As the largest city in Europe, Greater London has much to boast in terms of visible heritage. Although centuries of urbanisation have left few traces of the area’s prehistoric past, several Bronze Age round barrows survive along the south-eastern side of the River Thames, as do several Iron Age hillforts along the southern edge of the city. It was the Romans who created Londinium, a settlement restricted to the area now known as ‘the City’.
Early medieval settlement followed in what the Anglo-Saxons called Lundenwic, while by the later Middle Ages, London had become the capital of England – and later the capital of the wider United Kingdom. It was in this period that some of the area’s most famous landmarks, including the Tower of London and Westminster Abbey, were built. Since the early modern period, London has continually expanded, engulfing more and more of the surrounding area, with Greater London achieving its present borders in 1965.
As a major international metropolis at the heart of what became the world’s largest empire, London also offers one of the densest arrays of museums and art galleries in the world. Some of these, like the Museum of London, showcase the archaeology of this area itself, while others, like the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, display material from much further afield.
During the Late Bronze Age and Early Iron Age, communities around Britain erected defensive fortifications at high points in the landscape, now commonly known as hillforts. Suggesting that society had entered an increasingly militaristic phase, these forts often consisted on earthworks enclosing a central area where people and goods could be stored. Caesar’s Camp in Wimbledon is the largest of these surviving in Greater London. Although much of the land is now part of a golf course, a public path through the centre of the fort permits views of its ramparts.
At various points in British history, individuals have built large mounds out of earth, known as tumuli or barrows, usually to house remains of the dead. One such mound exists at Hampstead Heath, one of the best-known areas of parkland in Inner London. This may date from the Bronze Age, when such barrows became increasingly popular ways of memorialising the deceased, but this has yet to be proven through excavation. In London folklore, it is “Boadicea’s Grave”, the legendary resting place of the Iceni queen who rebelled against Roman imperial rule.
In Richmond Park, another of London’s well-known green spaces, stands King Henry’s Mound. A prominent earthen tumulus, it perhaps started life as a burial site during the Bronze Age, although this has yet to be determined through archaeological excavation. The barrow earns its name from King Henry VIII, who reportedly stood upon it in 1536 to view a rocket being fired from the Tower of London, the signal that his second wife Anne Boleyn had been beheaded for treason. The mound famously offers direct, if long-distance, views of St Paul’s Cathedral.
In Bronze Age Britain, it became common to bury selected members of the community under earthen mounds positioned at high points in the landscape. A number were built along the southern banks of the River Thames in south-eastern London, two of which survive in a sufficient state to warrant visiting. One of these is the Shrewsbury Tumulus, situated on the corner of a suburban street. Once part of six barrows, the others have sadly been demolished, but this rare gem survives to give some impression of Bronze Age life in the area.
Alongside the aforementioned Shrewsbury Tumulus, the other Bronze Age burial mound to survive in a decent state in south-eastern London is the Winn’s Common Tumulus in Plumstead. Although flattened over the intervening millennia and only reaching a metre in height, the tumulus retains a diameter of 17 metres. Unlike the Shrewsbury Tumulus, which is surrounded by houses, Winn’s Common Tumulus stands in the centre of a field which allows the visitor to better appreciate it in a landscape context probably closer to that in which it was originally built.
The east gate the London’s Roman amphitheatre was discovered underneath the Guildhall Art Gallery in 1985 during the construction of a building to replace the gallery building that was destroyed during World War 2. These meagre remains have since been conserved in situ for visitors in the basement of the art gallery, next to London’s historic Guildhall. An innovative presentation gives you the idea of how 7,000 spectators would have been seated on tiered wooden seats.
