‘Jan’s Jaunts’ is intended as an occasional series for the Facebook page ‘Plumstead People’- and anyone else who cares to read it. The aim is to describe days out at locations nearby which might interest anyone at a loose end.
Museum of London in Docklands.
DLR from Woolwich Arsenal, change at Poplar, take Canary Wharf train to West India Quay. There is a sign there telling you to alight for Museum of London in Docklands. Takes about 20- 25 minutes. After alighting at West India Quay, walk along the row of warehouses until you get to the end where the museum is located. Since most of the warehouses now house amazing restaurants, this could be a struggle!
Loos at the main entrance. Restaurant and shop on the Ground floor, together with special area for children’s activities, chairs at the front, shop mainly stocking children’s toys and books.
The museum is currently housing a free exhibition called ‘Bridge’. As you might expect, this is about London’s bridges in all aspects. It consists of photographs, a film and an art installation. There are activities centered round the exhibition, including some for children.
After having walked through this (I loved the film of the river and its bridges, but did not ‘get’ the slideshow about creating patterns in the crowd on London Bridge), I started on the main museum. The galleries are laid out in a structured way, the idea is you take the stairs or lift to the 3rd floor and work your way downward through the history of Docklands and the Thames.
Now I need to tell you here and now that this museum is always a special treat for a river rat like me. I am an archaeologist working on the Thames foreshore and also a mudlark. I like to think that the Thames is flowing in my veins, and the Thames tides are pulsing it round. Importantly, a large percentage of exhibits at the museum can and have fallen in the Thames at some point, so it is a real resource for identifying finds from the foreshore!
The jug at the top is Kingston Ware, manufactured further up the river at Kingston. Shards of these are found up and down the river on the foreshore. The Venetian glass is found mainly at locations where there were palaces, such as the Tower of London and sometimes Greenwich. The hooked implements are bag hooks for lifting bagged cargoes out of the holds of ships in the Pool of London. I have an eighteenth century one I found at Custom House, but literally hundreds of them must have been dropped at some point!
Having declared my own interest, I should probably go back to describing the Museum!
On the top floor, you are welcomed by a film describing the collection and its relevance, which is presented by Tony Robinson of Time Team. The galleries start with Roman and medieval finds from the Thames and elsewhere, progressing through history as you go through the building. there are a couple of reconstructed streets, one of the business end of the docks in the eighteenth century, another of the less reputable ‘Sailor Town’ which has all sorts of spooky little corners.
Subjects like trade and shipbuilding are well represented, with period rooms and hands- on displays, and there is a thought- provoking section on slavery, where you are invited to share your thoughts. the last floor is devoted to Docklands in the modern era: the World Wars, the industrial unrest and the modern developments are all covered in detail. The section on the DLR even displays the archeological finds in context.
The top picture shows DLR finds: seventeenth century wine bottle and Roman Samian Ware. The middle picture shows eighteenth century slave bangles and African trade beads, and the final picture shows a piece of painted masonry from a Roman altar and a perfume bottle.
You exit the galleries through a display about the East End of London. There are comfy chairs where you can sit and mull over what you’ve seen or there is a restaurant with tea and coffee and sandwiches, these are very good but not cheap.
On the whole, this is a favourite museum of mine, and I generally go there at least once or twice a year, and there is always something new to see!