Those of you that know me will be aware of my passion and interest in all things "London". This passion was ignited by my father taking me to the Lord Mayor's show when I was about 6 years old. Ever since then I have been slightly obsessed with anything to do with London, it's history, geography and it's people. However behind this passion there lurks a guilty secret. Why don't I visit the Museum of London situated in the City of London on London Wall? http://http//www.museumoflondon.org.uk .
Well for about the first 20 years of my life there wasn't a"Museum of London", there were only two collections telling London's story with items accessible to the general public, one housed in the Guildhall and one in Kensington Gardens. It wasn't until the Barbican development was completed in the mid-Seventies, was there anywhere to locate a dedicated museum. Maybe this is one answer to the conundrum of my lack of visits, I never visited it as a child.
So today I thought I would make my way up to town and pay a visit. Now one of the problems about visiting the MoL is it's location in the Barbican, it is not close to any Underground station or close to a bus route and you have to travel on an escalator/lift from road level to gain entrance. I do like a museum/gallery you can just "pop" into for half an hour or so. No "popping" with the MoL. Maybe this is my problem.
On entry (free), the Museum is roughly divided in two, pre-1666 and post-1666, ie before and after "The Great Fire". Having done to death The Romans, Medieval, and Tudors I opted to go to the "Modern London" galleries. Was I disappointed? Yes I was. It was all very lovely with lots of high tech audio visual wizardry but if you weren't a child of primary school age or an overseas visitor there was little to learn or amuse. If the MoL inspires a child to love London, great, and any overseas visitor who can find the place needs to be highly commended, but for anyone who has more than a passing acquaintance with London I was not impressed. The two highlights were a Victorian High Street with a collection of shops. This was good, but why so dark? I know this was pre-electric light and the air was foul with fog and smoke but the sun must have shone once or twice during Victoria 60 year reign. If you go to all the trouble to erect these rescued shops at least give them a bit of light. The second highlight was a small collection of paintings of London. They to, could have been better displayed. I certainly learnt more about the development of London at The British Library in their "London in Maps" exhibition a couple of years back http://www.bl.uk/onlinegallery/features/londoninmaps/homepage.html.
Another area of complaint on my part, there were lots of displays not particular pertinent to London, such as fashion, sport, war and domestic life. All very well and good but done much better elsewhere, such as the. Imperial War Museum http://www.iwm.org.uk/ and the Museum of Brands http://www.museumofbrands.com/. Trying to hard to be all things to all people perhaps? Or just too much stuff in their collections and feeling obliged to display it
To the shop and caff, an integral part of a day out. The shop had the usual collection of London "Tat" but my goodness was it expensive, £11 for a tea towel with "Fancy a Brew" on it. Am thinking of bring out my own range with "Are you having a larff?" on it and charging £15. Good selection of books though. The cafe was very crowded and seemed nice enough but also was a bit on the expensive side, so I gave it a miss.
Now you might think I am having one of my more disgruntled, grumpy days but I wasn't and on leaving the Museum I realised that I no longer had to feel guilty about my lack of visits as the general galleries had little to offer me, but I might consider becoming a "Friend" of the museum as this gives access behind the scenes and to lectures. But it's still an absolute pig to get to!
On leaving the Museum I thought I would wend my way back via St Paul's and Fleet Street. On descending to ground level and walking away it suddenly dawned on me, MoL has no soul or heart it is completely devoid of the "Spirit of London". It completely fails to capture any of that essence that makes London so special. Down on the street it was there, the hidden alleys, the odd buildings, the old shop, the little parks, the statues, the people. Whatever "IT " is, it's just out there! I don't think any Museum can capture this. So if you want to get to know London just go and walk around and become part of it.
As an example of the elusive "IT", I stepped off Ludgate Hill and into a beautiful Wren Church, St Martin-within Ludgate, http://www.stmartin-within-ludgate.org.uk/home/home.php a haven of calm and beauty just feet away from the crowds around St Paul's. This a 17th Century baroque English Church, yet on a Sunday they play host to the congregation for the" Salvation of the Chinese Church" with services in Mandarin and Cantonese. Also in the church are "Bread shelves" on which bread given by wealthy parishioners would be placed for the poor to collect over 400 years ago. This strange juxtaposition of things is but one small example of what makes London so great.
I used to work just off Fleet Street and thought I would make my way home, by getting a bus to Charing Cross and seeing what had changed. Well, no newspaper offices, long gone east. And all the Banks seem to be restaurants. But there was a luggage shop in Fleet Street that had a "Closing Down" Sale all the time I worked in the vicinity. It's now a men's clothes shop but it's still Closing Down................. and the sign seemed strangely familiar!