After nearly 2,000 years sizeable fragments of the wall that once defended the Roman port of Londinium still remain. The wall was built in about AD 200, and along with Hadrian’s Wall and the network of Roman roads it was one of the largest architectural features to have been built by in Britain by the Romans. It was maintained and rebuilt by successive Medieval Londoners, and today the various fragments are incorporated into the contemporary architecture and layout of the City of London … Read More >>
On the edge of Greater London, in the small leafy village of Keston archaeologists excavated the remains of a Roman villa. For conservation reasons the site was covered over. Nearby archaeologists also excavated a series of Roman tombs. Although these were not covered over after excavations, they were left exposed, they are currently on private property and are usually only accessible to the public on open days held in September each year. … Read More >>
Located in southeast London, Eltham Palace started life as a medieval palace given to King Edward II in 1305; it remained in royal hands until the 16th century. The palace’s Great Hall was built in the 1470s, under the ownership of King Edward IV, although by the early modern period the building was in a dilapidated state. In the 1930s, Stephen Coutauld obtained the property and incorporated the Great Hall into a new mansion that reflected the art deco style popular at the time. English Heritage own the palace.
Queen Victoria ruled the United Kingdom for over sixty years, a time when it was the world’s dominant superpower and controller of the largest empire ever seen. Her husband, the German Prince Albert, was a prominent figure in Victorian British society and on his death in 1861 Victoria commissioned a substantial public memorial in his memory, financed by public donations. Located in Kensington Gardens, the Grade I-listed building was designed by the architect George Gilbert Scott in his trademark Neo-Gothic style. Recent conservation has restored it to its original glory. [Website]
The 19th century was an age of great technological development, as Britain led the way in the Industrial Revolution. With the urban population booming, there was a need to pump greater levels of sewage into the River Thames, resulting in the construction of pumping stations around London. Built in the early 1860s, Crossness was the design of engineer Joseph Bazalgette and architect Charles Henry Driver. Despite its unglamorous function, great effort went on the ornate ironwork interior, much of which survives. Open on select days throughout the year. [Website]
Growing urbanisation left many Victorian Londoners with a need for green space and to meet this desire a range of public parks sprung up across the city and its environs. Crystal Palace Park was named for the Crystal Palace, a great glass-house erected here in the 1850s. The grounds underwent landscaping projects which included the creation of a maze, water towers designed by the engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, and 33 life-sized model dinosaurs. Although the Palace itself burned down in 1936, many other Victorian features – including the dinosaurs – survive today. [Website]
Although tea is widely perceived as a quintessentially British beverage, it is not native to the island and must be imported from Asia. In the 19th century, clipper ships ferried this produce across the seas to Britain. Built in 1869, the Cutty Sark was one of the last clippers to be built, and reflected innovative new designs ensuring that it was one of the fastest. The development of steam ships gradually forced the clippers out of business and in the 1950s the Cutty Sark moved to Greenwich and went on permanent display. [Website]
One of the most famous figures in British history, Charles Darwin is renowned for his theory of evolution by natural selection. Although a house stood on the site since the 17th century, much of Down House dates from the 18th and it was only in the 1840s that Darwin and his family moved in. He made extensive alterations to the building and its gardens, using the land around as a space for his experiments. English Heritage own the house, which is located in the quasi-rural village of Downe near the Kentish border.
London’s rapid urbanisation during the 19th century resulted in overcrowding not just of the living, but also of the dead, as local churchyards were unable to house the sheer volume of bodies coming their way. To cope with demand, private companies opened up new cemeteries around the limits of central London: the ‘Magnificent Seven’. Of these, Highgate is the best known. Established in 1838, it became the resting place of many prominent names, most famously Karl Marx, and houses many ornate Victorian and 20th century graves, reflecting shifting fashions in funerary design … Read More >>
