Major Museum's New Gallery Is About Itself

By Londonist Staff Last edited 36 months ago
Major Museum's New Gallery Is About Itself
Sugar arriving by electric truck for loading into warehouse, West India Dock c.1935-40 Image ©PLA Collection/Museum of London

The Museum of London Docklands's new permanent gallery is about itself.

That may sound somewhat self-indulgent until you realise the rich heritage of the building the museum inhabits.

No 1 Warehouse, which opened in 1802, was once part of the West India Docks, which traded in rum, molasses and sugar, as well as other commodities like horn, cork, coffee and spices.

The gallery — itself called No 1 Warehouse — tells the story of almost 200 years of trading, through old equipment and photos sourced from and nearby the museum.

Here's a selection of what's on display at No 1 Warehouse, which is open from 25 March. Entry is free.

Rats were a big problem in the warehouses. In addition to rat catchers, cats were used to kill the rats and were allowed to run freely around the buildings. The bodies of this cat and rat were discovered behind some bottles at the London Docks in the early 1890s. Image ©PLA Collection/Museum of London

Plan of the proposed West India Docks. Hand coloured engraving, made in 1801. This print shows the West India Docks as they were intended to be built. In the event, not all the warehouses were constructed. A wall and water-filled ditch protects the complex on its northern edge. Later, the City Canal – a short-cut for shipping which opened in 1805 — was turned into a dock for timber. Image ©PLA Collection/Museum of London

Elevation of No 1 and 9 Warehouses, ink and watercolour on paper, 1820s. This drawing shows the internal structure of the warehouse. It includes the new top floor, added in 1827, to increase storage capacity. Image ©PLA Collection/Museum of London

Tea chests being weighed using a beamscale, 1949. Image ©PLA Collection/Museum of London

Bench-top scales. Iron alloy, made by Vandome & Hart Ltd in the early 20th century. This small beamscale was used for weighing packs of dried tobacco leaves. Image ©Museum of London

Destination board for Singapore. Painted wood, made between 1920 and 1980. Goods leaving the warehouse were prepared in transit sheds. They were loaded onto ships in reverse order, so the batch of cargo to be unloaded first went into the hold last. Destination boards were hung above each batch so the dock workers knew which order to load them in. Image ©PLA Collection/Museum of London

Retying sugar sacks after sampling, West India Docks, 1930s. Image ©PLA Collection/Museum of London

Perhaps the finest exhibit is the building itself, designed by George Gwilt and son, with its loophole doors on each floor,  and security windows with spiked cast iron frames.

Last Updated 13 March 2016