The Museum of London’s Docklands

The Museum of London’s Docklands is the product of an amalgamation of two earlier museums, the London Museum that was founded in 1912 and the Guildhall that dates back to 1826.  The amalgamation provided a mixture of exhibits for the new museum from ancient Roman mosaics to modern costume and art.  Even now the museum is focussed on providing exhibitions that relate to urban and social history.

The museum is housed in a Grade 1 listed building on the West India Quay on Canary Wharf, right in the heart of the docklands.  Admission is free and it’s a great place to spend a few hours learning about the city’s history.

Photo by British Postal Museum & Archive
Photo by British Postal Museum & Archive

Displays and Exhibitions

Exhibitions are always changing and you could find anything from clothing displays to modern photographic exhibitions in the museum.  However, there are eleven permanent galleries that chart the life of the docklands, the Thames and the incredible history of this old trading hub of a city.  This includes a story about the East End of London and its links to the slave industry and the London Sugar Slavery gallery which lets you discover how the city played a role in the transportation of slaves from Africa to the vast sugar plantations of the Caribbean.

There is no other part of London that has been so affected by the changes in trade and industry in the city.  Back in the 18th century the Thames was the life blood of the city, the absolute centre of trading which by the 19th century had developed the area into the largest dockland complex in the world.  But the 20th century saw the biggest change that the area had undergone for centuries, many of the old dockland buildings were removed and in their place Canary Wharf was built, totally altering the skyline of the city.  The exhibitions in the galleries will take you through all of the time periods and chart all of the transitions, highlighting the effects on the people in the East End, and the city as a whole.

The Gallery Building

Make sure you get a good look at the museum building as you enter as it is perhaps one of the museums most important and impressive exhibits itself.  This old sugar warehouse, the ‘Number 1 warehouse’ has stood the test of time through all of the development and re-development of the dockland area.  It is one of the nine original Georgian warehouses that were built here and was used to store all of the goods that were imported from the Caribbean like sugar, coffee and rum – everything that the slaves that were shipped out there to farm produced.  As trade developed so the warehouses were filled with new and exotic stock.

1940 saw seven of the old Georgian warehouses destroyed and Number 1 warehouse closed its door on its long trading history in 1980.  The warehouse stood derelict for some time before it was converted for its current use as a museum.  There really can be no better place to get a feel of the city than inside its dockland heart.

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