The seat of Britain’s government, the Palace of Westminster – or as it is better known, the Houses of Parliament – has medieval beginnings, originating as an 11th century royal palace. Housing parliament since the 13th century, an 1834 fire destroyed most of the structure. The architects Charles Barry and Augustus Pugin designed a Neo-Gothic replacement, which took forty years to construct and remains to this day. The building’s Elizabeth Tower houses Big Ben, the world-famous bell. The Grade-I listed building is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site and can be visited by guided tour. [Website]
William Morris was one of the most famous designers of the Victorian era. At the forefront of the Arts and Crafts movement, he called for a return to medieval-inspired designs and an emphasis on fine craftsmanship over mass production. He was also a committed Marxist, and played an important role in many of Britain’s early socialist groups. In the 1860s he co-designed Red House as his family home, and although he lived there only a few years, it perfectly encapsulates his attitude to design. The National Trust own the once-rural house, now ensconced in suburbia. [Website]
St Pancras Parish Church near St Pancras station is a Greek Revival church built between 1819 and 1822. Besides being one of the most important 19th century churches in England, the church has an architectural feature of interest to archaeologists and particularly those with an interest in the use of the past in contemporary architecture. At the eastern end of the church, and on either side of the apse there are two tribunes that were designed imitating the Erechtheion with its ‘porch of caryatids’ on the Acropolis in Athens … Read More >>
Both Londoners and visitors alike often mistake Tower Bridge – one of the city’s most famous landmarks – for a medieval survival. In reality, it was built between 1886 and 1894 in the Neo-Gothic style then in vogue in Victorian Britain. Named after the adjacent Tower of London, it continues to transport vehicles across the River Thames, although traffic is periodically halted to allow the bridge to lift up, permitting taller ships to pass beneath it. The Tower Bridge Exhibition offers greater insight into the bridge’s industrial history and its complex mechanisms. [Website]
There are many early 19th century terraced houses in London, but that at 575 Wandsworth Road is a little bit special. The Kenyan born poet and novelist Khadambi Asalache lived here between 1981 and 2006 and transformed it into a unique dwelling through elaborate decoration. Influenced by Moorish designs on buildings like the Alhambra, Asalache hand-carved intricate fretwork from discarded pine furniture and used it to enhance almost every facet of the interior. The National Trust have owned the house since 2010, which can be visited as part of a pre-booked tour.
During the Second World War, Britain played a key role in the fight against Nazi Germany and the Axis powers. In 1940, the German Luftwaffe engaged in a range of skirmishes with the British Royal Air Force (RAF) in what became known as the Battle of Britain. One of the wartime RAF bases was in Uxbridge, now on Greater London’s western edge, which now houses the Battle of Britain Bunker, a council-run museum documenting the activities that took place there and the RAF’s important role in the defeat of fascism. Visit the Battle of Britain Bunker >>
Stretching for around twenty-two miles, Chislehurst Caves is an artificial network of tunnels under London’s south-eastern suburbia. Mined as a source or flint and lime, it is not known when people began tunnelling here, although it was first recorded in the 13th century. After tunnelling ceased in the 19th century, the caves gained a range of new uses, from a mushroom farm to a World War II air-raid shelter and onto a 1960s music venue which played host to Jimmy Hendrix and The Rolling Stones. It remains open as a visitor’s centre. [Website]
As the UK’s capital city, London was the hub of operations for Britain’s military effort during the Second World War. Prime Minister Winston Churchill and his cabinet of ministers operated from an underground bunker beneath the streets of Westminster, a subterranean shelter that the Imperial War Museum now opens to visitors as the Churchill War Rooms. The rooms appear as they would have done in the 1940s, while the accompanying Churchill Museum focuses on the broader life of the controversial and widely revered man who is likely Britain’s most famous Prime Minister. [Website]
Being an island nation, Britain has long relied upon its navy both for its own defence and to facilitate its imperial expansion. In 1939, construction finished on the HMS Belfast, a Royal Navy warship of the Town-class cruiser type. The vessel saw action in both Europe and East Asia during the Second World War before being used in the Korean War. In the 1971, campaigners saved it from the scrapyard and converted it into a museum ship. The Imperial War Museum now manage the vessel, which is docked in the River Thames. [Website]
The Hungarian-born modernist architect Ernő Goldfinger designed a number of 20th century buildings in London, including famous (or infamous, depending on one’s taste) apartment blocks like Trellick Tower. In the late 1930s he completed three terraced houses in Willow Road, Hampstead, where Goldfinger himself lived for most of his life. The house contains much of the furniture and artwork he personally collected, including works by Henry Moore and Max Ernst, giving an insight into the artistic milieu of the period. The National Trust own the site, which is accessible by guided tour. [Website]
