There's been lots of big news from London's museum scene in the last few months — two huge cultural institutions are (temporarily) closing, and another one's undertaking another massive move to a new location. Here's what's happening with London's museums, in approximate chronological order.
Note: the coronavirus situation means that opening and closing dates are liable to change - for example, we suspect the first two entries won't reopen before their revamps.
V&A's Museum of Childhood is closing for two years
What? Bethnal Green's Museum of Childhood, part of the V&A family, is closing for a bit of a spruce up — a £13m spruce up, to be precise. We've always been fans of the building (which previously sat in South Kensington) but there's no denying it's a bit dark. The plan is to open it up a bit, let some light in, and redevelop the main space as a 'town square'. A 125-person-capacity performance space, The Stage, is a new addition, hosting family activities. The new galleries will have some pretty impressive artefacts too;
Hollywood props and costumes including the original Superman costume, Mary Poppins's magical umbrella from the 1964 Disney film, and the life-size West End War Horse puppet Joey have display spaces reserved already.
When? Closes May 2020, due to reopen in 2022.
National Portrait Gallery is closing for three years
What? In November 2019, the National Portrait Gallery announced a three-year closure, during which time renovations will take place. A brand new entrance is being installed on the North Façade, close to Leicester Square, as the current entrance can no longer deal with the visitor numbers the gallery receives. Significant refurbishment is going on inside too, including the reopening of the East Wing to the public for the first time in several years.
While the National Portrait Gallery is closed, some of its works will be displayed at other venues, including National Trust properties, the National Gallery, and the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. Full details.
When? 29 June 2020 (though artworks will start coming off display from May 2020)- spring 2023.
The Geffrye Museum is reopening at the Museum of the Home
What? It was January 2018 when Hoxton's Geffrye Museum closed for a refurb, and we're finally getting it back in 2020 — albeit going by a different name. From now on, it's officially known as The Museum of the Home, though it still has the much-loved 'rooms through time' exhibition. When it reopens, new features will include a learning pavilion and studio and a collections library and, perhaps most exciting, an entrance directly opposite Hoxton Overground station, saving the need for an annoying diversion around the side.
When? Summer 2020 — exact date TBC.
The Courtauld Gallery at Somerset House is reopening
What? It was September 2018 when Courtauld Gallery — located within Somerset House — closed for at least two years for a refurb, a project dubbed Courtauld Connects. The project has several aims, including opening new galleries for temporary exhibitions, as well as more space to permanently display items from the Courtauld Collection. The Great Room on the top floor, which once housed the RA's summer exhibitions, is being restored to its original proportions, and a new Learning Centre is part of the revamped gallery..
In the time the gallery's been closed, a medieval cesspit has been discovered beneath the building — coincidentally beneath the Courtauld's own toilet facilities — and was excavated by hand, taking a month.
When? Due to reopen spring 2021
East End Women's Museum is opening in Barking
What? So far, the East End Women's Museum has operated as a pop-up, opening exhibitions and hosting events in various locations. Its aim? To rectify the fact that women are often marginalised in historical accounts, by telling the stories of pride, resilience, resourcefulness and humour of East End women.
It' nows found itself a permanent home, and plans to open in Barking town centre in 2021. In the meantime, the museum is looking for support, in the form of both financial donations, and volunteers to help out at events and with research.
When? Opening in 2021.
The Hunterian Museum is reopening
What? The Hunterian Museum, named after John and William Hunter, is part of the Royal College of Surgeons, and covers the history of surgery and anatomy. To our minds, it's one of London's best small museums, though it's not one for the squeamish. Human and non-human specimens, tools, and art are all part of the collection — but it's been closed since May 2017 for major refurbishment.
It's part of the wider redevelopment of the whole Royal College of Surgeons in Lincoln's Inn Fields, and the new museum on the ground floor will be more physically accessible than its predecessor, with a new cafe and museum shop, plus temporary exhibition space and public learning centre.
When? Due to reopen some time in 2021 (originally, a reopening date of summer 2020 was given, but this is no longer the case).
The V&A is opening a new museum in Stratford
What? That famous Olympic legacy continues, by luring the V&A to a new home in Stratford. Its South Kensington HQ will remain fully intact, but the venue, V&A East, will be split across two east London sites — a brand new museum at Stratford Waterfront, and a new collection and research centre at Here East.
The research centre, home to 250,000 invites visitors inside to learn how they are cared for and conserved, while the new, five-storey museum will have two galleries showcasing permanent collections and temporary exhibitions, with views across the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.
The project was originally trumpeted as a partnership between V&A and America's Smithsonian Institution, however it's since been downgraded to a two-year co-curation rather than a permanent outpost.
When? V&A East is due to open in 2023.
A new London Fire Brigade Museum is opening
What? Nee-naw, nee-naw, new museum coming through. A London Fire Brigade Museum is nothing new — a permanent museum in Southwark closed in 2015, when London Fire Brigade sold off its old HQ. Since then, it's mainly functioned as a pop-up museum, operating out of The Workshop in Lambeth, but a shiny new home is about to come blazing into town.
It's to be located at 8 Albert Embankment in Lambeth, a former London Fire Brigade HQ between 1937 and 2006, which is being developed into a modern Lambeth Fire Station, as well as London Fire Brigade Museum. A hotel, and office and residential space are also planned in the listed building.
Historic vehicles, artefacts and a learning centre for school children all feature in plans for the new museum.
When? Completion expected in 2023.
Museum of London is moving to Smithfield
What? Museum of London is leaving its current home on London Wall and moving just a hop away to Smithfield Market. Work's already started on redeveloping the old General Market and Poultry Market buildings. Full details on Museum of London's move to Smithfield.
When? 2024 is the likely opening date of the new museum.
Natural History Museum is getting a new Dinosaur Gallery
What? In early 2020, Natural History Museum unveiled its long-term plans, including a new Children's Gallery, and new galleries to educate the public about climate change. All very noble, but our eyes were drawn to the words 'new world-class dinosaur gallery'. That's right, Dippy's remaining relatives are getting new digs, and some new flatmates too. The museum has plans to acquire new dinosaur specimens to fill its new dedicated dino space. Form an orderly queue behind us.
When? Not for a few years yet — the plans are in the very early stages, and due to be implemented sometime between now and 2031.
Changes are afoot at the Horniman Museum and Gardens
What? There are some plans for changes at Forest Hill's Horniman Museum, though details are hazy this early in the planning stages. A public consultation took place in 2019, on plans to make the museum and gardens more accessible — not easy when it's built on a hill — and to allow it to cope with increasing visitors numbers. Possibilities include a new entrance, larger galleries, and a new cafe and shop.
When? TBC. Watch this space.
Recent museum openings in London
After an extensive fundraising campaign, the world's first Vagina Museum opened at a semi-permanent location in Camden Market in November 2019. It runs an excellent programme of events — pub(e) quiz, anyone? — and has exhibitions and displays dedicated to all aspects of gynaecological anatomy. There are plans to move to more permanent premises in the next few years.
After a few years of — aptly — moving around, and operating out of a temporary base in Lambeth, the Migration Museum has journeyed over to Lewisham Shopping Centre and found a new home. It has re-opened with two exhibitions from its former home, including the excellent Room to Breathe, plus two sections of the Berlin Wall decorated by Stik and Thierry Noir out front.