do this by 2021. We do not currently have the space to present our collections properly, or demonstrate the research behind them. Our visitor numbers have doubled in recent years and continue to grow; our schools programme is at capacity. If we are to continue to excite and engage visitors and become more sustainable by standing more firmly on our own two feet, we need to ensure our building and galleries are up to the challenge and match the best that London has to offer.
Smithfield General Market has languished in a state of semi-dereliction for years. The most recent scheme to regenerate the area, a mix of office and retail space, met with fierce opposition and was eventually scrapped.
The new proposal would seem to be a win-win situation. The museum will find the space it needs to grow visitor numbers and display more of its holdings. The striking market buildings would be brought back to life, and presumably with less opposition than previous proposals for luxury apartments and office space. Further, the cultural centre will find itself at the very heart of the city, when Crossrail and the revamped Thameslink meet at Farringdon in 2018 just metres from its new front door.
There are still many issues to resolve before this is a done deal. Most importantly, the museum must negotiate a fair price for the site and find a buyer for its current home. If it wishes to relocate by 2021, then these things need to happen quickly. Conversion of the dilapidated market to a major museum will not be a trivial project.
A similar idea was raised by Londonist as far back as 2007, in an article extolling the historic nature of the site: "Revolting peasants and Scottish heroes, a buried river, and a 1,000 years of death, slaughter and destruction. Smithfield surely deserves some kind of cultural centre. And there just happens to be the perfect place to put it, if we act fast…"