The London Borough of Barnet helps to demarcate the northern border of the modern city, and was formed in 1965 from areas previously belonging to Middlesex and Hertfordshire. Barnet Museum showcases the archaeology and history of this area. It was founded in 1938 and occupies an 18th century building in the market town of Chipping Barnet. Displays cover various facets of the area’s history, including the 1471 Battle of Barnet, a decisive event in the Battle of the Roses. The museum also houses an archive useful for those investigating local or family history. [Website]
The Battle of Britain was a seminal episode in the British military effort during World War II. Taking place in 1940, it involved the Royal Air Force’s clashes with the German Luftwaffe over British skies. During the war, the Grade II-listed 18th century stately home of Bentley Priory, now on London’s northern border with Hertfordshire, housed the headquarters of RAF Fighter Command. The museum, opened in 2013, devotes itself to documenting and telling the story of the RAF’s activities and its role in the defence of British sovereignty. [Website]
Charles Dickens is Britain’s most famous 19th century novelist, best known for charting the lives and struggles of the Victorian poor. Dickens and his wife lived in a Georgian terraced house in Holborn from 1837 to 1839, and it was here that he wrote two of his best-known novels, Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby. Since 1925, the house has been host to a museum devoted to the man and his work. Many of the rooms are maintained as they would have appeared in Dickens’ time while memorabilia associated with him is also on display. [Website]
Florence Nightingale is sometimes referred to as the founder of modern nursing, known for her work treating British soldiers in the Crimean War and her subsequent reforms of the country’s nursing system. The Florence Nightingale Museum is part of St Thomas’ Hospital and tells the story of this pioneering woman through a range of personal objects once belonging to her. Established in 1989, the museum is free to visit, with children’s activities put on during the holidays. An archive is available for those studying Nightingale’s life and times in greater depth. [Website]
The Foundling Hospital began life in 1739 to care for orphaned and abandoned children: “foundlings”. It continued its charitable work at a number of locations until the 1950s, when many of its assets were transferred to other groups. The Foundling Museum documents the history of this important institution, as well as its founder, the philanthropist Thomas Coram. It contains a range of artworks by the illustrator William Hogarth, who was a major benefactor to the group, as well as other donated pictures by the likes of Thomas Gainsborough and Joshua Reynolds. [Website]
Freemasonry is now an international movement, with a diverse range of Masonic and similar fraternal groups found across the world. Although its precise origins remain shrouded in mystery, it likely began in Britain during the early modern period. Freemasons’ Hall is the headquarters of the United Grand Lodge of England and although the present building dates from the 1930s, Masonic activities have taken place there since the late 18th century. The Hall contains a museum devoted to the subject, with a rich collection of Masonic artefacts from across the world. [Website]
Sigmund Freud, the ‘Father of Psychoanalysis’, lived in Austria for most of his life, but being Jewish had to flee to London to escape Nazism in 1938. He settled in Hampstead, remaining there for the final year of his life. His daughter remained in the home till her death in 1982, after which it became the Freud Museum. Many of the rooms are left as they were in Freud’s time, including his library, collection of archaeological objects, and furniture, much of which he had brought with him from Austria. [Website]
The only museum in Britain devoted to the history of gardening, the Garden Museum occupies the Church of St Mary-at-Lambeth, a medieval structure considerably renovated in the 19th century. Damaged in the Blitz, by the 1970s the church was in a state of severe dilapidation, with the Church of England deconsecrating it and planning its demolition. Campaigners saved the building, opening the museum in 1977. Various exhibits of artefacts and illustrations depict the development of gardening and of garden design, alongside temporary exhibits and a café. [Website]
Housed in a series of Grade-I listed 18th century almshouses in Shoreditch, part of London’s East End, the Geffrye Museum takes its name from Sir Robert Geffrye, a Lord Mayor of London whose bequest paid for the almshouse’s original construction. The museum focuses on domestic life in Britain from 1600 to the present, with each house designed to reflect a different period in that 400-year span. Visitors can also enjoy a series of gardens surrounding the museum. Undergoing a major renovation till 2020, access is presently restricted to special events. [Website]
In 1885, the Guildhall Art Gallery began life to house the City of London Corporation’s collection of rare art and takes its name from the adjacent medieval Guildhall building. Although not known at the time of construction, the building itself sat on the site of a Roman Amphitheatre. During the Blitz, a German bombing raid destroyed the gallery, although a replacement was finished in 1999, and includes a basement exhibit showcasing the Amphitheatre. Many of the paintings on display focus on depicting London’s history; others are by Old Masters and Pre-Raphaelites. [Website]
On the northern edges of London’s East End is Hackney, an area that flourished in the Tudor period but became better known for its impoverished slums in the Victorian era. Hackney Museum helps to bring the history of this often overlooked area of London to life, covering the development of the area from the Anglo-Saxon period through to the arrival of more recent migrants from many parts of the globe. Various temporary exhibitions accompany the permanent collection, which has many interactive elements designed to engage younger visitors. [Website]
An oft-forgotten gem among London’s museums, the Horniman in Forest Hill opened in 1901, having been financed by the tea magnate Frederick John Horniman. He was a keen collector, and the museum displays his diverse and eclectic collection, which ranges from preserved animal specimens and ethnographic objects to musical instruments. Its exhibit of African and African diasporic artefacts is among the finest in Britain. A landscape garden replete with a Tlingit totem pole surrounds the Horniman, which is free to visit, although a small charge exists for the aquarium. [Website]
At the end of the First World War, the Imperial War Museum was established to record the efforts of Britain and its Empire in achieving victory. It moved through various locations before settling at its present base, the former home of Bethlem Royal Hospital in Southwark, in 1936. The museum’s remit and collection has expanded since then, covering the topic of warfare more broadly, particularly those that have involved British personnel. The museum also houses an extensive archive for researchers which includes documents, art works, film footage, and audio recordings. [Website]
Along with Cockney rhyming slang and jellied eels, one of the things that London’s East End is best known for are the murders of Jack the Ripper. Taking place in the impoverished area of Whitechapel during the 1880s, the murders targeted prostitutes and other vulnerable women. The killing spree captured the Victorian public imagination, but police failed to apprehend the culprit. Although generating some controversy regarding whether it sensationalises the activities of a serial killer, the new Jack the Ripper Museum explores the infamous case and its social impact. [Website]
Britain has been home to a Jewish community since at least the late middle ages, and although they have often faced horrific acts of anti-Semitism and violence, they have also developed a rich, British Jewish culture. Founded in Bloomsbury in 1932, the museum has been in Camden Town since 1995. Exhibits explore not just Jewish religious activities in Britain but social and cultural life too, as well as the Holocaust. Its collection of Jewish ceremonial art is one of the finest in the world. Temporary exhibitions accompany the permanent collection. [Website]
In 1868, the physician John Langdon Down – who first classified Down syndrome – established Normansfield Hospital in Teddington to care for those with intellectual disabilities. The hospital closed in 1997, and now houses the Langdon Down Museum, which documents the life of Down as well as the history of the hospital itself and wider developments in the care of those with learning disabilities. It features a range of artworks by James Henry Pullen, an autistic artist who attracted attention in late Victorian Britain, including paintings and model ships. [Website]
During the 19th century, canals were a vital part of the British transport system, with a number of canals traversing London, allowing goods to be brought into the city. Opened in 1992, the London Canal Museum at King’s Cross illustrates the history of this important facet of the city’s history. Housed in a 19th century ice warehouse, the museum focuses not only on the canals themselves but on the lives of the individuals who lived and worked on them. Among the displays are a Bantam IV tug-boat built in 1950. [Website]
In a dense urban centre like London, an efficient fire brigade has been essential. Run by the London Fire Brigade itself, this museum covers famous disasters like the Great Fire of 1666, the Tooley Street Fire of 1861, and the King’s Cross Fire of 1986, as well as the role of fire-fighting during the Blitz of the 1940s. Displays reflect how the fire service and the technology they use has changed over time. Educational displays and events aimed largely at children underscore the importance of fire safety precautions. [Website]
Good public transport links are crucial to keeping London up and running, with the city boasting the world’s oldest underground railway system. Based in Covent Garden, the museum occupies a 19th century iron-and-glass building that once housed a flower and vegetable market. The museum’s collection includes buses, trams, trolleybuses, and trains, as well as a broad selection of other memorabilia pertaining to the transport system and the people who have kept it going. A library and archive provides a useful resource for those researching this aspect of London’s past. [Website]
Established in Gloucester in 1984, the Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising does what it says on the tin – devotes itself to the adverts and packages of foodstuffs, cigarettes, and a rich array of other commercial goods. Having moved to London’s Notting Hill in 2005, the museum consists of over 12,000 items collected by the consumer historian Robert Opie. Covering the 19th century right through to the present, the museum offers a feast for the eyes in terms of visual design. A variety of special events and exhibitions accompany the permanent exhibits. [Website]
Croydon in south London has been the site of human settlement since at least the Roman period, and was historically part of Surrey before the urban conurbation of London absorbed it in 1965. Run by the local council, the Museum of Croydon devotes itself to the history of this area. Its archaeological collections include items from the Romano-British and Anglo-Saxon periods while another room focuses on artefacts dating from 1800 to the present. From farther afield, the museum also has a collection of Chinese ceramics bequeathed by a local collector. Entry is free. [Website]
With over seven million objects in its collections, the Museum of London exhibits all aspects of the city’s history – from earliest times to the very recent past. Archaeological and historical artefacts from all periods is constantly being added to as a result of ongoing excavations and community projects in and around the greater London area, making this one of the most important museum collection in the world. Besides innovative displays, the museum organises an exciting programme of events for visitors of all ages. [Website]
Opened in 2003, the Museum of London Docklands occupies a Grade-I listed 19th century warehouse on the Isle of Dogs. The location is appropriate, for the museum explores the history of the commerce that dominated this area of London, whether that be in sugar, tea, or enslaved human beings. Focusing on the 17th century onward, exhibits document how Britain’s maritime prowess led to it becoming the world’s dominant superpower, as well as the impact that this had on the lives of people in London and the rest of the world. [Website]
The plush riverside suburb of Richmond in west London has a history of settlement stretching back to the early middle ages. The Museum of Richmond opened in 1988 and occupies the upstairs floor of the old Town Hall. As with most independent local museums, it is comparatively small, although the collection takes the visitor through the middle ages and into the modern era. It includes artefacts from nearby Richmond Palace, a royal residence demolished in the 17th century. Different events and temporary exhibits are held throughout the year. Entry is free. [Website]
Methodism was one of the major religious forces of 19th century Britain, exerting a particular influence in Wales and the West Country. Anglican preacher John Wesley established this variant of Christianity in the 18th century, and many objects and documents associated with the life of Wesley and other foundational Methodists can be found at the Museum of Methodism. Established in 1898, the museum occupies a Grade I-listed early Georgian townhouse and exhibits a range of items reflecting not just Methodism’s British origins but also its international missionary efforts. [Website]
The Order of St John was a Roman Catholic military organisation active in medieval Europe which had its English headquarters at the Priory of Clerkenwell. After the dissolution of the monasteries the priory entered secular control, but in the 19th century it was bought by the revived Order of St John. It now houses a museum devoted to the Order, which places particular focus on care for the sick. The collection includes artefacts from the middle ages through to the present, examining the Order’s involvement in both military and medical activities. [Website]
The central museum of the British Army, the National Army Museum is located next to the Royal Hospital Chelsea, home of the famous “Chelsea Pensioners”. Established in the early 1960s and occupying its current building since 1971, the museum is devoted to the history of the British Army and the impact that it has had both domestically and abroad. Objects and documents on display cover a broad range of conflicts, from the English Civil War of the 1640s through to the Napoleonic Wars and the First and Second World Wars.
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Based near the banks of the River Thames in Greenwich, the National Maritime Museum opened in 1937 and occupies the Georgian buildings that formerly housed the Royal Hospital School. Its collection features a rich array of items pertaining to the Royal Navy and to maritime activity more broadly, including items connected to naval officer Horatio Nelson and the explorer James Cook. Together with various nearby buildings – including the Royal Observatory and the Cutty Sark – the museum represents part of the Maritime Greenwich UNESCO World Heritage Site. Entry to the museum is free. [Website]
One of the largest and grandest museums in Greater London, the Natural History Museum provides not only an insight into the rich array of life on Earth and the species that dominated it before the arrival of humankind, but also the evolution of humanity itself. The museum hosts a significant collection of Palaeolithic artefacts from excavated sites like Boxgrove in West Sussex, although not all are on permanent display. The museum itself opened in 1881 and occupies a grandiose Neo-Gothic structure. Entry to the museum is free. [Website]
The museum has over 80,000 artefacts of Egyptian and Sudanese archaeology, telling the story of life in the Nile Valley from prehistory through Pharaonic Egypt, the Ptolemaic, Roman and Coptic periods to the Islamic period. The international importance of the museum’s collection lies in the vast range of objects, all from documented excavations of archaeological sites. But, this is not just a vast collection, it also has a number of significant pieces, including one of the oldest pieces of linen from Egypt. [Website]
Britain’s postal service was at its height in the 19th and early 20th centuries, with Britain becoming the first country in the world to use the postage stamp, in 1840. Run by the Postal Heritage Trust, the Postal Museum in Clerkenwell has been at its present location since 2017. Its collection includes stamps, posters, and vehicles, all of which contribute to telling the story of the Royal Mail. The museum offers a 15-minute journey on an underground mail rail through a former engineering depot, while an indoor play area caters for young children. [Website]
In the 19th century, many impoverished children failed to receive even a basic education, with charities attempting to fill the need. In 1877, Barnardo’s opened the Copperfield Road Ragged School in Mile End, which taught as many as 1000 children at any one time. The expansion of state education led to the school’s closure in 1908, and in 1990 a museum opened on the site. With rooms appearing as they would have in the late 19th century, the museum helps illustrate the realities of life for the urban poor in the Victorian East End. [Website]
Sir John Soane was a neo-classical architect active in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, best known for designing the Dulwich Picture Gallery in southeast London. Soane’s house in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, central London, was largely designed by himself, and displays his varied collections of artworks and objects. At his death, he commanded that the house remain as he left it and it remains a museum to this day. Among the archaeological curios collected by Sloane are the sarcophagus of Seti I, bronzes from Pompeii, and Peruvian ceramics. [Website]
The suburban riverside area of Twickenham in west London is best known as the home of the world’s largest rugby stadium. Housed in a Grade-II listed 18th century building, Twickenham Museum devotes itself to the history of the area. The museum has a collection of archives and artefacts pertaining to this part of London, with exhibits being changed on a semi-regular basis. Entry to the volunteer-run museum is free; a visit can easily be combined with a pleasant walk along the banks of the River Thames from Richmond. [Website]
Originally established in 1937 by the prominent archaeologist Mortimer Wheeler, the Institute of Archaeology – which since 1986 has been part of University College London (UCL) – is one of Britain’s foremost institutions for the study of archaeology. Although most of its collections are stored in the archive and not on public display, the small Leventis Gallery is freely open to visitors and combines changing temporary exhibitions with a permanent collection of artefacts from Cyprus and the Eastern Mediterranean. The Institute also houses regular talks on archaeology open to the public. [Website]
One of London’s largest museums, the Victoria and Albert in South Kensington opened in 1852, when it took its name from Queen Victoria and her husband. Devoted to the decorative arts and design, it has a rich and eclectic collection of objects from across the world. Archaeological and historic artefacts from medieval Europe are accompanied by galleries devoted to objects from India, East Asia, and the Islamic world. Its cast courts feature replicas of ancient and Renaissance artworks from many parts of Europe, including Trajan’s Column. Entry is free, although a charge is made for temporary exhibits. [Website]
One of the most famous names in Victorian Britain, William Morris was well-known as a designer, poet, novelist, and socialist activist. His designs for wallpaper, furniture, stained glass, illustrated books, and metalwork reflected his emphasis on fine craftsmanship and the inspiration he took from the middle ages. Housed in the Georgian building in Walthamstow in which Morris was raised, the William Morris Gallery displays a rich range of items associated not only with this pioneering and prolific figure but also with one of his best-known students, Frank Brangwyn. [Website]